Legislation to end state funding of greyhound racing subsidies was held up Monday in the West Virginia Senate, in the face of Democrats who might vote as a bloc to try to kill the bill.
“There’s some credence to that,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said of rumors that the 14 Senate Democrats might vote together to oppose the bill, which would free up about $17 million in video lottery revenue that currently underwrites racing purses and breeders funds at the state’s two greyhound tracks.
“Our caucus is pretty adamant about not losing these jobs,” he said.
“If somebody came to the state and said, ‘We’re going to provide 1,700 jobs,’ we’d roll out the red carpet for them,” Prezioso said, acknowledging that the figure is an industry estimate, and that a 2015 study funded by the Legislature concluded the industry provides about 600 full- and part-time jobs.
Senate Bill 285 was laid over on second reading on the Senate floor Monday, to give leadership time to craft an amendment to make it more palatable by giving each of the two casinos operating greyhound tracks the option to continue receiving subsidies, Prezioso said.
Opposition to the bill, and to a similar one passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice in 2017, has come almost entirely from legislators and greyhound owners and breeders in the Northern Panhandle, where the Wheeling Island racetrack is located.
Greyhound racing supporters and opponents say that, without the state subsidy, racing could not survive in West Virginia.
Prezioso downplayed whether Democrats’ concern with the bill is that it would provide legislative leadership with revenue needed to fund programs such as an intermediate appeals court, which passed the Senate on a mostly partisan 18-14 vote, with two Republicans — Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, and Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur — joining Democrats in opposition.
“They’re going to need it, no question about that,” Prezioso said of the additional revenue.