West Virginia Purses Would Help Pay Comp Debt

Representatives of horsemen's groups are working in the West Virginia capital of Charleston to fend off an effort by Gov. Joe Manchin to take $5 million from purse accounts at each of the state's four racetracks to help pay off a $3-billion debt in the state workers' compensation program.

Manchin called legislators in for a special session to act on legislation related to the "the financing and funding of the long-term liability debt of the Workers' Compensation Commission," the Charleston Daily Mail reported. Manchin has suggested $20 million come from video lottery proceeds.

West Virginia has two Thoroughbred tracks, Charles Town Races & Slots and Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort, and two Greyhound tracks, Tri-State Racetrack and Entertainment Center and Wheeling Island Gaming. They all have video lottery terminals.

In West Virginia, VLTs were legalized through votes in the state legislature and the counties in which the tracks are located, not through a constitutional amendment.

Officials with the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Mountaineer HBPA told The Blood-Horse they are working together to lobby against the purse reduction. Along with the $20 million, Manchin has proposed that $45 million come out of the fund for excess VLT revenue. That money is used for infrastructure improvements in the state, according to reports.

Currently, there is no public plan to ask the racetracks to contribute a portion of their VLT revenue. Horsemen have suggested the state allow casino-style table games at the tracks to generate more revenue that could be used to help pay down the workers' compensation debt.

On Jan. 26, a top official in the West Virginia coal industry withdrew his support for the workers' comp proposal. The coal industry would contribute about $90 million a year under Manchin's plan.

Though purses at Charles Town and Mountaineer have increased dramatically since the late 1990s--the 2003 daily averages were $140,000 and $175,000, respectively--the tracks didn't make the top 10 in daily average purses for the year. They were toward the bottom of the top 10 in total purses for the year.

Dog racing purses are calculated in a different fashion, but the two West Virginia tracks are believed to be among the top in the nation in purses paid.