Mountaineer Cuts Purses in Wake of Legislative Action

The latest condition book at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort reflects a 20% reduction in purses primarily brought about by the shift of some video lottery terminal revenue to the state to fix its workers' compensation system.

Purses so far this year have averaged about $170,000 a day, but as of July 22, horsemen will race for about $30,000 less per day. Maiden special weight events that had gone for $25,000 will go for $20,000, while the minimum purse--for $5,000 maiden-claimers--will drop from more than $10,000 to $8,400.

In mid-July, horsemen said there was a purse underpayment of about $4.5 million to $5 million. A decision on purse levels, however, had not been announced at that time. Generally, the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and racetrack management like to maintain a cushion in the purse account.

Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer, couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

The condition book reflects no changes in the immediate stakes schedule. The West Virginia Derby (gr. III) remains $750,000 guaranteed and tops a scheduled nine-race program Aug. 14 with eight other stakes ranging in value from $85,000-$125,000.

Earlier this year, the West Virginia legislature passed a bill that takes revenue from purses at the state's horse and Greyhound tracks and funnels it to the workers' comp fund, which is in need of money. Mountaineer horsemen will pay about $3.5 million to the fund.

Purses at Charles Town Races & Slots in the state's Eastern Panhandle region already have been reduced this year.

Combined, the two Thoroughbred tracks have more than 7,000 video gaming devices. In West Virginia, VLTs were authorized by the state legislature and subsequent local referendums. There wasn't a statewide constitutional amendment.

At Mountaineer, purses receive 15.5% of revenue from VLTs under the original bill. However, another 1.5% is now coming out of the purse account to support breed development programs at Charles Town and two dog tracks. The situation came about when a bill to start a breed development program at Mountaineer was vetoed by the governor, but the mechanism to take the funds was approved as part of another bill that became law.

Supporters of the breed development program said they hope legislation is introduced and approved in September. If the program were established, the 1.5% would go to state-bred awards at Mountaineer, but if the funds weren't paid out, they would revert to the general purse account.