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Montana Horse Racing Task Force continues work for state industry

September 18, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Phyllis Tryon
With a mission statement and check donations in hand, the Montana Horse Racing Task Force is ready to move ahead with an economic impact statement for the horse racing industry in the state. The Task Force met in Billings on Friday, September 15 at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark.

The finalized mission statement met with the approval of the Task Force board and begins as follows: “To provide quality entertainment, employment and value-added agricultural opportunities in the State of Montana through a unified, viable and growing horse racing and breeding industry that operates with integrity.”

The statement continues with seven major points:
1. Revitalize the horse breeding industry.
2. Stabilize, enhance and ensure the growth of live racing.
3. Make an attractive industry for fans as well as existing and new investors.
4. Mandate by statute to govern, direct, control, regulate, manage and promote the horse racing industry in any and all forms.
5. The horse breeding industry, with the end result of racing for the public enjoyment, should be marketed and promoted as an agricultural and tourist attraction.
6. Protect the welfare of the equine athlete.
7. A long range plan must be in place to provide stability to the industry and encourage capital investment and a developing fan base.

The mission statement concludes with the following comment: “The above items are deemed highly desirable and must be adhered to along with participation with the Gaming Advisory Council. We would like to work with UM Western, MSU, and the Indian communities so the industry can develop training opportunities to students who seek to enter the horse related professions.”

It was noted that Rocky Mountain College also has an equestrian program and should be added in the list on the mission statement.

A check for $5,000 was presented to the Task Force by John Ward, racing field representative for the American Quarter Horse Association, to aid in completing an Economic Impact Statement (EIC) on horse racing in the state. Anther check for $1,000 was presented by Marlene Smith of the Midland Horse Racing Association, a non-profit organization which helps support live racing at Yellowstone Downs in Billings.

Montana State University-Billings is currently gathering data for the EIC, which should be completed by the end of October.

Scott Rickard, Chair for the Center of Applied Economic Research at MSU-Billings, told the Task Force board regarding the EIC that, “You will have a product that can be compared to other industries in the state.”

Also present at the meeting were Yellowstone County Commissioners John Ostlund and Jim Reno, MetraPark General Manager Bill Dutcher, MetraPark Board member Mike Matthew, and Ron Cook of the Wyoming Horse Council, as well as local media and other industry personnel.

Tom Tucker of Montana Simulcast Partners spoke regarding the impact of simulcasting on horse racing revenues in the state, and the need for Montana to consider legalizing Account Wagering. Ben Carlson, Task Force board member and director of racing for Yellowstone Downs, noted that Montana is the only state in our entire region without legalized Account Wagering. He added that we need it legalized through the Montana Legislature.

Reports were given on the state of the horse racing industry in North and South Dakota, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and an overview of public opinion on horse racing in Montana. Task Force board member Ron Thibert reported that the Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell’s newspaper, ran an editorial on the value of horse racing at the Northwest Montana Fair and the negative impact on the fair caused by the absence of horse racing this year.

Task Force board member Shawn Real Bird reported that Crow Agency is willing to help horse racing expand in Montana and that tribal representatives would like races held during the annual Crow Fair to be part of the Montana State racing circuit. The goal is to submit legislation to the Crow government.

The consensus of opinion of all those present at the meeting was that the horse racing industry in the state needs a unified front to promote, expand and strengthen its base both as an agricultural and an entertainment industry.

The next meeting of the Task Force will be held in Helena on Wednesday, October 18. The Task Force will begin work on drafting legislation at that meeting.