West Virginia Derby Canceled, Horse Racing Commission Faces Financial Trouble

Written By Chris Imperiale on July 31, 2020 - Last Updated on August 27, 2020
WV derby canceled - horse racing in WV suffering

Once again, the Mountain State is impacted by COVID-19. Recently, the West Virginia Racing Commission confirmed the cancellation of the $500,000 West Virginia Derby.

The annual event is held at the Mountaineer Casino. This year’s running was scheduled for Aug. 1.

Along with the derby, the $200,000 WV Governor’s Stakes was also canceled. The event was planning to run on the same date.

Mountaineer Park had intentions of holding the races without any fans in attendance. However, fears continued to grow in regards to welcoming in teams from other states.

With every horse coming equipped with an owner, trainer and jockey, among others, there’s too much risk. Since there is no safety plan in place, the commission felt the best move was to cancel.

Commission executive director Joe Moore put it simply. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Moore said:

“This is, in large part, due to concerns over COVID-19 restrictions.”

Another factor was that the national racing schedule got moved around so much.

All three Triple Crown races were forced to change their regular plans. They are:

With the coronavirus making alterations to the normal schedule, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness still haven’t taken place yet.

Mountaineer’s manager of racing operations, Jim Colvin, said at least two thoroughbred owners were pulling out of the WV Derby to focus on these bigger races.

This year’s Kentucky Derby will now race on Saturday, Sept. 5.

Colvin said there is no makeup date in the works right now.

This unfortunate news comes on top of the announcement that the racing commission will be out of funds by as early as the beginning of next year.

WV Racing Commission’s Financial Struggles

Every business in the country has felt the impact of the coronavirus shutdown. Despite being one of the healthiest places in the US, WV lost plenty of money during these past few months.

Of course, WV sportsbooks and casinos were unable to accept anywhere near the amount of wagers they typically would.

If it weren’t for the online sports betting apps offered in the state, the WV Lottery wouldn’t have seen any revenue.

The state’s racing commission is in the same boat. Moore said they lost over $550,000 in earnings during the three months. The commission’s reserve funds have been reduced to $575,000.

While this might sound like a lot of money, it isn’t. The commission used $900,000 in funds since the end of June 2019.

Moore discussed what must happen in order to save horse racing in WV. He said:

“With the lost revenue, and the depletion of the general administrative accounts, it is essential this legislative session that the Racing Commission seek legislative changes to provide more revenue sources.”

WV’s racing commission is funded strictly through taxes on betting at the state’s four total racetracks. It doesn’t get any general revenue funds at all.

These tax rates adjust and are dependent on how much money is bet. If the overall betting handle is higher than usual, then the commission would receive more money.

Although, since the COVID-19 shutdown, fewer people are attending and wagering on the races. This has left the commission in a bind.

This tax is intended to cover the expenses for basically everything, including salaries, benefits, and operating costs. Now, the racing commission is going to need assistance to do so.

WV Derby Fallout

The canceling of this weekend’s WV Derby didn’t help matters. The Derby and Governor’s Stakes races are two of the most popular horse racing events of the year.

Both would have certainly generated a decent amount of revenue from wagers.

With this weekend now in the past, Moore and the racing commission must focus on the future.

Unfortunately, it appears that Moore has been doing so without much success. Back in December, he brought up the financial issues to commissioners. In the winter, Moore said:

“We’re eating into our reserve fund and general administrative fund to the tune of $50,000 a month. At a clip of $600,000 a year, both funds will expire their reserves during FY22 (the 2021-22 budget year, which ends June 30, 2022).”

Based on the amount the commission spent in the last year, it seems as though this date could be much sooner.

Hopefully, legislation can come through and find additional money.

Some commissioners felt confident that the Senate Finance Committee will find a solution. Commissioner Ken Lowe told the Charleston Gazette-Mail the following:

“I feel sure they’ll fill the funding needs.”

In related news, the racetrack at Wheeling Island decided to eliminate its director of racing position. Instead, that role will be combined with the job title of racing secretary for the time being.

The regional president and general manager of Wheeling Island, Kim Florence, spoke about why this transition was necessary. She said:

“We’re in the unfortunate circumstance that COVID-19 has crippled the state of our business.”

The commission will readdress this issue at the scheduled January meeting.

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Chris Imperiale

Chris Imperiale is currently the Managing Editor of Catena Media's US online lottery site, PlayiLottery. He used to be the Managing Editor of PlayWV, covering the sports betting and online casino industries in the Mountain State. He has a journalism degree from Rutgers University and was formerly on staff at Bleacher Report.

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