CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A group advocating for the end of greyhound racing believes a newly created report clearly shows the industry faces tough economic prospects, receives substantial state funding and doesn't adequately consider animal safety.
Racing supporters say the group is skewing information. They argue the racing industry is still viable, the state needs to abide by its promises and the companies that own the racing-casino-hotel establishments need to upgrade facilities.
Since 2008, the state has provided more than $41 million to West Virginia greyhound breeders through the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund, according to a report released today by Massachusetts-based nonprofit Grey2K USA.
"The state is investing in an industry that has passed," said Christine Dorchak, Grey2K president. "And we want to point out that this is not only a misuse of taxpayer money, it's also causing great harm to greyhounds."
The group received the information about the development fund through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to the state Racing Commission. The commission accounts for much of the information in the report, which also includes data from racetracks themselves or media reports.
The report was partially funded by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
There are two "racinos"— facilities with greyhound racetracks and casinos — in the state: Mardi Gras racetrack in Nitro and Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino in Wheeling.
State law says the sites cannot have slot machines, table games or other gambling endeavors without a racetrack.
Between the two, money gambled on live racing declined 37 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the report.
"These tracks have essentially become casinos that happen to have dogs running around in circles with no one betting on the dogs," Grey2K Executive Director Carey Thiel said.
That information doesn't tell the whole story, argued kennel owner and greyhound breeder Dean Miner, an outspoken critic of Grey2K. He pointed to people betting online, using mobile devices or at off-track sites nationwide.
The amount of "handle"— funds wagered on racing — on live racing has gone down since 2009, but the total handle has gone up.
In 2008, the total amount wagered on greyhound racing was $94.8 million, according to state racing commission records. In 2012, the total was $110.7 million.
Including horse racing, the total amount wagered on racing in West Virginia has more than doubled since 1993: almost $613 million in 2012 and $250 million in 1993.
By comparison, the amount of that money that goes to the state has dropped from $7.45 million to $2.13 million, according to Racing Commission data.
Miner, who lives in the Wheeling area, thinks live betting would increase if racino owners invested more in the facilities.
"We go over to watch the racing in a pigsty," Miner said.
Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, agreed the tracks need attention.
He alleged that Mardi Gras has stopped doing marketing for the races, obstructed the view of where the dogs start the race and made it so people can only sit outside if they want to watch a race.
During the last legislative session, lobbyists for the racinos argued the state should allow the racinos to cut back on and reduce fees for table games. They pointed to smaller profit margins and more out-of-state competition.
The Legislature discussed the measure but eventually took no action. After threatening to get rid of table games if the fee did not change, Wheeling Island eventually renewed its license.
"In my humble opinion, they have constructed or rearranged it so that there are obstacles to people wanting to attend the dog races," Burdette said.
A representative at Mardi Gras did not return a phone message.