UPDATE Saturday 12:46 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The West Virginia House has voted to eliminate funding for greyhound racing, which industry officials say would doom the industry in the state and cost an estimated 1,700 jobs.
The bill approved 56-44 in the House of Delegates after long debate Saturday will go to Gov. Jim Justice for signing or veto.
It passed the Senate 19-15 on Monday.
Funding comes from video lottery and table game revenues at the state’s two greyhound tracks in Nitro and Wheeling.
The bill would transfer almost $14 million in anticipated payouts to dog breeders next year to help close the state budget deficit, setting $1 million aside for dog adoptions and shelters.
According to legislators, it currently involves about 7,200 dogs in West Virginia. Greyhound racing with betting is prohibited in 39 states.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
UPDATE Saturday 12:29 p.m.
The House of Delegates has passed Senate Bill 437 by a vote of 56-44.
The bill would discontinue the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund.
The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk.
UPDATE 9:02 p.m.
Hundreds of workers connected with the greyhound racing industry traveled to Charleston for the that vote Friday, just to see it get postponed. And they are not happy.
“It would have a very large, negative impact on the entire Ohio Valley,” Wheeling Vice-Mayor Chad Thalman tells 7News reporter Nick Conigliaro.
With action on Senate Bill 437 postponed by the West Virginia House of Delegates to Saturday, it’s left people wondering why. Why postpone it another day when so many connected to it traveled up to 250 miles to show support. Thalman believes it’s because some are worried the bill won’t pass.
“I think it’s going to be a very close vote. Mayor Glenn Elliott and Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday are in Charleston today working with delegates Shawn Fluharty and Erikka Storch to help defeat this bill,” said Thalman. “Republican leadership in the House of Delegates realizes this bill may not pass and I think that’s why it was delayed.”
7News also spoke with the President of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association Steve Sarros who tells us he believes that lawmakers do not want to see the faces of the people whose jobs and income they are going to destroy, which he says will be upwards of 1700 careers. From those who work at Wheeling Downs to the veterinarians that care for the animals.
Sarros released a statement to 7News stating, “This is a jobs kill bill, any way you slice it. If this is truly a budgetary issue, and we really need money…why not the horses too? Horses take in three times the gambling dollars as compared to greyhounds do. Comparing 2016 to 2015, greyhound gambling dollars were up 3% while horses were down 15%. Which is the dying industry?”
Thalman added jobs aren’t the only concern if Senate Bill 437 goes through, “The City of Wheeling also receives over $1 million a year in tax revenue and a lot of that would go away, also.”
As to why those in Charleston are pushing so hard for this bill to pass.
“Delegates that might be from the southern part of the state or the eastern panhandle don’t realize what kind of a negative impact this will have on Wheeling. I don’t think they’re looking out for the northern panhandle,” said Thalman. “I don’t know if they’re just against gambling in general. I can’t really speculate or guess as to why leadership in the House of Delegates wants this to pass.”
Again, the West Virginia House of Delegates postponed any action involving Senate Bill 437 to Saturday.
UPDATE 12:18 p.m.:
The House has postponed the third reading of Senate Bill 437 which would discontinue the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund.
The vote will now take place on Saturday.
The bill was presented to try to balance the state budget.
The third reading and vote for Senate Bill 437 in the House will be Friday. Representatives for Wheeling are fighting to have it voted down.
The Northern Panhandle is under attack from Charleston, according to Ohio County Delegate Shawn Fluharty. Thursday during the second hearing of Senate Bill 437, which would cut funding to the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund, Fluharty became irate with Chairman of Finance Committee Eric Nelson due to his lack of knowledge on the average handle for the month of March at the Wheeling Downs.
“Are you the Chairman of Finance Committee?”
“I am,” said Nelson.
“And you’re not aware of the numbers that come out most recently from the Wheeling Downs that you just said were 80% decline,” Fluharty stated.
Fluharty went on to ask Nelson if he knew what the state’s share percentage was from Wheeling Downs. Nelson responded with “I do not know.” Prompting Fluharty to pull out charts from one Friday afternoon on March 24th and said the total handle was $220,436.
“$220,000 on one Friday afternoon,” Fluharty stated to the West Virginia Legislature. “Of which 1%, everyday, goes back to the state. Lies and deception that’s all we hear from this bill and we just heard it from our finance chairman.”
After the reading today, Fluharty released a statement to 7News saying, “In a budget crisis leadership wants to cut 1,700 jobs, lose millions in revenue and drive families out of our state. It’s fiscally irresponsible and politically driven, not policy driven. Our people deserve better.”
According to Delegate Erikka Storch there were amendments proposed for the bill today, but none were adopted. She also gave 7News a statement saying,
“The financial impact to the City of Wheeling will be devastating. Additionally, the bill makes no consideration for the people, the potentially 1700 people statewide that will be displaced with the demise of this industry. So, in addition to the fiscal devastation the City of Wheeling would endure, the state could be encumbering a debt much larger than the amount hoped to save. While there is some money allotted to deal with the displaced dogs, there is little direction.
Grey2K USA is upset over remarks from Del. Storch saying she will do anything to defeat, in their words “this good bill.”
Again, the House is expecting to have the third reading required for approval, then vote on Senate Bill 437 Friday.