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Governor Schweitzer includes $350,000 for horse racing in proposed budget

November 20, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Phyllis Tryon
Governor Brian Schweitzer has included $350,000, to be dispersed over two years, to help local entities sustain live horse racing, in his budget proposal to be submitted to the legislature. So announced Evan Barrett, the Governor’s Chief Business Development Officer, at the Montana Horse Racing Task Force meeting on November 16 in Helena.

Barrett explained the funds were to help defray costs of $11,000 to $12,000 per day for all regulatory officials at race meets across the state in the next two years. Those costs are “something that is a burden to locals,” he said, and are to help race meets in Montana pending other legislative solutions. It has become obvious to the Governor’s office, the Task Force, and those involved in the racing industry that funding is needed to help save racing in the state before long-term solutions can be implemented.

Barrett expressed appreciation for the continuing efforts of the Task Force.

“Keep at it,” he said. “There are solutions out there, and we just have to keep pursuing it.”

He also noted that horse racing is part of Montana history.
“The Governor is committed to horse racing and would love to see this piece of Montana continue and not just die away,” he said.
Although the Economic Impact Statement (EIC) being prepared by MSU-Billings is not yet available, the Montana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association delivered a check via Task Force member Bill Schmitt to assist in the effort. Horsemen Larry Jordan had yet to receive an answer from the American Paint Horse Association regarding any grant money they may donate, but expected to hear soon.

Task Force Chair Dale Mahlum reported that the EIC should be available shortly.

Paul Pryor, President of the Montana Race Horse Breeders Association, which was formed this past year to represent all breeds racing in Montana, requested that the Task Force officially recognize this breeders’ group as the official breeders’ organization of the state. A motion to that effect was quickly made and seconded and passed unanimously. The MRHBA is a non-profit with a mission to promote and enhance horse racing and the race horse breeding industry in Montana, promote a Montana Bred Race Horse Breeders’ Incentive program, and protect the rights and interests of horsemen and horsewomen involved in the industry in Montana.

Bob Allen of Allen’s Trout Farm in Alberta, who for years owned a track in Southern Alberta named Trout Springs, attended the meeting and was armed with a proposal to help expand simulcasting in Montana. Allen sent a proposal eight or nine months ago to the Montana Board of Horse Racing regarding building a new race track in Montana. When he received no response, he partnered with Max Gibb of the Rocky Mountain Turf Club to build a new one-mile track between Calgary and Edmonton.

However, Allen proposed he could guarantee purses in Montana if allowed to implement better marketing and innovative ideas into our current simulcast system.

“You have seven teletheatres (simulcast sites) in Montana. Calgary has 60 and I don’t think it’s enough,” Allen said. “You have the tools in your hands and in your rules, and there’s nothing wrong with the rules.”

Allen compared a population of 3 million in Alberta with $160 million gross revenue from simulcast to Montana’s population of almost 1 million with only $7 million in simulcast revenues.
Why the difference? He believes it’s advertising and a matter of reaching out to a new fan base.

“You need people who bet on the lottery, bingo and sports,” he explained. He also pointed out that slots are not the answer in Montana, not only because they aren’t legal, but because he believes slots are harmful to the consumer. “Slot machines have ruined many people,” he said. Instead what is needed for horse racing is “affordable gambling” such as allowing people to purchase a “Pick 8” ticket for a small price but offer a guaranteed jackpot, similar to the lottery.

“Who hasn’t bought a lottery ticket?” he pointed out.

Since the Task Force operates as an advisory board, Chair Mahlum suggested Allen make a proposal to Montana Simulcast Partners.
Tracks are once again facing an insurance coverage issue for 2007. Mather Insurance, which found a carrier that reached an agreement with tracks for 2006 coverage, recently announced that carrier would not cover track insurance for 2007. Chair Mahlum reported he had spoken to Mather and they were continuing efforts to locate a carrier for the upcoming season.

In subcommittee reports, Task Force board member Ben Carlson of Yellowstone Downs in Billings is finalizing proposed legislation to legalize telephone account wagering and internet gambling on horse racing in Montana. Board member John Tooke is finalizing proposed legislation on legalizing Fantasy Sports betting through the existing racing industry Tote system.

Extensive discussion followed board member Sherry Meador’s continuing work on a proposal to possibly restructure the Board of Horse Racing. Her new working document suggests a five-member board consisting of three industry representatives and two public members. Allowance for promotion of horse racing by the Board was also included in the proposal.

“If it’s not broke, why fix it?” became a repeated comment from both some Task Force board members and also public in attendance. Hand-in-hand with that comment was the idea that additional money is all the racing industry needs.

Bob Brastrup and Al Carruthers, both board members of MBOHR, along with Carol Grell Morris, legal counsel for MBOHR, echoed the sentiment that “it’s not broke.”

Morris and Brastrup were both concerned about the promotional aspect of the proposal as well, indicating they believe a regulatory body should not promote. They were also concerned that industry representatives on a board must recuse themselves often in hearing cases before the board.

“If my assumption is correct, I’m hearing that the government can do a better job than private industry (at promoting),” Brastrup said. “Promotion should come from the industry itself.”

Although Meador’s proposal included a Hearing Examiner to conduct hearings, Morris noted that use of an examiner is already available to the board but is costly and in the past, when used, has not proven to be a timely method of handing down decisions in hearing matters.

Meador noted that with only two MBOHR meetings so far this year, hearing cases were not being resolved in timely fashion and had thought bringing matters before a Hearing Examiner might be an option. Brastrup explained that the MBOHR budget was smaller than in the past and regular meetings were too costly.

It was generally agreed that a five-member board may be sufficient and help defray meeting costs for the MBOHR. Chair Mahlum noted that in 10 other states he researched, seven had five-member boards. Of those, he noted several were comprised of three public and two industry representatives, something to be considered in continuing work on Meador’s document.

The Task Force will meet again on Wednesday, December 6 at 10:00 at the Capitol Building in Helena. The Task Force will terminate at the end of December.