12/26/2003 1:00AM

Parimutuel betting bill offers hope to industry


The racing of horses in the area that is now the state of Georgia has been a sport since pre-colonial times. There have been all sorts of hunt meets for flat runners and jumpers, but there never has been state-authorized parimutuel betting on these races.

This could change as early as next month when the Georgia House of Representatives Committee on Regulated Industries takes up House Bill 781, which would permit parimutuel wagering.

"Prospects are better than 50-50,"said Bill Russell, executive director for the Georgia Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. "Georgia, like all states, needs revenue. Georgia students who graduate high school with a B average or better are guaranteed funding for college. The revenue is generated by the state lottery, but Georgia's lottery, which used to get business from neighboring states, is losing those lottery ticket buyers to the newer competing lotteries in South Carolina and Tennessee. Money's got to come from somewhere to fund the mandated scholarship program."

The Georgia Thoroughbred breeders and its legislative supporters are backing a county-by-county referendum as the method of getting parimutuel racing.

"Better chance this way," said Russell.

Atlanta County has the best shot to get approval. Georgia is well known for having some of the more conservative voting blocks in the nation. A recent poll of Atlantans, however, shows that some two-thirds of Atlanta voters would back a racetrack in that market.

If Georgia becomes a parimutuel state, the question then becomes: Is there enough business out there to support a parimutuel industry? Russell is confident there is.

"I would have to think that a spring and a fall meet would work," he said. "We'd have to do some liaison with Florida, but this can be done. Our initial estimate calls for a track that accommodates about 7,000 people, and this is probably on the low side. Near the Atlanta airport, south Fulton County, is the right location."

Georgia stallion auction set

Next Saturday is the annual Georgia Thoroughbred breeders stallion auction at the Atlanta National Golf Club. Approximately 250 seasons representing stallions from some 20 states will be auctioned on a no-guarantee basis.

Florida has 60-plus stallion seasons on the auction list and possibly more will be added before the bidding gets under way at 6:30 p.m. Kentucky stallions are also well represented.

The money generated from these seasons goes to fund the Georgia Thoroughbred breeders activities, such as lobbying for the parimutuel bill. The money also goes to fund stakes races in several states, with Florida tracks the chief beneficiaries.

Those seeking information about the stallion auction and the Georgia stakes program for 2004 should contact the Georgia Thoroughbred breeders via e-mail gtoba@msn.com.; view its website at www.gtoba.com; or phone Russell at (770-463-5485).

* Georgia's leading resident stallion is Level Sands (by Storm Cat) with 2003 progeny earnings of $600,000. Slew the Slewor (Slew of Gold) is next, followed by Roaring Camp (Forty Niner).