Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Racing Resumes but Issues Remain

When the gates spring open on Thursday night it will mark the first day of live racing at Canterbury Park for three weeks since the budget impasse between the legislature and the governor forced the shuttering of the state at midnight, June 30.   At that time the feeling was that while the track might miss racing on July 1st and maybe 2nd, folks in St. Paul would come to their senses and not let a private business lose their largest money making weekend of the year because of government.  That feeling gave way to depression as the days dragged on and judicial decisions went against the track’s arguments for reopening.

Trainers were just starting to line up alternative arrangements for the rest of the summer when word came on a Thursday evening that there was a resolution - the “framework” of a deal.  Perhaps part of weekend number three could be saved?  That was not to be.  It turned out that the framework of a deal was only that.  Members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle were unhappy with the final result, usually the essence of a good compromise.  Given the choices before them, it was probably the best deal that could be made to reopen government, but sadly, it is no solution to the systemic problem the state faced and will now face again in two years.

This is no place to get into my political views but one thing that needs to happen before disaster strikes again is that the statutory language that authorizes the Minnesota Racing Commission to be self-funded needs to be revisited and rewritten.  Lawmakers and track lobbyists should look to the Zoo’s language which enabled it to stay open despite a very similar financing structure.  What wasn’t similar was the language in the statute that clearly showed that the Zoo did not need legislative appropriation while the MRC did.  I would like to think either Senator Claire Robling or Representative Michael Beard, whose constituencies encompass Shakopee, would be first in line with such an amendment to the law, but whoever does, it should be a top priority of horsemen and the track.

Another component that I know the tracks would have liked to have seen in the budget compromise was racino legislation.

“It is very disappointing that our proposed Racino legislation was not part of resolving the budget impasse,” track president and CEO Randy Sampson said. “Studies have shown that two Racinos would generate an estimated $125 million annually in revenues for the State of Minnesota, while creating thousands of jobs in the racing, hospitality, and equine industries. Racinos would also enable Minnesota’s horse racing industry, which already employs several thousand individuals, to remain competitive and viable. We believe our efforts this year have increased support for Racinos in Minnesota, both among the public and among lawmakers in St. Paul, and we remain committed to the adoption of Racino legislation in Minnesota at the earliest possible time.”

I don’t know why the Racino language wasn’t discussed or if there is a plan for it to be brought up again as part of any potential Viking’s stadium special session, but I think it’s hard for lawmakers to ignore something the amount of non-tax revenue that is on the table.  Maybe the newly minted Republican majority may feel an allegiance to Tony Sutton and his wife that keep them from considering what they call an expansion of gaming?  I know my two state legislators used language right out of a C.A.G.E. newsletter to explain their position on the issue.

Many will blame the Native American lobby, accused of being in the pockets of DFL lawmakers for years, and maybe they were effective.  But if they were, how can you blame them?  The reality is that they are defending their business interests – just the same as anyone else would.  Ultimately they are doing what’s best for their constituency just the same as the horsemen are trying to do the best for theirs.  I can feel MUCH more empathy for their position.  Don’t moralize to me, but I can certainly understand defending your turf.

Is there some room here for a compromise?  Surprisingly, I think that there is and the benefits would be shared by the state, Native American Bands and horsemen.  No one would be 100% happy – well, except maybe the state – but again, that’s compromise for you.  But that’s a post for another time.

The important thing for right now is that there is racing again and starting tomorrow I will be posting about races, where Tabby Lane will run next and my thoughts for some unorthodox partnerships.

See you at the races!

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