The Jockeys' Guild has requested a portion of West Virginia gaming funds be earmarked for jockey health and safety programs.
Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks told a finance subcommittee of West Virginia's Interim Joint Committee on Finance that he's concerned about the lack of benefits for jockeys who ride at the two tracks in West Virginia—Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races in Charles Town, and Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in Chester.
"While we recognize that the gaming funds are on the downturn, we would respectfully request that you consider a percentage to be allotted for the health and welfare of the jockeys here in West Virginia," said Meyocks. "Many neighboring states, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania provide workers' compensation coverage and/or health insurance benefits."
The Guild said that in West Virginia, with the exception of the on-track accident policy provided by the racetracks, the only benefits jockeys receive are from the Jockeys' Guild. Those benefits are limited to the jockeys who are members of the guild. The guild benefits provided to members include life insurance policies, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, and temporary disability benefits, as well as representation.
In comparison, Meyocks quoted statistics from other states:
—Delaware legislation requires annual payments of $350,000 for use toward insurance for the jockeys who are eligible.
—In Pennsylvania, $250,000 annually is paid by the horsemen's organization for the Thoroughbred jockeys' organization at the racetrack, for health insurance, life insurance, or other benefits to active and disabled Thoroughbred jockeys in accordance with the rules and eligibility requirements of that organization.
—In New Jersey, $150,000 is provided to the Jockeys Health and Welfare fund to provide health insurance. The funding comes from uncashed pari-mutuel tickets at the off-track wagering facility or through the account wagering system on races conducted out-of state.
—Riders in New Jersey, Maryland, and New York also are covered under workers' compensation in the event of an injury.
Meyocks added that since 2007, the Guild has paid more than $5.1 million in benefits to jockeys. Of this amount, approximately $165,000 was spent on temporary disability alone for riders in West Virginia.
In addition to the benefits provided to active riders, the Guild also assists more than 50 permanently disabled jockeys, including Gary Birzer, who was paralyzed at Mountaineer in 2004. Those benefits include life insurance and aid such as prescription costs, co-pays, breathing tubes, oxygen, replacement parts for wheelchairs, etc.
The Jockeys' Guild receives its funding from essentially two sources: the jockeys who pay $100 per year annual dues as well as $4 per mount and the contributions from racetracks. The Guild said neither of the Thoroughbred racetracks in West Virginia contributes to the guild.
After the hearing, Meyocks said he was encouraged by the interest legislators showed.
"We understand that the funds from the racinos are being squeezed by competition from other states, and the state budget is a huge challenge," said Meyocks. "However, we're just asking that committee members consider what the surrounding states have done for the athletes who are such an integral part of racing. They risk not only injury, but their lives every day, in order to generate funds for the racetracks."