06/10/2016 3:56PM

Michigan racing bills await governor's signature


A pair of bills to amend and update Michigan’s Horse Racing Law of 1995 await the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder after being approved by the state legislature on Thursday.

The proposed changes include redistributing the state’s simulcast purse pools to a “site specific” model, enacting a horse racing advisory committee, firming up rules against advance deposit wagering within the state, and adjusting the minimums required to apply for race dates.

George Kutlenios, president of the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the governor’s approval would be the culmination of a two-year process that saw unprecedented cooperation between the state’s racing interests.

“What was very gratifying about this whole process was for the first time in the 83-year history of horse racing in this state, this bill was almost unanimously approved by both the Senate and the House, and their respective committees, and we had support from both [horsemen’s organizations], both racetracks, both breeding groups, and we had support from the Michigan Farm Bureau,” he said. “That’s never happened on any type of bill, legislation, or draft of anything we’ve ever processed in the state. Everybody finally came together and realized what’s good for the state of Michigan is good for all of us.”

The most impactful part of the legislation is the redistribution of simulcast purse pool monies into a “site specific” model.

The new plan calls for 25 to 40 percent of the net commission generated from a track’s meet to go into the purse pool for the breed it hosts, instead of being redistributed in a common pool with the state’s other venues. Applicable funds at Hazel Park would go toward the Thoroughbred purse account, while the money made at Northville Downs would go into Standardbred purses.

Under the current “common pool” distribution model, Michigan’s Thoroughbred purse pools receive 50 percent of funds generated from its own breed’s simulcast at all Michigan tracks and 35 percent of Standardbred simulcast monies. Meanwhile, the harness purse pool splits the Thoroughbred funds and keeps 65 percent of the money generated from Standardbred racing

The bills also call for a governor-appointed horse racing advisory committee, consisting of a chairperson, the director of the Department of Agriculture, a veterinarian, one representative each from the Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen’s groups, and the owners of Hazel Park and Northville Downs.

Also included is language to reduce the number of dates required to apply for a race meet from 45 to 30, and the number of races per card from nine to eight.

The legislation would strike language that restricted racetrack activity in the Metro Detroit area, including the “6:45 rule” that prevented Detroit-area harness venues from racing before 6:45 p.m. and Thoroughbred tracks from racing after that time on the same day.

Initial drafts of the legislation called for the implementation of advance deposit wagering, but Kutlenios said stakeholders later agreed to work with the Michigan Gaming Control Board to establish a Michigan-based ADW through rule changes and executive orders.

Instead, the bills aim to better lay out penalties for illegally wagering on Michigan races in-state through an ADW service.

“It’s been estimated between $90 million and $100 million has been bet illegally in Michigan from ADW suppliers outside of the state,” Kutlenios said. “There was no teeth in the legislation of the rules, so this puts some teeth into it.”

Snyder has faced one racing-related bill in his five-plus years as governor, pocket vetoing a 2012 measure that would have allowed Instant Racing.

Ari Adler, Snyder’s director of communications, said Friday that the governor was still in the process of reviewing the legislation before announcing his stance to sign or deny the bills. Kutlenios was confident the bills would get signed.

“All indications say he’s going to sign this thing, and he supports the bill,” he said. “This bill fixes something that was broken, and raises all ships.”