West Virginia Horsemen Watching Legislature With Concern

by | 03.11.2014 | 8:43pm

West Virginia horsemen are closely following the proceedings of the state legislature with concern this week as state senators and delegates could consider serious cuts in slots funding to the racing industry.

House Bill 4333, which died at the end of the regular legislature session last weekend, was the latest attempt by its chief proponent, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, to reduce slots funding to breeders and horsemen in West Virginia. The bill originally proposed a 15 percent cut into the slots revenue for the breeders' incentive fund and horsemen's purse account, in addition to cuts into slots funding for greyhound organizations and city and county governments. Before its death, HB4333 was amended to spare cities and counties and cut 10 percent of slots revenue to horse and dog racing groups.

Officials in West Virginia say that 10 percent cut would equal over $4.8 million to the state's purse account, and $538, 211 to the breeders' incentive fund. Slots operators would also take six-figure hits to their capital improvement and modernization accounts.

Although extended discussion from Sen. Herb Snyder (which some called a filibuster) prevented HB4333's passage from the House to the Senate, many are worried that the bill could come back in some form during the current budgetary legislative session, or during a later special legislative session.

The motives behind the legislation vary depending on who you ask. Some say the horsemen's fund is an easy source of cash for a government that is under more financial stress than ever. The state is facing a budget deficit with both mining industry receipts and gambling revenues down this year, and the recent water disaster didn't help matters.

“I think the underlying reason for it is to try to find money and this is what they identified as an opportunity to do that,” said Delegate Paul Espinosa, who opposed the measure. “While I certainly recognize the importance of having a balanced budget, I just really wasn't willing to do that on the backs of our horsemen.”

Others believe that HB4333 or future similar legislation are part of a systematic attempt by the state lottery department to eliminate the horse racing industry.

“There has been an ongoing concerted effort from the opponents of racing [horses and dogs] for some time to put racing in a bad light,” said Martin Blaylock, vice president of the West Virginia Breeders' Association. “This has gone on over the years. The state wants to essentially kill it.

“It's going to be ugly.”

West Virginia was one of the first states to approve slots at racetracks, beginning with a slots program at Mountaineer in 1992. Breeders said the added income has begun to give the program the momentum it needed to become a strong regional player. Stallions Brother Derek, During, Windsor Castle, and Limehouse all now call West Virginia home.

“This would be devastating to a lot of breeders and people who race here,” said Mary Moore, farm manager at Naylee Farm in Summit Point. “You're looking at a whole town that would basically go under.

“Our program has really flourished. On a national level, we've really gained a lot of respect, and this would completely go in the wrong direction for us. It's just a shame to get this far and be held back by something like this.”

Espinosa pointed out that future legislation similar to HB4333 would act as the second in a one-two punch for the industry. The increased competition from online gambling sources and neighboring states with slots has already taken a chunk out of racing's bottom line in West Virginia.

“While I was certainly pleased that the cities and the counties were spared the impact of those cuts, it did leave the horsemen and the casino operators sort of out there by themselves,” said Espinosa. “They've already experienced a significant declines in their purses and their breeders' funds because of the declines in lottery play there at the casino. This would basically be an additional cut on top of the cuts they've already experienced.”

  • Outrider

    Get used to it! The States are going to start invading slots revenue like Canada just give it time!

    • J_W_C_NM

      Horse owners have no more rights to slot money than anyone else.

      • m_moore

        Interesting comment considering thats the way it is written by LAW!! Know your facts, they needed the horse owners when they wanted the Casino built in the state. So actually without us there would be no Casino.

        • J_W_C_NM

          Laws can and will be changed as they have been in other jurisdictions, and as being proposed in WV. Ultimately, politics and economics will determine future distribution of slot machine welfare. You’re deluding yourself to think casinos need racing. Current law may require racinos, future laws may not. Casinos make money, racetracks, not so much. If racing continues it’s self-induced decline, slot machine welfare will find more judicious uses.

          • m_moore

            While the points of your second comment I can agree on. It’s your first quote I have a problem with. The horseman of WV lobbied hard for gaming many years ago to get in the door. I can assure you without the horsemen of Jefferson County..gaming would have never passed in this county and the Casino wouldn’t have been built.. Casino owners needed the horsemen then and were more then willing to support horse racing. While the casinos can easily function without horse racing they certainly couldn’t exist without horseracing.
            So yes I feel we earned our rights.
            And I am far from deluding myself laws can be changed and obviously will be, but that doesn’t make the situation right.

