CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund made it over the finish line Wednesday after a bill to eliminate the fund was rejected by the West Virginia Senate.
Senate Bill 285 was rejected Wednesday by a vote of 23 against and 11 in favor, with nine Republican senators voting with Senate Democrats to kill the bill. Voting against the measure pushed by Senate President Mitch Carmichael were Sens. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke; Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, and Charles Clements, R-Wetzel.
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Support came from senators such as Randy Smith, R-Tucker. With no interest in the state’s racing industry and as someone who does not support legalized gambling, Smith gave a brief floor speech in which he said he’s tired of taking away people’s jobs.
“As a state, we are always willing to take a job away from someone else, to take jobs away from someone else’s area. All we have to do is look at southern West Virginia to see how that’s worked,” he said. “I voted to end greyhound racing twice … in good conscience, I can’t vote today to do away with these people’s jobs.”
Weld also spoke against ending the fund. He provided numbers that contradicted a claim from Carmichael of one dog dying at the two racetracks every 10 days. Weld said information from the West Virginia Racing Commission shows that over the past five years, there have been 69 fatalities at the tracks — an average of about 14 per year, or one over 26 days.
He also disputed claims from Carmichael and others that greyhound racing is “an industry in decline.” He said over the past 10 years, the handle — what is bet — on greyhound racing increased 34 percent, from $92 million in 2010 to $124 million in 2019. During that same period, the handle for horse racing — still much greater than for dogs — decreased 35 percent.
“To say this is an industry in decline, that’s simply a misnomer,” Weld said.
Ihlenfeld said he and Weld visited the dog kennel in Brooke County last week, and he came away impressed with how the animals are treated.
He also said, as other states have ended greyhound racing and there are only a handful of tracks left nationwide, West Virginia should be working to build the industry and capture the dog racing market.
“There aren’t many industries in this state we control on our own. We are close to becoming the only game in town for dog racing. Instead of kicking this industry to the curb, we should modernize and capture the market. This is an opportunity to grow this industry and make it better. We would be fools to let this go,” Ihlenfeld said.