For Some, Wild--and Hardly Wonderful

One of my favorite sayings in covering the horse racing industry is this: A good fiction writer couldn't make up this stuff.

So the week before Christmas, word comes from West Virginia that Janene Watson, already barred from Charles Town Races & Slots, has been stripped of her honorary membership in the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Watson, in a letter dated Dec. 17, was told the Charles Town HBPA board of directors, which recently underwent election-related changes, took the action Dec. 14. No reason was given in the notice.

Watson was active in a local group that opposed table games at Charles Town, though she has stated her opposition concerned revenue splits for horsemen. She said she opened a storefront in downtown Charles Town to answer questions and allow people to read the legislation.

"I made it clear that I was a 'yes' (on table games) but was forced to turn to a 'no' because of the bill being written for purses to be divided equally with Mountaineer," Watson said in reference to the other Thoroughbred track in West Virginia.

No matter her reasons for doing what she did, one thing shouldn't be forgotten: This is the United States of America.

The table games referendum passed rather easily, and blackjack and poker could be operating by the middle of 2010. Interestingly, Watson's efforts are believed to have led to a Jefferson County lawmaker proposing a bill that would correct what some believe are purse inequities in various statutes. It wouldn't alter the amount of money the tracks receive.

We're not going to detail the painful 10-year history of all this, but if you're interested, there are archived stories at on Janene Watson and her husband, Dick, the former Charles HBPA president who also is barred from the grounds of Charles Town. Dick Watson retains his honorary membership--you can attend meetings but not vote or actively participate in business--in the horsemen's group.

There are other things blowing in the wind as usual in the Eastern Panhandle, such as prominent horsemen losing stalls or seats on important committees. Will there ever be peace at this joint? Money sure hasn't helped.

Internal politics and dicey relations between horsemen and racetracks won't go away--anywhere. But if you just want to laugh it off, think about this: From Jan. 1-Dec. 18 of this year, Charles Town alone paid $42.2 million in purses, and the property is the number one revenue-producer for owner Penn National Gaming Inc.

These people are responsible for a major business that exists because of its racing license; is it any wonder why non-racing people question whether it should receive anything when other businesses are dying? Is the stuff that goes on there for real?

Here's my Christmas wish: That people start working together for the benefit of this industry and for the people in it. Maybe then horse racing in the new competitive environment will have a chance to be what it could be, even at Charles Town.


Leave a Comment:


There always seem to be plenty of people ready to latch onto someone else's wagon and ride it for their own benefit, don't there! One thing IS for sure: the racing industry does need to put individual issues aside and pull together to save itself because, if that doesn't happen, maybe there won't be a racing industry and all those individual issues won't exist either. And that would be a terrible loss to those of us who have loved it for a lifetime. Let's get the sport on track first, then hash out the side-issues with compromise and, when necessary, abandonment of ideas that are proven not to work. So I guess my Christmas wish is the same as yours. Maybe everyone else's should be too.

22 Dec 2009 9:59 PM

From everyone I’ve spoken with at Charles Town, it’s a VERY small minority of horsemen that give the others and situation there a bad name. I’ve read the articles about the people in question in this case. We’re talking about a husband and wife team that was thrown out of the HBPA for admittedly stealing HBPA money for personal use. Money that could’ve been used to benefit horsemen through medical care or otherwise. The track threw them out as a blight on the game. Now THESE are the scorned horsemen we’re holding up as poster children for where management/horsemen relations have gone wrong? If this is the rallying point, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

25 Dec 2009 1:54 PM

Wow, will the truth ever be told? DBW, I don’t know where you got that there was money stolen from the Charles Town HBPA? There was never a penny missing. There was a million dollars made for the Charles Town HBPA during our leadership. The fact is that my husband Dick and I did such a good job for the horsemen and the HBPA that the rest of the world wanted to be like us with the way we got along with the Charles Town Races management. We received a resolution from the National HBPA and I quote, “The work that Janene and Dick Watson have done at the National level for the HBPA has set the standard at a new high.”

We were both given Honorary Membership to the Charles Town HBPA for all the past work that we have done for the organization. This notification of rescinding my honorary membership was only done by six members of the board of whom 4 of them are newly elected. I will retain my Honorary Membership unless they hold a hearing, with a reason given, and attain a 2/3rds vote to rescind it. The person that made the motion advertised on TV for table games and was at several forums trying to harass me and take away my credibility as I was fighting for the table games legislation to be changed so the Charles Town horsemen could keep the money that they earn from table games. It is written for purse money to be divided equally with the Mountaineer horsemen, and I wanted it to be pro-rata so the horsemen can keep the money that is earned here at Charles Town.

My squeaky wheel has gotten the attention of our local Senator Herb Snyder along with Al Britton, the general manager of CTRS. They are going hand and hand with the horsemen to the 2010 legislature in January, to try to get this inequity corrected.

Check out today’s Martinsburg Journal:

29 Dec 2009 1:25 PM

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