          • FastBernieB

            The one key point that legislators miss is the value of horseracing in the creation of agricultural sector employment. By changing the law and redirecting slot revenue, a large number of people in the agricultural sector lose their livelihood. Most do not have secondary careers in nuclear physics to fall back on.
            Also quickly forgotten is the fact that racetracks gave a home to the slots at a time when nobody else wanted them in their neighborhood. As the scene continues to play out in Ontario, the only thing that is clear is that they shot the golden goose. It would be a shame if WV made the same mistake.

          • fb0252

            Is there any marketing of the horse racing side of the Casino’s in WVa? Do they advertise the races there, or the weekly pick six pots. Is there any internet advertising of the sport in West VA on non-horse racing side. Any effort at promotion of horse racing by the West VA horsepeople?

  • jttf

    when economy is in a hole. cuts are required. back to the campaign trail.

    • m_moore

      WV economy has been in a hole, not breaking new. This establishment is one of the largest the state has to offer and generates millions for the state.
      So destroying a industry that is the source of thousands of jobs, supports local business and state farming seems resonable. I can’t agree.

  • THINK TWICE

    America doesn’t want horse racing. Those who have been chosen to represent the people have no idea on how to create jobs so they take and take until there is nothing left to take. This is why those who chose to target the racing industry should be named and paraded about as enemies of the industry.

  • Bo

    I hope the owners and trainers prevail! Instead of theses so called politicians doing there jobs and making the cuts in theses give away programs that are breaking the states, they try and find a soft target! This defeats the purpose, in losing more jobs in a state that needs the money! The people of West Virginia need to stand up and make there politicians make the hard disc ion to cut theses social programs in order to save the state! All the politicians are worried about is themselfs and there jobs and power they have. Term Limits is the only way to stop the Greed! They care nothing about there state or the people that live in it.. We the people in all states must take back the power of our states and out of the hands of the self serving Politicians!!!! The Time Is Now!!!!

    • circusticket

      Term limits would make things worse. Why would a politician work hard for the people when there’s no chance of being reelected? And when you get a good politician, you’d want to keep him/her. Don’t treat all politicians like scum. We don’t like when they treat all of us like scum. Choose carefully.

      • m_moore

        But when Politicians treat like us like scum??… The Governor came to the horsemen when he wanted in office and pledged to always be friend to horse racing and our cause if we voted for him. Then when he screws the budget he targets the body that helped him get in office!!.

        • Jared

          I can’t believe you actually trusted the promise of a Democrat… any Democrat, but particularly this one. Hope you’ve learned your lesson.

          • m_moore

            Lol.. in that you are correct!!!

  • The insatiable greed of self enriching politicians who were placed in office by uninformed voters. That money should have been dedicated to horse racing but to have insisted on that would have, no doubt, killed the bill.

    • Lou, have you heard of Toney Betts (Anthony Zito) and his book, “Across The Board” (@ 1956)?

      • No, Don, I have not but i will be researching it later today.

        • Thanks! I feel like a fool for not having read it thirty years ago; but had I not found in in the Lyrical Ballad last summer, I would never have known it existed. His sense of humor is better than any other racing writer I’ve come across, and that includes Joe Palmer.

  • Anton Chigurh

    I might have a little more sympathy for them if they actually cleaned up that filthy toilet aka MTR Park. It’s not like anybody actually attends the races there nor do they promote racing.

  • Bobf83

    I’m tired of hearing about slots money. That’s all that racetracks care about now.
    Out here in California, we are never going to get them and somehow we will survive. The only reason Hollywood closed was because corporate interests got involved and when that happens you are doomed. Every race track sits on property that is worth more money developed. You could say the same thing about a golf course. That was just bad luck more than the sports rapid decline. Hollywood still made money.
    Blame Churchill Downs and RD Hubbard for that. Racing people wanted to buy Hollywood Park but Churchill had the right to choose who they sold it to.
    I say if they lose slots so be it, God forbid you would have to figure out how to run your track without slot machines.
    New York is eventually going to lose their slot money.

  • L8EDI

    Yet another example of why horse racing should not become the welfare child of casinos….too late for some.

  • Exact map. Using it places the information right into the physical context of the discussion.

  • equine avenger

    Slots funding to the racing industry is the same as those on welfare. As long as many of those people can keep getting that free welfare check, food stamps, etc, they aren’t going to be too concerned with getting up off their butts and go out and get a job! But someday it will all end, they will have no skills, no work ethic and no energy….no one is going to hire them. And then they complain because they can’t pay the bills!
    It will be nobodies fault but their own that they waited so long to do anything about it.

  • Richard C

    For politicians, the cash becomes “free money” they can raid with a strike of a pen. Horsemen become a cheap pawn when alternative gaming becomes an easier, cheaper means to stuff loads of cash into the state’s general account.

  • Jared

    Thank you, Ray, for bringing attention to this matter!

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