With publication Tuesday of an op-ed by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, calling for West Virginia to stop subsidizing greyhound racing purses to the tune of $15 million a year, Grey2K USA — a national organization that opposes greyhound racing on humane grounds — announced that it is launching an “unprecedented” lobbying campaign to end greyhound racing in the state.
“This will be, speaking for us, an unprecedented lobbying campaign in terms of investment in every sense,” said Grey2K Executive Director Carey Theil. “In terms of substantial financial investment, time and focus.”
He said that will include having at least three lobbyists at the 2020 legislative session.
Since its formation in 2001, the Massachusetts-based nonprofit has lobbied successfully to outlaw greyhound racing in six states, including passage last fall of a constitutional amendment to end dog racing in Florida.
“We view this debate in West Virginia to be a critical one,” Theil said. “We’re going to ask, as President Carmichael did today, does West Virginia want to be the last state to sanction and subsidize an industry that’s cruel and inhumane?”
In the op-ed, first published on the West Virginia Press Association’s news-sharing website, Carmichael cited the Florida referendum to outlaw greyhound racing, and warned that West Virginia “may find itself once again as a dubious national outlier.”
“Absent legislative action, West Virginia is in danger of finding itself as the last state in the nation that sanctions and subsidizes an industry whose time has passed — greyhound racing,” Carmichael stated in the op-ed.
Contacted Tuesday, Carmichael said he has never been a fan of subsidizing greyhound racing. He said he is disturbed by the death and injury rates reported for racing greyhounds.
“This is an activity whose time has passed,” he said, noting that West Virginia is one of only a handful of states where greyhound racing is still legal.
In 2017, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 437 to eliminate the $13 million to $15 million a year in state Lottery funds that are used to subsidize greyhound racing purses. The bill also would have eliminated a provision in state law that requires Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island casinos to have greyhound racing as a condition of maintaining video lottery, table games and sports betting at their facilities.
The bill passed the Senate 19-15, with Carmichael’s support, and passed the House 56-44.
However, Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the bill in a ceremony in Wheeling, stating, “If we get rid of greyhound racing, it will mean job losses and fewer people coming to West Virginia. Eliminating support for the greyhounds is a job killer, and I can’t sign it. The last thing we need to do is drive more people out of West Virginia. We can’t turn our back on communities like Wheeling that benefit from dog racing.”
Industry proponents contend that it provides about 1,700 jobs in West Virginia, although a 2015 study commissioned by the Legislature found that greyhound racing accounted for just over 600 full- and part-time jobs in the state.
Anticipating publication of Carmichael’s op-ed, Grey2K, on Tuesday, launched a new website, greyhoundracingfacts.org, and a Twitter feed, @dogracingfacts, as part of its West Virginia campaign, Theil said.
“He supported the issue two years ago when it passed the Legislature, so, obviously, we’ve had a dialogue with him on this issue for some time,” Theil said of Carmichael.
Carmichael said Tuesday he believes most West Virginians support using the Lottery funds for purposes other than to artificially boost greyhound racing purses.
“It makes no sense, any way around this,” said Carmichael, who added that he’s confident legislation to end the funding will pass the Legislature in 2020.
“We’re going to pass this again,” he said. “I’m positive.”