As 2022 ended, there was sadness for some in Arkansas as West Memphis’ Southland Casino Hotel ran the final greyhound race on New Year’s Eve. This was the end of the greyhound racing era in yet another state.
And now, greyhound racing only exists at West Virginia casinos. And there’s no telling how long that will last, either.
The state’s two remaining active greyhound racetracks — Wheeling Island Casino and Mardi Gras Casino & Resort — are operated by a company named Delaware North. And Delaware North has been open about its support for what is known as “decoupling” greyhound racing in West Virginia.
Decoupling would effectively end the sport in its only existing state. “We would support it if legislation passed that would allow us to operate the casinos without operating racing,” Delaware North spokesperson Glen White said in a statement in 2022.
Decoupling live greyhound racing from West Virginia casinos
Decoupling is the legal process of no longer requiring a casino to have a live form of gambling entertainment, such as horse or dog racing, to operate. It is usually enacted through legislative action to update a state law requiring the decoupling of the two gambling events.
Dog racing has essentially been required to operate West Virginia casinos ever since the law was enacted in 2007. As such, Delaware North has no choice but to run the races to keep its much more lucrative business of casino gambling legally operating.
That is, until WV decouples racing and casinos. This is something that many think is only a matter of time. Even those who support greyhound racing have been vocal about its likely demise.
WV House of Delegates Republican Matthew Rohrbach, a staunch supporter of dog racing in the state, expressed his concern about decoupling and potentially being devoid of greyhound racing completely. He stated in an article by WV Public Broadcasting:
“The only thing that’s keeping it going in the two tracks in West Virginia is the requirement that they have racing to have the casinos and the entertainment venues that they have. Given their druthers, I suspect that they would get rid of those.”
It’s also not a lucrative business for Delaware North. Between the high operational costs and limited gambling on dog racing, there isn’t a large profit generated by the parimutuel wagering sport in West Virginia, according to Delaware North’s recent statement. “With (the addition of) simulcasting, (Delaware North) does make a moderate profit,” the company said.
Other factors besides profit are up against WV greyhound racing
Greyhound racing is infamous for the many who oppose it. It’s often decried as being inhumane, and multiple factors make the case for keeping dog racing alive in West Virginia a tough one, especially after every other state in America has banished it.
The greyhound breed is rather relaxed, despite being able to hit top speeds of around 40 mph. But facilities often keep the dogs in small kennels for long periods.
There’s also a well-documented past of the sport being littered with bad behavior and tragic stories of cruelty. And even today, greyhound racing supporters and people who work at the track acknowledge the checkered past that has given the sport such a black eye.
Simulcasting is the live television programming of other racing events while offering off-track betting in-house. It has been responsible for helping keep the sport in the black at the tracks that remain in action. But the corporate profile percentage earned is 3%, and greyhound breeders get nothing from simulcasting.
Simulcasting is unlikely to be the crutch to save dog racing, although it has helped delay its demise for now.
Interest — and money gambled — continue to decrease. Delaware North stated that the number of patrons visiting Wheeling Island has dropped by 60%, while Mardi Gras attendance has dropped by 40%.
What the phaseout of greyhound racing looks like
Like other states that have eliminated greyhound racing in the past, if — or when — West Virginia moves on from the sport, it will likely be a gradual unraveling that ensures the dogs and people losing their jobs can adapt.
Before Arkansas eliminated racing, Delaware North worked with kennel owners for a three-year phaseout of racing in the state. A similar phaseout plan took place when greyhounds stopped racing in Florida.
Delaware North continues to point out that its top priorities are to operate racing by the highest standards and ensure the safety and well-being of the greyhounds.
Florida banned dog racing after 69% of Florida voters voted for its end in 2018 after a two-year phaseout. That was after a 10-year campaign by animal welfare advocates to end the sport in the Sunshine State. Voters made the decision clear with a high turnout.
West Virginia casinos may get similar support, especially with a phaseout plan that ensures the safety and consideration of the animals and people working within the sport.