Horsemen Suspicious of WV 'Interagency' Deal

Action on an agreement horsemen view as an attempt to perhaps eliminate an agency that solely regulates horse and dog racing was deferred by the West Virginia Racing Commission Feb. 26.

The "interagency agreement," as it is called, would put West Virginia Lottery Commission director John Musgrave over other agencies–the WVRC, Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission, and Athletic Commission. The idea, according to individuals quoted in reports in Charleston, W.Va., newspapers, would bring efficiency to the agencies.

The agreement was on the agenda for the WVRC meeting. The three-member panel went into closed session for about a half-hour, and when it returned voted to defer action. The item wasn't put on the agenda until late Feb. 21, and is on the agenda for the Lottery Commission meeting set for Feb. 27.

The Lottery Commission oversees video lottery terminals at the state's four racetracks, two Thoroughbred and two Greyhound.

WVRC chairman Jack Rossi said the commission looked at a "rough draft" but needs to speak to the Lottery Commission and attorneys before taking action. Representatives of the racing industry said they haven't seen the document but are concerned because of previous attempts to combine the racing commission with other state agencies.

In 2009 former Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator, attempted to win support for legislation that would have combined the agencies. It was soundly defeated in the House of Delegates in part because of opposition from the horse and dog racing industries.

"None of us know what this is about," said Randy Funkhouser, president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "We faced this in 2009 and it was shot down. We're suspicious this is a back-deal attempt to do the same thing.

"I'm not making accusations, but this is a very esoteric industry. It's a bit difficult to understand our problems. We feel we need a specific agency to address our problems."

Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Greyhound Association, also expressed concerns over the plan. He said he has been unable to find out the parameters of the proposed agreement.

Rossi said he's under the impression there would be no "intermingling" of agency personnel, and that, on the plus side, it could save some money.

"We need to get something we can live with," Rossi said. "We will listen to your concerns (when the language in the agreement becomes public)."

Thoroughbred horsemen have said in recent years they are wary of the Lottery Commission because of what they perceive to be a dislike for racing.

Meanwhile, just a month after being re-elected chairman of the three-man WVRC, Joe Smith was removed by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin earlier in February. New member Bill Phillips was seated Feb. 26, and then Rossi, a member of the panel for about three years, was elected chairman.

It couldn't be determined why Smith, who was viewed as even-handed by horsemen and racetracks and was in charge of the commission when it adopted an overhaul of Thoroughbred racing regulations in 2012, was removed. Phillips, of Elkins, W.Va., led the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney in West Virginia, and previously served as chief of staff for former West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood.

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