Liz McCormick Published

House Moves Forward with Elimination of Greyhound Fund

Jeff Eldridge

A bill to eliminate the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund is making its way through the House. It’s been on second reading, or the amendment stage, since Tuesday, but due to a laundry list of amendments and some heated debate, consideration was postponed until Thursday.

Senate Bill 437 eliminates the Greyhound Breeding and Development Fund, putting some $14 million back into the state’s Excess Lottery Revenue Fund to be used for appropriations by the legislature. The fund is made up of a percentage of the money from table games at the state’s two greyhound racetrack casinos in Wheeling and Nitro. The appropriations help pay for dog breeding as well as bet winnings.

The House considered one amendment to the bill Thursday, which came from Delegate Jeff Eldridge, a Democrat from Lincoln County. Rather than getting rid of the fund altogether, his amendment would instead look to another funding source to help support the state’s budget crisis – horse racing.

His amendment would take half of the money from the greyhound breeding fund and the other half from a similar fund set up for the horse racing industry. Eldridge says by doing this, it’ll keep the greyhound industry alive in the state and save some of his constituents’ jobs.

“There’s some discrepancy a’how many jobs this is, well if it’s one job in my district, I’m gonna stand up and fight for it,” Eldridge said, “and if I could offer 50 more bad amendments to this thing, I would. Everybody gets up here and stands for their district and what they stand for. If we can’t band together as a group of people to fight for your district, then we’re here for the wrong reasons.”

Officials from the greyhound racing industry estimate eliminating the fund would cost nearly 1,700 jobs in West Virginia.

House Finance Chair Delegate Eric Nelson says he understands Eldridge’s concerns, but he says the industry is dwindling and the state needs the money. He spoke against the amendment.

“Twenty years ago, the racing industry for our greyhounds, and really thoroughbreds, was thriving much greater than it is now, but over these last few years especially, there’s been a tremendous decline,” Nelson said, “and I think I stated the other day that just in Wheeling alone, how the participation at the track, as far as people attending, has gone from 900,000 twenty years ago down to less than 20 last year, or maybe it was 2013 according to study. I mean it’s very difficult times, and it’s the prioritization.”

The amendment failed on a roll call vote of 39 to 57. Senate Bill 437 will be on third reading and up for a final vote in the chamber tomorrow.