WV Senate passes bill that would restore millions in purse money

Posted: Feb. 12, 2019

The West Virginia Senate Feb. 12 passed legislation that would restore roughly $11 million a year that since 2005 had been taken from purse accounts at four racetracks to support a statewide Workers’ Compensation Debt Reduction Fund.

The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 34-0 and was sent to the House of Delegates for consideration. It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Craig Blair of Berkeley County in the state’s Eastern Panhandle region, which is home to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.

Horsemen and breeders in West Virginia have pushed for the funds to be restored since the workers’ compensation debt was paid off a few years ago. It instead was placed in what is called the Excess Lottery Fund for other uses.

“The goal is to take care of horsemen and the Thoroughbred (breeding) fund,” Blair said. “Horsemen (through purse accounts) had the resources to help out (the state) at that time. This bill is just about putting it back the way it was before.”

Blair noted that before 2005, Thoroughbred purses at Charles Town and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort received about 14% of revenue from video lottery terminals at the racetrack casinos—the percentage in the original gaming legislation. He said the workers’ comp action cut the percentage in half.

Should the bill become law, it would take effect July 1, 2019, and carry through subsequent fiscal years. The money would be “distributed into the special funds established by the respective licensees and used from the payment of regular purses in addition to other amounts” listed in state statute. The distribution would be “on a pro rata basis based upon the actual purse earnings of each licensee.”

Based on the formula, it could mean $5 to $6 million a year for Charles Town, where gross purses in 2018 totaled about $23 million.

The state’s two Greyhound tracks also contributed purse money and breed-development funds to pay down the workers’ comp debt, albeit much less than the Thoroughbred tracks.

The Senate and House in West Virginia both have Republican majorities, and Gov. Jim Justice, who has advocated for racing, is a Republican.

(Charles Town photo by Tom LaMarra)