01/11/2013 4:24PM

Instant Racing in Michigan rejected by governor

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Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan on Thursday declined to sign legislation that would have enabled the state’s racetracks to install Instant Racing machines, killing the bill by pocket veto.

Snyder cited a constitutional amendment enacted in 2004 requiring voter approval on local and state levels to authorize new forms of gaming, excluding tribal and state-run casinos, as the reason for not signing the bill into law. The bill officially expired on Friday morning.

“Essentially, [the bill] wasn’t signed because it was likely unconstitutional,” said Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for Gov. Snyder. “It would have authorized a form of gambling without a statewide and local vote, which is required by the constitution. This was something that the administration had concerns with early on, and outlined those to the legislature, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise.”

Under the bill’s guidelines, 15 percent of revenue from Instant Racing would have gone to the horsemen’s purse pool. Also included was a measure to increase Michigan-bred breeders’ awards from 10 percent to 15 percent of a race’s gross purse to the winner. Instant Racing machines, which allow patrons to wager on previously run races with minimal information, are currently in operation at tracks in Arkansas and Kentucky.

“It obviously continues to present us with challenges,” said Gary Tinkle, executive director of the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “This industry will have to continue to work with the administration and the legislature to get something that will be supportive and help save the industry.”

The bill passed in the state House by a vote of 91-16 in November, then made it through the Senate at the end of a marathon session in mid-December by a margin of 24-11. Snyder, a Republican, reviewed the bill in late December.

“We had great legislative support on the issue,” Tinkle said. “The legislature understands that the industry needs attention, and hopefully the Governor feels the same way. As to where we’ll end up at this point, it’s really too early to tell, but obviously, we’re going to work with the legislature and with the Governor to see what we can do to positively impact the industry.”

Michigan currently has four parimutuel tracks in operation: mixed-breed Mount Pleasant Meadows and Standardbred tracks Hazel Park Harness Raceway, Northville Downs, and Sports Creek Raceway. The state has shuttered five tracks since 1998, including Thoroughbred tracks Detroit Race Course, Great Lakes Downs, and most recently, Pinnacle Race Course.

Gov. Snyder’s announcement was the latest in a long line of political blows to Michigan’s racing industry, none bigger than the casino-backed ballot proposal passed in 2004 that established state and local election requirements to introduce new forms of gaming. The amendment has stalled the industry’s attempts at adding various expansions – from traditional casino gaming to Instant Racing and advance deposit wagering – while excluding state-run and tribal casinos from the restrictions and leaving them free to expand.

“Basically, we’re still operating with limited parimutuel wagering at our tracks,” Tinkle said. “They haven’t been allowed to grow their industry. Now, it’s basically another chapter, and we have to see what we can do to make this a positive chapter in our history.”