The once-popular greyhound racing is losing favour among some West Virginia state lawmakers, who have introduced legislation to strip away government funding that has helped finance the races for years.
The bill has already led to controversy among members of the Senate, becoming the focus of a hotly disputed debate about whether or not to keep the money rolling in.
At the beginning of last week, the Senate Finance Committee in West Virginia discussed Senate Bill 285 (SB 285), legislation which would sanction the death of the Greyhound Breeder’s Development Fund (GBDF).
The bill was first proposed last month by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who intends to abolish the fund by July 1. An initial vote strongly supported adoption of the bill, and a second Wednesday vote was just as supportive.
The state gives the GDBF about $17 million annually, with the money coming from the gambling activity proceeds. Some lawmakers, however, believe it would be better to spend money on education, arguing that greyhound racing is no longer profitable or popular, but not all agree.
Florida has recently decided to ban greyhound races in the state and that means West Virginia is in a perfect spot to capitalise on the closure, according to the bill’s opposition.
Senator Mike Maroney states: “This is extremely concerning and disturbing, this whole bill. It’s embarrassing. I’m actually embarrassed to be part of the majority party when stuff like this comes up. If there was a dog track in the Eastern Panhandle, we wouldn’t be talking about this. I promise you that.”
West Virginia has two greyhound tracks–one at Cross Lanes’ Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, and one at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino Racetrack in Wheeling. The fact that Florida has operated 11 of the 17 tracks across the country could theoretically lead to an increase on the two West Virginia tracks due to any closure in the Sunshine state.
Public support for the activity, however, is dwindling, not just in the Mountaineer State, but across the country. It would allow parts of the GBDF to be used to assist with the switch away from the activity if SB 285 made it through the legislative obstacle course.
Initially, $3 million would be assigned to train greyhound employees for other jobs, and $1 million would be spent on promoting racing canine adoption. The bill also provides a $500 tax credit as a perk to anyone who decides to adopt a greyhound.
There is still a great deal of concern that eliminating the race will lead to significant unemployment, an argument that has helped keep the industry alive so far. Bill supporters point out though that the idea is not necessarily to cut off the activity straight away. Instead, the legislation simply eliminates state funding, meaning that the greyhound community would need to pull together and figure out how to sustain the races themselves.