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Missouri horse racing could be back on track

Monday, June 2, 2008 | 5:45 p.m. CDT; updated 8:35 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The race is on to revive Missouri’s stagnant horse racing industry. Just don’t head to the finish line quite yet.

The long-dormant Missouri Horse Racing Commission held its first meeting in a decade Monday at the state Gaming Commission’s offices. Panel members said the state, which ranks among the top seven in horse populations, is ripe for a renewed look at expanding its gambling industry.

“It would be a huge industry for this state, from the farmer to the vet to the restaurants to the motels,” said commission member Dick Goodnight of Malden, a thoroughbred owner whose horses race in Oklahoma, Michigan and other states.

Missouri voters approved pari-mutuel wagering at horse tracks with a 60 percent majority in 1984, but authorized only limited simulcasting, where bettors wager on races at other tracks that are shown on television screens. Under current law, a track may offer simulcast betting only for as many days as it holds live horse races.

Efforts to lift that restriction and allow year-round betting on simulcasts failed narrowly in the General Assembly in 2002, effectively shutting down any further discussion until now.

Casino gambling in Missouri is now limited to boats along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Panel members said any horse racing tracks would need to operate in conjunction with existing casinos.

“You have to have a casino in the track,” said commission member Charles “Herb” Butler of Kahoka, a former jockey who is now a pari-mutuel judge in Iowa. “It can’t be a separate place, or it will go broke.”

A representative of the Missouri Gaming Association who attended Monday’s meeting said that the state’s casino operators have yet to take a position on horse racing.

Panel members also agreed that an outside investor would have to come forward rather than rely upon state money.

That was the case in 2001, when Magna Entertainment Corp. of Canada and at least one other group of investors expressed an interest in building a Show Me State track — provided that lawmakers expanded simulcasting.

Commission executive director Gene McNary, who also leads the gaming commission, appointed two committees from the five-member panel. One group will contact casino companies to gauge their interest. The second will explore the possibility and obstacles involved in reviving horse racing at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.

Panel members acknowledged that depending on the responses, little could come out of the exercise.

“This whole thing is probably a fishing expedition,” said committee member Wayne Duncan of Savannah, who owns a carriage horse business.

Other panel members are Patrick Barrett of St.Louis, whose family owns race horses; and Dr. Waybern Yates of Kansas City, a retired veterinarian.


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