We disagree with West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, on many things. But his recent op-ed through the West Virginia Press Association proposing an end to the $13 million to $15 million annual subsidy for greyhound racing is dead on. In fact, the entire sport should be phased out in the state.
In all likelihood, ending the subsidy would effectively kill the sport anyway.
Some state legislators, cash strapped as West Virginia has been over the past several years, have actually been trying to do this for a while. The effort didn’t make much headway under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, whose family has ties to the dog racing industry. More recent efforts have been quashed by Gov. Jim Justice, who has claimed ending the subsidy for dog racing purses would cost jobs and lead to fewer people coming to the state to spend money.
The issue is more complex than it might seem. The sport is inhumane. It’s less inhumane now than it was in its heyday, 30 to 40 years ago, but that makes little difference. Speaking of heydays, the sport certainly doesn’t draw the crowds it used to. Greyhound racing is already on a slow journey toward nonexistence. Why prolong the process by pumping millions that could be spent elsewhere into the industry?
In addition, after Florida voters passed a referendum last year, West Virginia is now the lone state in the country to subsidize dog racing. It’s also one of only a handful where the sport is still legal. Why be the last one on a sinking ship?
There are other things that must be considered, though. Ending the subsidy or barring the sport completely will cost jobs. Those who support the sport say somewhere around 1,700 people will lose their livelihoods. A 2015 study ordered by the Legislature put that figure at about 600, although those were full-time jobs. The real number might be somewhere in between, but, in a state where finding employment isn’t necessarily easy, that’s a high number. Does it justify keeping greyhound racing? No. It’s still going to be a hit to the economy, though, and the state should be prepared for that.
Another problem is that state law requires Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro to operate dog racing tracks in order to offer video lottery, table games and sports betting. Legislation that would have undone this provision (along with removing the subsidy) was vetoed by Gov. Justice in 2017.
Then there’s nonprofit Grey2K USA — a national group that opposes greyhound racing and was instrumental in the Florida referendum. The group, whatever its intentions, is a lightning rod for controversy. Industry experts and racing fans cast doubt on some of the group’s statistics concerning dog deaths, doping and animal abuse.
The group’s announcement it will amp up a media campaign and deploy no fewer than three lobbyists to work on legislators to try and end the subsidy in the upcoming session seems like overkill. Then again, any doping or mistreatment of the dogs is wrong, regardless of the actual numbers.
Weighing all of this, greyhound racing’s time is up. It’s a fading, inhumane sport and the Legislature should act to end the subsidy and remove the caveat that ties the sport to other operations at Wheeling and Mardi Gras casinos. If the governor vetoes it again, the Legislature should move to override.
It’s simply the right thing to do.