Michigan tracks facing extinction

Jun 23, 2009 5:11 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

Recent state budget cuts could mean the demise of Michigan’s horse racing industry, according to at least one area breeder.

Earlier this month, 101 dates were trimmed from this year’s racing schedule at state tracks and the Office of the Racing Commissioner announced its budget was slashed $1.4 million with five months left in the fiscal year.

Longtime horse breeder Rick McCune, who owns Pleasant Valley Thoroughbreds in Home Township just south of Edmore, can’t understand why state lawmakers have taken such action.

"There are a lot of things going on that the public should be aware of," he said. "The money taken is from racing, not from taxpayers. It’s revenue generated by us."

The majority of funding for Michigan’s six remaining race tracks – including Mt. Pleasant Meadows – comes from a 3.5 percent tax on money wagered on races that are simulcast from around the country, which are available for track patrons to bet on at all of the state’s raceways.

The total amount wagered in 2008 was more than $212 million.

McCune, a member of the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the Michigan Horse Benevolent Protection Association, has testified before the appropriations committees of both the state and House and Senate regarding the plight of the racing industry.

"Leadership in Lansing is lacking," he said. "They have to realize how much money we can produce. I’ve been politically involved for the past six or seven years and it has been an eye opener."

In the past, lawmakers have used money generated by horse racing as their "own personal piggybank," McCune said.

"They used $800,000 a year to pay for the Pontiac Silverdome and a horse never ran there," he said. "They also used $1.6 million a year for TB testing deer and cattle. That’s no longer the case because the money isn’t there, but we have been paying for all this other stuff for a number of years."

Horse racing is flourishing in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana because those states now permit slot machines at race tacks, McCune said.

"Racinos," as they are called, have been credited not only with saving the horse racing industry in those states but also providing an additional source of revenue for government coffers.

"Those states are taking all of our horses, trainers, breeders and jockeys because they can offer much bigger race purses," McCune said. "Right now you can’t sell a horse in Michigan.

"I usually breed 25 to 30 mares a year. I have two this year. That’s $28,000 out of my pocket. This is not a hobby for us. It’s a job and the way we make our living."

Currently, he races his horses at Pinnacle Race Course in New Boston, which is Michigan’s only completely thoroughbred track, but McCune noted that a number of mid-Michigan breeders are taking their horses to race in other states and it’s likely that trend will continue unless something is done.

Overturning Proposition I, approved by Michigan voters in 2004, would do wonders for the racing industry, he said.

The legislation prohibited the installation of slot machines at horse racing tracks.

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