Commission seeks authority to set number live racing days

A resolution approved Wednesday seeking legislation to give the state Racing Commission authority to set the number of live racing days at the state’s thoroughbred and greyhound tracks could be a first step in reviving the struggling racing industry in the state, its sponsor said.

“This industry is in serious transition,” Commissioner Bill Phillips said of the resolution, which calls for several steps aimed at revitalizing the state’s struggling thoroughbred and greyhound racing industry.

Part of the resolution calls on the commission to work with stakeholders to come up with proposed legislation to either reduce the mandated number of racing days at the four tracks, or give the commission flexibility to set those numbers.

Current state law requires the horse track at Hollywood Casino in Charles Town and the two greyhound tracks, including the track at the Mardi Gras Casino, to have 220 days of live racing each year, while Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester is required to have horse racing 210 days a year.

However, with continuing declines in both live and simulcast wagering, and legislation cutting the state subsidy of racing purses by more than $8 million a year, the racetracks are finding it impossible to meet those mandates, with purses becoming too small to fill racing cards.

On Wednesday alone, the commission approved a request to cancel seven racing days at Charles Town in November and December, and approved Mountaineer’s request to cancel racing in December because of a lack of purse funds.

“We said, when you run out of money, you don’t have to run races,” Commission chairman Joe Rossi said of the latter decision.

Phillips’ resolution also calls for a study of ways to better market and promote live thoroughbred and greyhound racing.

The resolution was unanimously approved without discussion.

“What they’re asking is that we put together a meeting of interested parties from all four tracks to come up with a plan that palatable to all groups,” John Myers, acting executive director of the Racing Commission, said of the resolution.

The goal is to have draft legislation ready to submit to the Legislature when the 2015 regular session starts in January, he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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