Wheeling Greyhound-Racing Track Beats the Odds to Thrive
Ramirez, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Even with racetracks, location matters.
Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack has managed to skirt a trend that caused other gaming centers to close greyhound racing operations.
Tracks in Arizona, Wisconsin and Massachusetts recently ended dog racing, bringing to seven the number of casinos that ceased operation in the past year. The sagging economy was mainly to blame.
Not so at the track in Wheeling, W.Va., about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. There, crowds remain strong. Even in bone-chilling, 14- degree weather, fans turn out to cheer on the athletic canines as they whip around the track, sometime reaching speeds of 45 mph.
"It's considered the creme de la creme, the ultimate track in racing," said Marci Anderson, president of Steel City Greyhounds, an organization in Shadyside that works to place retired racers with families. Many of the greyhounds Anderson adopts out have raced at Wheeling Island. "If your dog makes it there, he's good."
The track, opened in 1976, has gained a reputation as a premier stop for greyhound racing. Kimberly Florence, the casino's marketing director, credited that in part to the gaming center's lucrative payouts.
Geography and tradition might play a role, some experts say. It's the only dog track within a 300-mile radius of Pittsburgh, and one of the oldest in the country.
"The strongest markets often are those that have had it a long time and have a more-established history," said Marsha Kelly, spokeswoman for the American Greyhound Track Operators Association in West Palm Beach, Fla. "The tracks with financial problems typically are those with a competitor somewhere in the landscape. That's not the case (at Wheeling Island)."
There are 36 racetracks nationally, but none in Pennsylvania. Fourteen are in Florida. Experts say other racetracks might close, perhaps even this year, because the recession crippled them.
Races at Wheeling Island run daily, and twice on Fridays and Saturdays. Although there are no live races on Tuesdays and Thursdays, patrons can bet on televised races simulcast from other tracks. …