Wheeling Island track reduces number of dog races

March 3, 2013
Greyhound races like this one are being reduced at the Wheeling Island racetrack in an effort to cut costs in the face of increased competition from casinos in other states. - Photo courtesy of Wheeling Island

Cost cuts have led to racing cuts at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in Wheeling, W.Va.

“The main reason is that on the racing side of our business, the handle has been declining year over year for some time,” Mike Maestle, vice president of operations, said last week.

“Racing is 10 percent of our business, and the casino is 90 percent. With the decline in racing handle, we look at ways to cut our operating expenses,” he continued. The hotel is considered part of the casino operation.

That’s why Wheeling Island has reduced the number of greyhound races from 115 per week in 2012 to 107 this year. The track operates five days a week.

“We’re down eight races (a week) compared with a year ago,” said Kim Florence, director of marketing at Wheeling Island.

Last year, Wheeling Island had sought, and gotten conditional approval, from the West Virginia Racing Commission to scale back to 101 weekly races starting in January. Jim Simms, president and general manager of the operation, said such a reduction would save Wheeling Island about $100,000 a year.

There were 101 races each week in January, but after meeting with the racing commission that month, Simms was told that his track had to return to 115. The sides ended up compromising at 107.

Maestle said it was too early to determine how much the track will save by having eight fewer races a week than it had a year ago. “We’re just kind of waiting until the dust settles.”

Wheeling Island and other gambling venues such as Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester, W.Va., to the north are facing staunch competition from casinos that have opened in the region in recent years. They include The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township, Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and several casinos in Ohio.

Simms will be leaving Wheeling Island to open a casino in Lebanon, Ohio, according to an announcement at media.wheelingisland.com.

“The regional casino market has expanded greatly over the past four to five years,” Maestle said.

Wheeling Island offers greyhound racing five days a week. It has 17-race matinee cards on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and matinee (15 races) and evening programs (13 races) on Fridays and Saturdays.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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