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Horses and politicians keep running in circles

Jun 10, 2003 9:53 PM

Funny Cide got the black headlines in horse racing last week, but there were other racing stories that also were intriguing and bizarre.

In Bangor, Maine, the peripatetic Las Vegas moneymaker Shawn Scott surfaced ”” at least in print ”” in a long story written by Dawn Gagnon of the Bangor Daily News.

The story was titled "Bangor racino developer a ”˜deal junkie’" ”” which was accurate enough. It was featured by the newspaper because the good burghers of Bangor were being asked to vote this week on Mr. Scott’s proposal to invest millions to transform a little, small time racetrack into a racino, and they knew virtually nothing about Mr. Scott except his promises.

Ms. Gagnon gave them a quick look.

She wrote about some of the licensing problems Scott has encountered in various states. She wrote about what she said regulators called "sloppy accounting practices" at the Cheyenne Hotel and Casino, a former Scott holding. She wrote that Scott’s primary legal counsel said Scott holds a track management license in New York, but that the spokeswoman for the New York Racing and Wagering Board says what he actually holds is a "valid receipt" that allows him to conduct racing at Vernon Downs pending the outcome of further investigation.

Ms. Gagnon wrote of Scott’s tremendous score in Louisiana, where he bought Delta Downs for $10 million or so and sold it ”” reluctantly according to him ”” to Boyd Gaming two years later for $130 million. Scott told her selling it "was one of the hardest decisions of my life."

Ms. Gagnon also wrote that the 37-year-old Vegas multimillionaire deal maker and his associates said they would create hundreds of jobs and generate an estimated $75 million in annual revenue with their Bangor racino, one fourth of which would go to the state for worthy causes. The town of Bangor would be guaranteed $1 million a year from the racino. Where the other $55 million would go was not itemized in her story.

Scott told Ms. Gagnon that he considers himself more a racetrack operator than a developer. If that is so, he’ll have a chance to show his skill in Bangor. The track, which traces its history back to 1849, is a dusty stop along the road as a racetrack. It raced only 27 programs last year, averaged only $29,918 a program in handle, and had an estimated attendance of 926 a night, for a per capita bet of $32.31.

Scott’s Capital Seven LLC originally said it would spend $30 million converting this operation into a major entertainment complex, including lengthening the racetrack from a half-mile to five-eighths of a mile. That part of the plan already has been abandoned, and this week’s city vote was only one hurdle. Capital Seven still has to cut a money deal with the city, which seems likely in a depressed area where promises of jobs resonate loudly. It also has to win a statewide vote to legalize slots next Nov. 4. Some smell a Delta Downs of the North in the making.

The other fascinating racing story last week was Kentucky, where 335 people on a government list looking for upgrading were bypassed as the chairman of the racing commission, auto dealer Frank Shoop, appointed the stepdaughter of Kentucky’s governor Paul Patton to a cushy commission job.

The Lexington Herald-Leader’s business writer, Janet Patton, opened her story on this by writing, "Wanted: Someone to work flexible hours, relaxed dress code, excellent pay, state job. Governor’s stepdaughter preferred."

Ms. Patton said the job was issued despite a hiring freeze, and the candidate was to be "responsible for public information, strategic planning, training, and assisting the executive with the day-to-day operations" of the commission, which called the job "essential...to the critical nature of the ongoing operation..."

Shortly after, when the executive, Bernard J. Hettel, found the commission under fire for its handling of the Jose Santos mess following the Kentucky Derby, the governor’s stepdaughter was not in sight. When Ms. Patton asked Hettel why, he replied, "I don’t know that I needed her, per se." I’m not sure what the "per se" meant, but that’s Bernie. He surely needed someone.

So the horses, and the politicians, keep going around in circles. Funny Cide didn’t quite make it, but funny goings-on in the sport continue.