Monumental Victory In West Virginia And For The Sport
With one stroke of the pen and a 2:00 a.m. House of Delegates adjournment, the nightmare was over.
Senate Bill 437 in West Virginia, which would have eliminated the state's role in greyhound racing, was vetoed by Governor Jim Justice on Saturday in front of a packed house at the West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling. This after the bill passed both the Senate and House of Delegates in the past few weeks, leaving it up to the Gov to decide if 1,700 jobs would be lost and 7,000 greyhounds suddenly without a home come June 30th.
"We're not going to walk away from an industry that creates 1,700 jobs," Justice stated. "We're not going to let them walk away from a good mayor in Mayor Elliott and we're not going to walk away from a good community that is on its way back. Eliminating support for the greyhounds is a job killer and I can't sign it."
*Photo courtesy @WVGovernor
The drama wasn't done there though. The bill was then sent to the capital of Charleston, where the Senate & House only needed a simply majority vote to override the veto. With the session extended until Sunday, many followers were worried this could be dragged out even more.
Fears were quelled when the House of Delegates late into the night wrapped up their Session and declared they were adjourned, or a "Sine Die" to be politically correct. This effectively ended what would have had a devastating impact on not just Crosslanes or the city of Wheeling that houses the state's two greyhound tracks, but the entire state as a whole. West Virginia greyhound racing lives another day.
A War Like No Other
If it feels like the end of a war, that's because it was. The anti racing organization known as Grey2K had their hands in the cookie jar again, spreading their propaganda to the misinformed while doing absolutely zilch for the greyhounds. Politicians that were for this bill thought they would be helping their state by cutting an industry that actually helped their economy, not hurt it. Many in West Virginia believed this money was coming from the taxpayers, when it fact it was the casinos and slot machines that were generating these funds for the greyhound industry.
Steve Sarras, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, led the charge, rallying greyhound people not only in the state, but around the country, chose to spread the truth about the sport and the positive impact it had on the economy. People on Facebook could follow the coverage of this story minute by minute with the help of NGA Board Member Leslie Csokasy and get all the information they needed to call, write & email politicians who needed a dose of truthfulness.
*Photo courtesy of Erikka Storch
House of Delegates members Erikka Storch -R & Shawn Fluharty-D (a Republican & Democrat working together!) adamantly defended the industry and would not be bullied into something they knew was absolutely wrong with this bill. They watched the veto together on the House floor on Saturday, all smiles after the Governor stopped the nonsense.
In the end, good trumped the villainous and the racing industry continues on as it should be.
If they ever build a Mount Rushmore for greyhound people, Sarras just cemented his spot on it after this ordeal. He spent weeks at the capital talking with lawmakers, meeting with the press, organizing the masses & speaking with the Governor while trying to save the game he loved.
"What a roller coaster of a session that was!" Sarras told me. "I'm relieved, happy for the industry, happy for the city of Wheeling. The outcry of support from Wheeling, Ohio County, and the police & fire people of Wheeling was outstanding."
Sarras was overwhelmed by how much support he and the rest of the greyhound industry had throughout this entire process.
"I couldn't be happier with how many people worked so hard for this, especially behind the scenes. The media actually came to our side which was a pleasant surprise. This was an education for a lot of people who didn't really know where the money came from for our industry. Most people thought it was a subsidy, when really it is a royalty provided by the casinos for us."
"It should have never came to this. I was disappointed in the whole political system."
Sarras is an absolute hero in West Virginia after this. People in 20-30 years in better times will still be talking about how one man and an army of greyhound lovers stood up to the evils and fought back with the truth and honesty.
This is why if you saw me rolling around the Motor City on Sunday, you would have witnessed me dancing in one of my favorite shirts.
Photo Courtesy of @WVGovernor
Now What Happens?
This war may be over, but it will come back. Grey2K (or Y2K as Delegate Fluharty referred to them as) and the opposing politicians will find another bill with a different set of numbers and agenda to try and push through next year to try and shut it all down. Oh yes....like a bad hemorrhoid, they will be back. West Virginia greyhound people had to be reactive to this measure that nearly killed the industry. Going forward, it is crucial to be proactive so that a bill like this never makes it to the Governor's desk again. Hoping and praying that this doesn't happen anymore is simply not enough.
Most fans in greyhound racing know who Fraulein Morgan, Janice Dean & Ethel Is Here are. Why? Those are the biggest stars this year at Palm Beach and are daily covered on Facebook, Twitter and on our social media feeds.
But do you know who Amf Ex Quigley, Barts Outofmyway, Kinda Cruel Red, Gls Running Red & Goldiggin Decka are? Most people don't. These are the biggest superstars currently running at Wheeling Island & Tri State race tracks. Starting now, West Virgina greyhound employees have to get coverage of these amazing athletes out there. Wheeling is the second highest paying track in the country with highly competitive races happening almost daily! Greyhound fans would love the opportunity to see this if given the right platform.
When one news organization was talking about this bill and its effects on West Virginia, they were showing races from Gulf Greyhound Park in Texas! Yes I said it Texas. There is something very wrong with that picture.
I've been writing in this business for nearly 5 years now. I've seen our coverage go from just a handful of die hards following our Palm Beach news, to now well over 20,000 between all of our feeds and being mentioned on Fox News with Janice Dean. Handles continue to go up at "The Beach" and the enthusiasm for racing is soaring.
Promotion is the key! It's easy to pick on the kid who doesn't fight back. But with a few tweaks to your game West Virginia greyhound peeps, you too can thrive and get all of these anti racing yahoos off your back every year. People will back you if they know the product you are involved in. Wheeling did $281K in handle on Saturday after the veto happened, as shown in the photo below.
First, you need a writer or two that can showcase you guys right. I've been asked by a few kennel owners if I could cover the WV racing scene. I'm not your guy. Palm Beach is my passion. But, I guarantee there is a West Virginia racing person out there that has the passion and skill set to do it. Possibly a WVU student or recent graduate who wants to boom their resume?
Social media is absolutely crucial. Facebook, Twitter & Instagram is where the world is and it's time the industry realizes that. Get your replays in MP4 format so that these races can be shown instantly on feeds. The casino sites need to show their superstars. The all you can eat buffet pictures and news about slot machines is not going to drive this business whatsoever.
Lastly, photos. Some of the people that follow our coverage aren't even that interested in the racing scene. But if I put up an adorable picture of JS SpeedyPebbles or the "Blue Bomber" Ethel Is Here, the awwwwwwwws can be heard from here to Japan. Kennel people take pictures of your superstars. Post them and share frequently. A professional photographer like we have working at Palm Beach for the big stakes races will do wonders for your promotion.
I will help in any way I can, West Virginia.
West Virginia you have been to hell and back and the greyhound world lived through it right with you. Your story captivated me and the rest of the country to root for you and the people who just wanted to continue to work with their fur babies. I hope you never have to go through this ordeal again and that your industry and state come out of this stronger. This whole misery really did show that everybody in this business is #OneGreyhoundNation
Lastly for you Grey2K who thought they had won another evil victory. The West Virginia greyhounds have one message for you:
Now get back to work Mountaineer State!