A word of advice to Ohio Gov. John Kasich from a state that has been there, done that:
Don't let the horse racers rip your state off. Be glad you don't have to worry about the greyhound breeders.
Kasich's administration pulled off something of a coup last week. It involves video gambling machines at Ohio racetracks.
State negotiators have worked out a deal that would allow video gambling at Ohio's seven horse racing tracks. Each would pay $50 million for a license, plus 33.5 percent of revenue from the electronic slots. That may be too low, but that's an argument for another day.
Today, let's look at what happens to the 66.5 percent the tracks get to keep.
Reportedly, track owners will have to give a cut of that to the "horse-racing industry." How big a chunk has yet to be determined.
That's where we in West Virginia already have been. What we've already done is provide a bonanza to the horse- and dog-racing industries.
Part of the revenue from video gambling at our state's four tracks (two for dogs, two for horses) goes to special funds benefiting those involved in the businesses.
Last year, the West Virginia Thoroughbred Development Fund handed out $8,143,526 to Mountaineer Park in Chester and the Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle. Tracks use the money to pay prizes to racehorse breeders, raisers and owners. The idea, according to state law, is to "promote better breeding and racing of thoroughbred horses in the state. ..."
Another account, the Greyhound Development Fund, goes straight to racing dog breeders. Last year it handed out $5,358,084 to several dozen greyhound breeders. Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's mother, operating as Tomblin Kennel Inc., received $268,410. His brother, Carl, received $38,844. Since 2000, the Tomblin family reportedly has raked in about $2.5 million from greyhound racing, though the governor staunchly denies any conflict of interest.
Six-figure payouts to greyhound breeders are not uncommon. Last year, one collected $655,012.
During one year alone, the horse- and dog-racing funds paid out more than $13.5 million. That's enough to build a fairly nice new school.
Those involved in the dog- and horse-racing industries get upset when payments out of the special funds are questioned. Why, the money supports important industries and provides jobs for West Virginians, they say.
Yes, the payments do provide some jobs. But "important" industries? Give me a break. West Virginia has quite a few important businesses and industries that don't receive a dime from video gambling.
Don't even bother with the argument that subsidies are needed to keep the tracks open. The only reason they need horse and dog racing is that state law requires it if they are to operate video gambling machines.
Ohio already has special funds, something like West Virginia's, to bolster the racing industry (all horses, harness and thoroughbred, in the Buckeye State). But Ohio's Thoroughbred Race Fund and Standardbred Development Fund (for harness racing) paid out just $2,926,894 last year.
One can almost envision those involved in the Ohio horse-racing industry rubbing their hands together in anticipation. Hey, if little West Virginia can cough up $13.5 million a year for horse and dog racing, what might the possibilities be for Ohio, with seven tracks?
That's where Kasich and state legislators need to be wary. It's one thing to provide money to maintain horse racing. It's quite another to do what happened in West Virginia - to provide a pot of gold for the dog- and horse-racing industries.
Going into the current two-year cycle, Kasich and Ohio legislators had to slash spending - including that for schools - to close an $8 billion hole in the budget.
Surely, the state has better uses for video gambling revenue than to give a big boost to the horse-racing industry.
Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, Va.