West Virginia Consolidation Plan to 'Interim Study'

A consolidation plan that would make the West Virginia Racing Commission part of a broader Gambling Commission is headed to "interim study," said a representative of one organization that has expressed concern over the proposal.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, in his state of the union address, said he would ask the legislature to consolidate agencies that oversee the lottery, pari-mutuel racing, and charitable gaming. The Lottery Commission oversees video lottery terminals at racetracks in the state, and apparently would take the lead as part of a new Gambling Commission.

The reorganization measure passed the Senate and was discussed by the House of Representatives early the week of March 3. Dick Watson, president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the horsemen's group and its lobbyist have enouraged more dialogue on the subject.

"You're talking about a fairly good-sized reorganization of state government," Watson said. "When you talk about racing and gaming, you're talking about a $1-billion industry. (The measure) was sent to interim study to come up with a solution. We'll present our feelings on how it should be organized."

The move to consolidate agencies comes as West Virginia looks for ways to tighten the budget and streamline activities given the prospect of expanded gambling in neighboring states. Other government consolidations are part of Wise's proposal.

There has been some concern from the pari-mutuel industry that racing, under any consolidation, might be slighted. Revenue from racetrack-based VLTs far outpaces revenue generated by wagering on horse and dog racing in West Virginia.

West Virginia has two Thoroughbred tracks--Charles Town Races & Slots and the Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, and two Greyhound tracks--Tri-State Racing and Entertainment Center and Wheeling Island Gaming.

In an another matter, Watson said horsemen are pursuing legislation that would allow Charles Town to add an 11th race each day to its program to make up for lost racing opportunities. The track has lost 17 programs since the first of the year because of winter weather and poor track conditions.