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Bill would end state’s greyhound racing industry

Legislation introduced Monday would end the struggling greyhound racing industry in the state, providing a $36.5 million buyout for greyhound owners and breeders (SB547).

Based on the findings of a study by Spectrum Gaming Group, requested last fall by the then-House and Senate Finance chairmen, the bill concludes, “it is in the best interest of the state of West Virginia and the West Virginia greyhound racing entities to cease greyhound racing in West Virginia, and to compensate the West Virginia greyhound racing entities for their investment.”

The Spectrum study found that, with attendance and wagering in steep decline since 1990, state subsidies – from racetrack casino profits -- in 2012 accounted for $29 million of a $31 million state greyhound racing industry.

Spectrum, a leading independent research firm specializing in the gaming industries, concluded that, “Surely, the state of West Virginia could put the casino supplements to better use for the benefit of West Virginia.”

The bill goes to Senate Finance Committee, where Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said Monday he will determine in the next few days whether to take action on the bill.

“We’re looking to make sure we’re aware of all the implications of a big decision like this,” he said.

“We haven’t had a good vetting of the issue yet,” he added. “We’re aware of the study. This bill applies that study.”

Hall said he will be meeting with leadership in both houses over the next few days to see if there is consensus on the buyout proposal.

Other possible options could include a smaller buyout, or the elimination of purse and breeders’ funds subsidies without any compensation to owners and breeders, he said.

Lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said he introduced the bill at the behest of some in the greyhound industry.

“It’s an industry that’s been around awhile,” he said. “This industry is down now, and they’re trying to get a graceful exit.”

While wagering on greyhound racing has been on the decline, the industry has also been under fire from humane groups, including Grey2K USA, and the ASPCA, which has released a joint study concluding that from 2008 to 2014, more than 6,000 greyhounds were injured at the state’s two tracks, with at least 321 fatal injuries reported.

The bill would direct $12.5 million a year of racetrack Lottery profits to the buyout, which would pay out $36.5 million over three years to greyhound owners, based on formulas calculating ratios of past earnings, ratios of state-whelped greyhounds, and years of operation of greyhound kennels.

It would also set aside $600,000 for no-kill animal shelters to transport, care for, and arrange adoptions for former racing greyhounds. Those funds would also be used to provide a $300 payment for each adopted greyhound.

As the Spectrum study noted, the greyhound industry is divided over a buyout plan to “decouple” the casinos from having to offer greyhound racing, with the West Virginia Owners and Breeders Association advocating for a buyout, while the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association is opposed.

However, it noted both sides agree on one point: “Doing away with the casino subsidies or significantly reducing them would end greyhound racing.”

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

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