The West Virginia Racing Commission Aug. 15 upheld a hearing officer's recommendation that Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort can't abandon December racing, but it allowed leeway should purse money not be available for the final month of the season.
Mountaineer had requested dropping 14 days in December. The Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors agreed to the request, but several members of the association stated objections and forced a hearing on the matter.
Most who attended the hearing voiced concerns over the move. Mountaineer, which used to race year-round, offers 210 days of racing 10 months a year with January and February dark.
The WVRC voted to take the action after a one-hour executive session. It voted unanimously to uphold hearing officer Jeff Blaydes' recommendation, which called for racing through December but an immediate reduction to eight races a day, down from nine or 10.
Blaydes said Mountaineer didn't provide proof there won't be enough horses to race in December.
The adopted motion adds that if purse money runs out before the meet ends, racing can be suspended.
Mountaineer has experienced a decrease in revenue from video lottery terminals and table games because of competition from casinos in neighboring states. And this fall Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course will open just west of Youngstown, Ohio, which is Mountaineer's primary market.
Commissioner Bill Phillips recommended officials with WVRC and Ohio State Racing Commission seek some common ground given a reduction in the number of racehorses in the region and nationwide, as well as a more regional approach to scheduling races.
Phillips spoke specifically about Mountaineer and Mahoning Valley, which are located about 45 minutes apart. Mahoning Valley will race from November through late April.
"We should talk about influencing the two tracks to not run back-to-back on some days," he said.
As it stands now, Mahoning Valley, which will replace Beulah Park on the winter schedule in Ohio, plans to race Monday through Wednesday and Saturday afternoons; Mountaineer races at night those four days of the week.