Right now I should be on the road to Chicago but I had to delay my departure to put down some thoughts on the passage of the Horse Racing Purse Enhancement legislation that was passed yesterday by the Minnesota House and now awaits action by the Governor.
While it was an exciting time for Minnesota horse owners and breeders, it was a bit of an uneasy time for me. I was watching state legislators, folks that we elect to represent us, sound off about things that they obviously knew little about. Joe Drape’s expose in The New York Times was sourced by one lawmaker who really couldn’t explain how the article relates to Canterbury Park. She even mentioned several times that “I understand that this isn’t happening in our state”, yet on she yammered. As a point of reference, the Times piece cited $7,500 claiming horses racing for $40,000 (now a thing of the past since emergency regulations just went into effect in New York capping a purse at two times the claiming price) and unsound horses being pushed just to get a piece of the pot.
The reality in Minnesota is that this season $7,500 claimers will race for a purse of $10,000. At maximum impact of 40% (a guesstimate, of course), the purse will “skyrocket” to $14,000. This is a far cry from $40,000, still under the new New York threshold and certainly nowhere near enough money to encourage any kind of chicanery or animal mistreatment.
Another representative was screaming foul because this potentially “controversial” legislation wasn’t screened by the hearing process. I can understand that a thorough vetting process of any legislation is ideal, however the last minute compromise struck by the Native Americans and the racetrack was a bit late in the process for that. Additionally, amendments are passed all the time that impact legislation and are debated openly on the floor of the State House chambers – this is nothing new. Finally, the two major combatants were on the same side on this one! What became apparent was that this rep viewed the amendment as an “expansion of gambling”. I wonder if she feels the same way when Native casinos knock down a wall to add 250 more slot machines or a new bar gets a pull-tab license or a new convenience store registers to sell lottery tickets? The state has already authorized table games and gambling at the race tracks and their expansions should be treated the same way. Hell, even the local community was supportive of the measure. This was an example of a local business expanding what it is already legally doing – and gaining the support of its detractors before doing it. It looked to me that there was more personal agenda than policy concerns at work with this rep.
Another rep, from what I understand a longtime opponent of gambling, wanted to know how the non-racehorse breeder’s in her district were to benefit from this “bonus” that was being given to the racetracks. Uh, the racino legislation proposal provided money for all horse breeds in the state. She was adamantly opposed to that as well. It was completely disingenuous for her to claim she was just looking out for her poor constituents who were going to be burned by this “bonus” when she didn’t want a proposal that would help them see the light of day.
Finally, and I’ve saved the best for last. This was so incredulous to me that I literally laughed out loud in my living room watching the hearing last night. Our friend, the New York Times aficionado mentioned above, told the House that she has some experience with racehorses because some young girls in Oregon that she knows have a great-grand-daughter of Secretariat. I thought she was kidding at first, but she followed that up with the statement that she didn’t think that any other member of the body had ever been so close to racing greatness. But wait! There’s more! When a representative arose to counter her expertise by saying that his first job was a horse ranch manager that included quarter horses among other breeds and not only does he understand racing, but all the economics that go along with it, she actually stood up and re-established her claim of expertise over him because she touched the progeny of the progeny of the progeny of one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived. I swear to you that this is true – and I’m embarrassed to say that it happened here.
For this rep’s edification, Secretariat sired approximately 600 foals. Let’s assume that between mares and horses those children produced another 1800 animals. Triple again for one more generation and then you have over 5,000 potential great-grandchildren of Secretariat. You go back one more generation on her dam’s side and our very own Tabby Lane is a descendant of Secretariat! My point is, dear representative, your experience is NOT a unique one NOR does it make you an expert. Quite frankly, you look ill-informed when you make such ludicrous claims.
Eventually, after all the brouhaha calmed down, the measure passed overwhelmingly and was sent to Governor Mark Dayton for signature. Since he started the process of the track and tribes working together I find it highly unlikely that he’ll veto it and finally, for the first time in a long time, a racing season begins with hope rather than angst.
Congratulations to both the tracks and Tribes for sitting down together and getting a deal done. I hope that the lines of communication stay open for a long time to come – more can be done working together than pulling apart.
Of course the lawyers and lobbyists may feel differently…