WEIRTON - Predicting significant competition from a racetrack scheduled to open near Youngstown, Ohio, by the end of the year, officials at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort want to reduce the number of thoroughbred races they hold each year to save money.
However, during a West Virginia Racing Commission meeting Monday in Weirton, a group of horse breeders and trainers told commissioners that eliminating 14 live racing days per year would put some of them out of business - an action they said would have a chilling effect on Hancock County's economy.
According to its website, the Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course is expected open in Austintown, Ohio, later this year. This facility would join several other new casinos which have opened in both Ohio and Pennsylvania over the last few years.
Photos by Casey Junkins
Listening during the West Virginia Racing Commission meeting Monday in Weirton are, from left, Deputy Attorney General Kelli Talbott, Commission Chairman Jack Rossi and hearing examiner Jeff Blaydes.
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort Racing Director Rose Mary Williams addresses the commission.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Larry Reed, a Hancock County resident who has owned and trained thoroughbreds for 45 years, addresses the West Virginia Racing Commission on Monday in Weirton.
"People are going to run in Austintown. The biggest competitive factor with Austintown is that they are going to run on our race days," Mountaineer Racing Director Rose Mary Williams told commissioners.
John W. Baird, president of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, told commissioners he agreed with track officials' proposal to cut 14 days of racing per year. However, he acknowledged this would cause economic hardship for some of the dozens of people gathered at the Millsop Community Center.
"Some people are going to be affected. Your blacksmith, the feed people. There will be an impact on the whole economy for Hancock County," Baird said.
Larry Reed of Hancock County, who has owned and trained thoroughbreds for 45 years, said he favored a proposal that would allow the track to hold eight races per day instead of the 10 it now holds.
He and several others believed reducing the number of races per day would be a better option than cutting the number of days races are held.
Earlier this year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill that cuts video lottery revenue appropriations to various thoroughbred and greyhound breeders' and purse funds by 10 percent to redirect them to the state's Excess Lottery Revenue Fund.
Donna Zook, a longtime horse trainer and former jockey, disagrees with this policy.
"Every time the state needs money, they come and rob us," she said, urging commissioners to cut the number of races per day instead of racing days.
Mountaineer officials seek to reduce horse racing at the same time the facility is losing revenue. According to parent company MTR Gaming Group, net revenues at Mountaineer dropped from $49.2 million over the first three months of 2013 to $45.9 million during the same time this year.
This includes a $3.1 million drop in slot machine revenue year-over-year, as well as an approximately $300,000 decline in table gambling revenue.
The commission oversees both thoroughbred and greyhound racing in the state. Chester-based Mountaineer and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle run thoroughbreds, while Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort near Charleston run greyhounds.
Following the meeting, commission Chairman Jack Rossi said the group's hearing examiner, Jeff Blaydes, would review all of the material in order to make a recommendation.
He said the commission's next meeting is set for Aug. 1 at the Mountaineer track.