Following a decades-long national trend, gambling on live dog racing in West Virginia is on the decline.1 As states continue to turn against the practice of greyhound racing, with Florida citizens most recently voting last November by a decisive vote of 69% to 31% to end live racing statewide, West Virginia remains as one of five holdout states still sanctioning commercial greyhound racing.2
Greyhound racing remains intact in West Virginia primarily because of the state’s annual commitment of millions of dollars in state gambling revenues to greyhound breeders and racing purses.3
State lawmakers voted more than two years ago to end such subsidies to the racing industry, but the legislation was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.4 As a result, the state continues to spend approximately $17 million a year propping up West Virginia's dying greyhound racing industry.5 Those funds would be better invested improving the state’s crumbling infrastructure or public education system.
Most West Virginia voters oppose the continuation of greyhound racing subsidies. According to a November 2019 survey by Mark Blankesnship Enterprises, 81% of West Virginia voters oppose greyhound racing subsidies while only 14% support the subsidies.6
West Virginia tracks have not recorded attendance since 2000, but in a report commissioned by the state of West Virginia and published in 2015, Spectrum Gaming Group estimated that attendance at Wheeling Island declined 99% between 1983 and 2013.7 Spectrum estimated in 2015 that attendance was less than 13,000/year, or an average of 50 patrons per day.8 Low attendance persists despite the fact that Wheeling Island’s seating capacity is 2,400.9
Data provided by Wheeling Island management showed that 2% of customers predominantly wager on racing, compared to 98% of customers who predominantly wager in the casino.10
Purses have increased dramatically since 1990. At Mardi Gras, purses increased 281%, from $1.6 million in 1990 to $6.1 million in 2013.11 Purses have been artificially inflated by subsidies from racetrack casino Video Lottery and table games. Video Lottery accounts for 95% of the casinos’ greyhound racing subsidies.12 In the state of West Virginia, purses were higher than the entire live greyhound racing handle: $17.2 million vs. $15.8 million.13
In West Virginia, 63% of purses, $11 million out of $17.4 million in 2013, are won by greyhound owners who live out-of-state.14
At Wheeling Island in 2013, only $2.6 million out of the $11.7 million in purses (22%) was paid to West Virginians. Residents from the state of Kansas alone won more money than West Virginia residents: $3 million vs. 2.6 million.15 Out of 260 entities that won purse money at Wheeling, just 30 (12%) live in West Virginia.16
Out of the 368 entities that raced greyhounds in West Virginia in 2013, the top 10 (less than 3% of all entities) collected 42% of the purses.17 The top 20 (5.4% of entities) collected more than half of all purses.18 The top 50 (13.6% of entities) collected 84% of purses. This means that the bottom 86.4% of entities, over 300 of the 368 in total, collected just 16% of the total purses.
The top two entities alone, both out-of-state, collected $1.8 million, or 15% of the purses.19 Thus, two out-of-state entities collect nearly the same amount as the bottom 318, or 86.4%, of entities. Spectrum drew particular attention to the impact of deeply unequal purse distributions:
“We find these numbers to be important because they demonstrate that the purse awards are limited to a select number of greyhound industry participants, which, in turn, limits the statewide impact, especially when so many of the awards indicate the vast majority of participants do not earn enough to support themselves through greyhound racing.” 20
In addition to subsidies for regular purses ($16.8 million in 2013), West Virginia taxpayers subsidize the Development Fund ($5.5 million in 2013). These awards go to West Virginia breeders, but like regular purses are highly concentrated.21
In 2013, 63 participants, a 10-year low, competed for the $5.5 million subsidy.
The top 10 entities collected 49% (over $2 million) of the awards and the top 20 entities collected 70% of the awards.22
The top two entities alone collected 19% of the Development Fund purses in 2013. Following this statistic in the report, Spectrum wrote, “As we have shown throughout this report, a handful of entities collect the vast majority of purse awards, whether for regular purses or for bonus awards for state-bred dogs.”23
Spectrum ultimately concluded, “With so few entities dominating the awards, the economic impact of the distributions is limited, as the vast majority of greyhound owners would not be in an economic position to hire employees.”24
Purses paid to West Virginia greyhound owners would be less than $1 million if the casino subsidies ended. In 2013, they were $17.7 million.25
Spectrum finds, “Without the purse subsidies from the racetrack’s gaming operations, purses would decline to such a level as to make it uneconomic for kennel owners to continue to race greyhounds in West Virginia.” This understanding, according to the report, is unanimous among greyhound racing participants and observers alike.26
In 2015, Spectrum concluded that ending greyhound racing would have a “negligible impact on the state’s unemployment rate” and “many of the displaced greyhound employees could be retained by the tracks in new positions.”27
Millions of dollars subsidizing the greyhound industry could also be spent on schools and healthcare. 28
They further point out that people who previously avoided the state on moral grounds would now view West Virginia as a tourist destination.29
Counties and towns where tracks are located receive distributions based on live handle. With live wagering on greyhound racing in decline, so too are these distributions.
In Wheeling and Cross Lanes, distributions declined 46% from 2008 to 2014, from $84,705 to $46,028. The amount generated for Ohio and Kanawha counties declined 54% during the same period, from $33,625 to $19,530.30
Between 2000 and 2014, revenue generated for the state of West Virginia from greyhound racing declined by 64%, from $3.3 million to $1.2 million.31 In 2017, revenue generated for the state of West Virginia from greyhound racing fell below $1 million.32
Gambling on live dog racing in West Virginia declined by 34% between 2010 and 2019, following a decades-long national trend.33 The amount wagered has dropped from $20,554,006 in 2010 to $13,645,945 in 2019.34
Wagering decline in West Virginia. 2010: $20,554,006; 2011: $19,460,613; 2012: $17,697,117; 2013: $15,771,127; 2014: $15,261,865; 2015: $14,186,746; 2016: $14,100,164; 2017: $13,581,206; 2018: $13,263,216; 2019: $13,645,945.35
Learn more about dog racing in West Virginia:
05/18/2023: Charleston Gazette-Mail - Could greyhound racing in WV be on its last legs?
02/27/2023: PlayWV - West Virginia Casinos, The Only Option For Greyhound Racing
02/09/2023: WBOY 12 - West Virginia is the only state with active greyhound racing
01/18/2023: PlayWV.com - West Virginia’s The Only State To Offer Greyhound Racing, For Now
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