West Virginia Thoroughbred tracks approved for 304 dates in 2021

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Nov. 22, 2020

West Virginia’s two Thoroughbred tracks were awarded 304 racing dates for 2021—similar to the number approved for 2020—under action taken by the West Virginia Racing Commission at its November meeting.

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort submitted requests the number of dates required by statute: 220 at Charles Town and 210 at Mountaineer. The WVRC then entertained and approved the requests by each track to reduce days, which has been the case in recent years: Charles Town 174 programs and Mountaineer 130.

No public comment period is necessary because the respective horsemen’s groups and mutuel clerks’ unions approved of the requested dates via letters.

Charles Town has not yet submitted its stakes schedule for 2021. The Mountaineer stakes schedule, approved by the commission, calls for seven stakes the afternoon of Aug. 7: the $500,000 West Virginia Derby and $200,000 Governor’s Stakes, both Grade III; and five $75,000 events.

WVRC Executive Director Joe Moore reported on monthly and fiscal year pari-mutuel handle figures that reflect strong growth in export wagering and declines in on-track simulcast handle. All four of the state’s tracks—two have Greyhound racing—were shuttered for more than two months because of COVID-19.

In September, in-state wagering was down 26% but export handle on the live product was up 29% compared with September 2019. Year-to-date fiscal year gross export handle totaled $177.8 million, up 29.7% from $137 million for the same period in fiscal 2020.

When Charles Town and Mountaineer reopened for racing without on-track patrons in late May, the total wagered on individual programs doubled and sometimes tripled compared with historical figures. They both got the jump on other tracks that didn’t resume or begin live racing for weeks or a month.

“Our export handle actually has been on a pretty steady ascent the last seven, eight, nine years,” Charles Town Vice President of Racing Erich Zimny said. “We did have an advantage but the numbers have stabilized. The strength of our export brand is a lot greater than it used to be.”

“We got out there (sooner than other tracks) and kept those customers,” Mountaineer Manager of Racing Operations Jim Colvin said. “It’s why our export handle is extremely good.”

In other business, Charles Town was approved to add four Wednesday programs to this year’s schedule in light of a two-week shutdown related to COVID-19.