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.

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