Op-ed: Subsidization of greyhound racing no longer makes sense in West Virginia
In recent years, our Legislature has placed an emphasis on moving West Virginia into the national mainstream. From legal reform to education reform, and everything in between, a common driver of our agenda has been to ensure that West Virginia is no longer ranked last in everything good and first in everything bad.
We have made great progress since 2015, more work remains to be done. In fact, West Virginia soon 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.
Greyhound racing is ending across the United States. Most recently, Floridians voted overwhelmingly this last November – by a 2 to 1 margin – to outlaw dog racing entirely in the Sunshine State.
During a time when politics are perhaps more divided than ever, the campaign to protect greyhounds in Florida was refreshingly bipartisan and garnered support from a broad array of community leaders, including strong conservatives like Lara Trump, then-Gov. Rick Scott, and former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and progressive leaders like Andrew Gillum, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida College Democrats.
In the near future, commercial dog racing will be illegal in 41 states. Ultimately, only a handful of jurisdictions scattered throughout the nation will persist. West Virginia, sadly, is one of those few states.
As a practical matter, greyhounds continue to race in West Virginia merely by virtue of an antiquated state law that requires gambling facilities to hold hundreds of races per year in order to offer other, more profitable forms of gambling. At present, state law requires the dedication of approximately $15 million in state gambling revenues to underwrite greyhound breeding and superficially boost purse funds.
The Legislature voted to end statutory subsidies for greyhound racing two years ago. However, the effort was blocked by a gubernatorial veto.
According to state racing statistics, one racing greyhound dies on average every 10 days at the two dog tracks located in our state. A staggering 8,739 injures have been reported at these facilities since 2008, including more than 3,000 dogs that have suffered broken bones. More than 400 greyhounds died or were euthanized.
From 2010 to 2017, gambling on live races in West Virginia has declined by more than 30 percent. West Virginia is now one of only five states in the nation in which greyhound racing is still operational. Upon closure of Florida’s remaining race tracks, West Virginia will be home to two of the only six remaining active tracks in the nation. And the shockwave of the Florida vote has already reverberated throughout the remaining industry, as Arkansas now debates whether an end to its greyhound racing subsidies is right around the corner.
There is little doubt that the dog racing industry could not survive in West Virginia absent the millions of dollars in state gambling revenues diverted annually to the industry. The millions of dollars in state gambling revenues at stake would be much better invested in public services such as our roads and our education system. Like Arkansas, we must critically evaluate our state’s continued investment in this dying and inhumane industry.
My hope is that West Virginians can come together as Florida did, in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, to finally move our state forward on this front. In the coming months, I look forward to bringing everyone to the table, and finding the best path forward for ending West Virginia’s sponsorship of the greyhound racing industry.
Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is president of the West Virginia Senate and lieutenant governor of West Virginia.