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Statehouse beat: Breeders, owners vs casinos

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard to root for either side in the battle between thoroughbred owners and breeders and casino operators over whose funds will be raided in order to lower the state table games license fees from $2.5 million to as low as $1.5 million a year (SB615).On one hand, there's no industry that is subsidized by the state to the level of thoroughbred and greyhound racing -- most recently to the tune of $106.6 million of state Lottery funding in the 2012 budget year. From that perspective, the original bill's proposal to take $3 million out of the purse funds seems sound.Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who has inherited the mantle of defender of the thoroughbred industry now that Delegate John Doyle has retired, amended the bill to restore the $3 million to the purse funds, but take $5 million a year out of a $10 million matching fund that allows the racetrack-casinos to upgrade slot machines to compete with larger, fancier casinos in Pennsylvania and Ohio.That sounds harsh at a time when the state's casinos are being squeezed by out-of-state competitors. In fact, the reason for the original bill is to avoid having Wheeling Island surrender its table games license on June 30.Harsh, except that the groups that own the state casinos also own the out-of-state competitors. Gaming giant Penn National, which gets the biggest chunk of the state matching funds each year for its casino in Charles Town, also operates the Hollywood Casino and a separate "racino" in Columbus, Ohio, that are effectively killing Wheeling Island's business...***One of the ironic things about the purse and breeders' funds is that they are predominately tied to video slots revenues at the racetrack-casinos, so that the breeders' funds would be unaffected and purse funds only marginally affected, even if no one is watching or betting on the live races -- which seems to be getting close to the reality, at least for greyhound racing. These days at Mardi Gras, a good crowd for greyhound racing is about 100, I'm told. Compare that to the heyday of dog racing at Tri-State in the mid-1980s, when the papers published daily race previews and results, "Popsicle Pete" was in the sports headlines, and paid attendance -- yes, you had to buy a ticket to get into the racetrack -- in 1986 was 686,574.Even though attendance has dropped off, the greyhound breeders' fund has only declined slightly (again, driven by video slots revenue, not live betting) with $6.2 million paid out in the 2012 budget year.Top 10 recipients in 2012: Monroe Racing, Inc., $682,726; McMillion Kennel, $644,952; Joseph A. Douglas, $495,063; Ricardo Pacheco, $450,022; Rondis Cavender, $356,286; Greg Geter, $317,755; Jack Stolirchick, $245,351; Freda M. Tomblin, $220,495; Dean R. Miner, $208,167; and James B. Jackson, $207,633.
***Regarding the state hiring freeze imposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for the remainder of the 2013 budget year, callers raised two questions: One, how was Administration able to hire Gregory Melton as the new General Services Division director, and two, does the freeze apply to state hospitals, which have staffing shortages?The answers, courtesy of Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Schuler Goodwin: The GSD position became open prior to the hiring freeze order on March 19. Hires at state hospitals fall under a critical needs exception in the order and, on Friday alone, nurses were hired at the Veterans' nursing home in Clarksburg and at Mitchell-Bateman Hospital.Speaking of which, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey evidently did not get the governor's memo. He put out a "want ad" Friday, looking for, among other positions, a chief operating officer, assistant comptroller, network administrator, and staff attorneys...***
Finally, the news that the new Morgantown ballpark will host a New York-Penn League minor league ball club, which almost certainly will be a Pittsburgh Pirates' farm team, should come as no surprise to readers of this column.Again, it should be a great symbiotic relationship for the state's two premier cities, since in the normal course of player development, about half of the Morgantown team roster could expect to be promoted to the West Virginia Power the following season.(Legislation to create the sales tax TIF district that will finance the $16 million ballpark (SB125) is poised for passage, despite objections from Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie, presumably since a ball club in Morgantown puts the kibosh on efforts to attract an independent league team to the town's Charles Pointe development ... Is there some requirement that these TIF projects have to have extraneous "e's?")Speaking of baseball, fans may want to mark May 5 on the calendar, when there will be a four-team day-night doubleheader at Power Park, with the flagship institution taking on archrival Oklahoma Sooners at 1:05 p.m., and a Power/Greenville Drive game at 5:05 p.m., as the Power observes National Train Day 2013 six days early.(National Train Day actually is May 11 and, for the first time, events will expand from stations in major cities to include so-called secondary markets. ... Closest participating towns are Huntington and Clifton Forge, Va. ... Of the two, I'd recommend Clifton Forge...)Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.
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