Legislator Advocates Changes at Charles Town

A West Virginia legislator whose district includes Charles Town Races & Slots is advocating a plan to enlarge the racing surface and, if necessary, renovate dilapidated Shenandoah Downs and race there during the down time--or perhaps permanently.

John Doyle, a member of the state House of Delegates, is a longtime racing fan and supporter of the Charles Town operation. On June 2, he presented several proposals to the Jefferson County Commission, the Herald-Mail newspaper of Hagerstown, Md., reported.

Doyle supports lengthening the three-quarter-mile "bull ring" to seven furlongs, primarily for safety reasons. A larger track also would better accommodate the many horses that train at Charles Town, which is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc.

Doyle met with a PNGI official the week of May 23, the Herald-Mail reported, to discuss his proposals. They include distributing slot-machine revenue to owners, trainers, jockeys, and others during any down time while the surface is lengthened; increasing purses when racing begins after the project; and even converting the five-eighths-mile track at Shenandoah, now used for training, to seven furlongs and constructing a grandstand with slots.

Shenandoah hasn't held live racing since the late 1970s. The grandstand still stands but appears ready to collapse. Some of the old barns remain and are used by trainers who race at neighboring Charles Town. PNGI owns the Shenandoah property and has talked about developing it.

PNGI has said it's willing to expand the Charles Town surface, but the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has rejected the plan because the track could be dark for up to a year, according to published reports.

Interestingly, Doyle's proposal is similar to that of the previous Charles Town HBPA regime. In 2003, former president Dick Watson proposed the Charles Town expansion and racing at Shenandoah, and had devised a scheme whereby the horsemen's group would pay for half of the project.

At the time, the purse account had a huge underpayment of almost $10 million. When Watson was ousted from the president's post, the new regime, which argued the general membership didn't support the Charles Town expansion, quickly bagged the plan and opted to put the money into purses. The overpayment was gone in about six months.

Charles Town was dark last August while its surface was renovated, but problems with the surface led to multiple cancellations in September. With no money in reserve and a state mandate that takes some purse revenue from slots and shifts it to the state's workers' compensation fund, purses have been cut again this year.

The Charles Town operation is by far the biggest revenue- producer for Penn National Gaming, which also owns Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania.