W. Virginia warned that if funding cut, greyhound industry won't survive

Mar 24, 2017 9:57 AM

Steve Sarras, president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association, is warning West Virginia legislators that if the State Legislature eliminates the state’s Greyhound Breeding Development Fund to save $15 million, the industry won’t survive.

He said “I am telling you, if this passes, kennels will not be able to afford to operate.” Senate Bill 437 cuts the breeders’ fund money and redirects it to the state’s Excess Lottery Revenue Fund for appropriation by the Legislature. He calls it a “a death blow.”

West Virginia’s state revenue has dropped significantly after a serious decline in the coal industry. The state is looking for alternatives to fill a projected $455 million budget deficit this year.

Bills to eliminate the state’s role in funding greyhound racing passed finance committees in both the House and Senate on Wednesday. Should the measure wind up passing both houses, Gov. Jim Justice says his preference is to keep greyhound racing in West Virginia and explore other budget cutting options.

There are two greyhound tracks in West Virginia, Wheeling Island in Wheeling and the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort once known as Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center in Nitro near Cross Lanes in Southern West Virginia. Races are conducted nearly year-round at both facilities.

Sarras told both the West Virginia House and Senate committees he believes elimination of greyhound racing would result in the loss of 1,700 jobs directly and indirectly tied to the industry, which he said would cost the state $24 million in unemployment benefit payments.

This is the third straight year the Legislature has attempted to jetison the greyhound subsidy, which is funded through a percentage of racetrack casino video lottery profits.