Proposal Shows Split Between Racing, Gaming

The West Virginia Racing Commission has been asked to conduct economic impact study.

A request for authorization for an economic study on Thoroughbred and Greyhound racing and breeding in West Virginia shed light on the friction between the racing and gaming sectors in the state.

The West Virginia Racing Commission May 21 discussed a letter it received from representatives of owners, trainers, and breeders requesting the study, which would be performed by West Virginia University. The groups propose money for the study come from WVRC accounts tied to racing.

Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president Randy Funkhouser said similar studies have been conducted in regard to the industry's impact at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle region of the state. A statewide study, however, hasn't been done.

Legislation that would have authorized such a study failed to pass in the 2013 session.

"I don't think a study has been done on (Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort) or the dog industry," Funkhouser said. "The reason for the study would be for you to get a handle on the entire industry in the state. I think the will is there to do a study like this."

The state's other tracks, Mardi Gras Casino & Resort and Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack, offer live Greyhound racing. All four tracks have video lottery terminals and table games, as well as other amenities.

John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, which lobbies on behalf of the tracks, told the commission a study on just racing and breeding would be insufficient.

"What has been proposed could be a good thing, but it should include both aspects of what the tracks have to offergaming and racing," Cavacini said. "If the HBPA wants to do an economic study, our facilities are multi-purpose. If you're going to get a true perspective, you have to include the larger sector of what happens at racetracks."

Cavacini also suggested the WVRC may have to request bids for the project.

Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, said money for the study could come from the Thoroughbred and Greyhound breeding funds that fall under the racing commission. He also said the study should be limited to racing and breeding.

"I personally object to turning it into a gaming and racing study," Burdette said. "It should be a study into the benefits of keeping racing and breeding in the state. We feel racing is being attacked because it isn't as profitable as (video lottery terminals) and table games.

"We'd like to stand on our own two feet and illustrate what the racing sector does for West Virginia."

Funkhouser said a meeting has been scheduled for June 12 to discuss the proposal with West Virginia University. WVRC member Bill Phillips said he has no problem with the concept but would like to see the methodology of the study before any decision is made.

WVRC chairman Jack Rossi said he wants to make sure there is no overlap with any legislative plans for a comprehensive study. Rossi said that could be part of a meeting of all industry representatives he hopes to have in the future.

"This would be something on that agenda," Rossi said. "I think it has merit for consideration, but we're going to have to get a lot more information."