An end to greyhound racing?

Survey: West Virginians oppose $15 million in ‘subsidies’

WHEELING — A survey sanctioned by the anti-greyhound racing group Grey2K USA Worldwide indicates an overwhelming majority of West Virginians want greyhound racing eliminated in West Virginia, and oppose $15 million in “subsidies” the industry receives from the state.

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, meanwhile, questions the use of the word “subsidize” in the survey, and says the language misled voters.

He also believes the poll exemplifies an intensified effort by greyhound racing opponents to pass legislation eliminating the industry during the next regular legislative session that begins in January.

The Legislature acted in 2017 to stop the funding to breeders, but the legislation later was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice.

Dog racing takes place locally at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes, W.Va.

Under state laws pertaining to video lottery at racetracks, the casinos with dog racing tracks are required to send 1.5 percent of video lottery revenue collected to a special account established by the West Virginia Racing Commission known as the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. The state then distributes money from the fund back to breeders, which most years has raked in about $15 million.

The survey was conducted by pollster Mark Blankenship and Mark Blankenship Enterprises Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, and registered the opinions of 403 people registered to vote in West Virginia and likely to cast ballots during the 2020 election year.

Among the questions asked on the survey was this one: “Do you generally support or oppose the state government spending between $13 million and $15 million a year in gambling revenue to subsidize commercial greyhound breeding for racing at two casinos in West Virginia?”

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they “strongly oppose” the money going to breeders, with 22 percent indicating they “somewhat oppose;” 10 percent “somewhat support,” and 6 percent “strongly support.”

Blankenship provided additional results of the poll specifically pertaining to the Northern Panhandle, though he could not determine the exact number of respondents contacted in local counties.

Northern Panhandle results show 41 percent saying they “strongly oppose” money going to the dog racing industry. Another 17 percent said they “somewhat oppose;” 27 percent “somewhat support;” and 10 percent “strongly support.”

“If you ask any question in that form, you would expect people would say we shouldn’t give them a subsidy,” Weld said. “But we’re not talking about a subsidy — that’s a misnomer. The casino just has to send the money to the state before it comes back to the track.

“If you are not from an area with a track and this doesn’t affect you, you’re obviously in favor of ending what you think to be a subsidy. They’re asking a misleading question — and these are obviously skewed numbers.”

He said it is frustrating for legislators who consistently have to explain the money that comes back to local breeders “isn’t a subsidy.”

It has been estimated that 1,700 people are employed in the dog racing industry in West Virginia. A second question asked respondents if they were more likely to support dog racing in West Virginia based on this jobs number.

Fifty-seven percent said it made no difference to them, while 27 percent said they were “somewhat more likely to support” and another 9 percent said they “were much more likely to support.”

Locally in the Northern Panhandle, 24 percent said they were “much more likely to support” dog racing; and 18 percent, “somewhat more likely to support.”

Still 55 percent — a majority in the Northern Panhandle — indicated the job numbers made “no difference” to them, according to the survey numbers.

“We’re talking about people’s jobs here — people who work at the kennels in Beech Bottom,” Weld said. “Policies in Charleston have a real effect. That’s something I don’t think people are thinking about when we talk about this. Someone’s fear of losing their job is very real, and that is what we are fighting against.”

Weld believes the survey is one tool being used by greyhound racing opponents as the 2020 legislative session approaches.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael already has indicated he will push the issue of stopping the practice of sending the money to dog breeders.

Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K US, defended the organization’s use of the word “subsidy.” He pointed to the definition of “subsidy,” which is “a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.”

“I agree state law allows money from one form of gambling be used to subsidize greyhound racing,” he said. “I understand why greyhound racing supporters don’t want to use the word — but it is what it is.

“It’s an argument you make when you can’t debate the issue.”

Theil said Grey2K overall wasn’t surprised by the findings, but was surprised by the high number of people indicating they were opposed to funding in West Virginia for the dog breeding industry.

The group, however, didn’t expect the amount of opposition shown in the Northern Panhandle.

“It’s an indication, we are in a new environment on the issue,” Theil said. “The fundamental problem is the industry is out of touch with where the public is.”

He said its time for Weld; Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio; Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, to sit down at the table “and negotiate a phase out (of greyhound racing) with us.”

“It would make sense for it to be a phase out, then there could be provisions for job training and re-training of workers,” he said.

Fluharty indicated this isn’t likely to happen.

“Grey2K put together a propaganda filled press release disguised as a poll in order to influence votes of legislators,” he said. “They’ve also hired lobbyists to help spread their lies.

“I plan to work in a bipartisan manner with Delegate Storch, as we did before, to educate our colleagues on the facts. The facts are this industry is responsible for thousands of jobs and millions in revenue. That’s backed up by an economic study from (West Virginia University.) Now an out-of-state radical animal rights group is aiming to discredit our flagship university and our people by buying votes in the legislature.”

Neither Storch nor Ihlenfeld immediately returned messages seeking comment on Monday.

(King can be contacted at jking@theintelligencer.net)


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