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West Virginia editorial roundup

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 4, 2015 at 12:27 pm •  Published: February 4, 2015

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Feb. 4

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on Uber:

A decade ago, no one had conceived of alternatives to taxi companies for cheap and convenient city transportation. Such is the world we live in that a decade from now, those very companies may be obsolete.

As the Daily Mail has previously reported, ride-hailing car services like Uber and Lyft could be coming to West Virginia cities like Charleston and Morgantown in the near future.

The innovative services use smartphone technology to connect riders with drivers and allow for cashless transactions. They're hugely popular across the country, including states bordering West Virginia.

Proposed bills in the state Legislature seek to iron out important details about how the new companies might be insured and regulated here.

A central disagreement is whether drivers would be subject to oversight from the Division of Motor Vehicles or, alternatively, the Public Service Commission. The latter could regulate rates for rides, potentially eliminating one of the biggest benefits for riders and drivers: dynamic pricing, which allows rates to adapt to market conditions moment-by-moment.

Existing transportation services will push for strict regulation of the newcomers. Fair enough. But policymakers should bear in mind that businesses often claim to be advocating for "an even playing field," when what they'd really like is for licensing regimes to squash new, alternative products and services.

It may turn out to make sense to subject ride-hailing services to the PSC, but the mere fact that they compete with taxi services is not in and of itself a sufficient reason to do so.

This could be a good opportunity for lawmakers to take a look at how the state regulates transportation services generally. It could be time to update some requirements and practices.

If new ride-hailing services offer customers advantages over traditional taxi companies, then we'll all benefit from letting them take root and flourish here. Let a thousand Ubers bloom.



Feb. 4

The Register-Herald, Bleckley, West Virginia, on greyhound racing:

A report last week from Spectrum Gaming Group, a gambling research outfit, found that greyhound racing in West Virginia is turning into a money-loser.

The Spectrum study found that casino video lottery profits make up 95 percent of the state's greyhound racing revenue, and not actual track betting.

In the last 10 years, the study found, wagering on greyhounds at the state's two tracks has dropped by 55 percent, from $35 million in 2004 to $15.8 million in 2013.

West Virginia's two greyhound tracks aren't alone. Nationally, between 2001 and 2011, the total amount gambled on dog racing declined by 67 percent.

West Virginia, in addition to the two dog tracks, has two horse racing tracks. At one time, they were the only venues to place a legal bet, if one wanted to gamble.

Now, of course, the state has five casinos in which to gamble, including The Casino Club at The Greenbrier.

This evolution of casinos into the mainstream has dramatically changed the landscape for dog and horse tracks.

The dog tracks were already having revenue issues in the 1980s and 1990s. They lobbied state lawmakers to allow slot machines at the tracks, and in 1994 were rewarded for their efforts with the Racetrack Video Lottery Act.

It wasn't enough. In 2007, the Legislature passed the West Virginia Lottery Racetrack Table Games Act to allow casino games at the tracks.

Apparently, at least according to Spectrum, that isn't enough, either.

The state also helps dog tracks by programs including some that benefit breeders. Some call these subsidies, but greyhound track officials say since the sums come from track purses, they are not.

Sam Burdette, president of the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, is one of them.

But we admire Burdette for his candor. Asked about the Spectrum study, he conceded that things look pretty grim for dog tracks.

"The perception, especially in the Legislature, is that it's a dying industry and to most extent it is," he told WV MetroNews.

The problem is, Burdette thinks that once the dog track owners lobbied successfully to get slot machines and casino games, people invested in the tracks and if the state pulls its breeder subsidy and other benefit programs that it just wouldn't be fair.

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