05/01/2007 12:00AM

Two levels of entry into the racing world


TUCSON, Ariz. - Do I have a deal for you! Two, actually, to fit your budget.

If you have $500 million lying around unused, I can get you in the racing business big time, overnight.

Or for $600 Canadian, I can get you dealing drugs in Ontario.

First, my high-end special.

Late Sunday night, after months of meandering, weeks of weary debate, and days of deliberation in a conference committee, and with only hours and minutes left before the Indiana legislature adjourned, the solons agreed to save Hoosier horse racing, Thoroughbred and harness.

They gave slot machines to Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Downs in Shelbyville, the state's two multi-breed tracks.

The Senate had voted earlier to legalize slots, with a $400 million license fee and 1,500 slot machines at each track. The House passed a bill calling for a $100 million license fee and 2,500 slots at each track. With no immediate bicameral compromise, the matter went to a conference committee. Sunday, with midnight adjournment close at hand, the conferees agreed, and the Senate and House concurred.

The tracks got slots, for a $250 million franchise fee, payable in two equal installments, and 2,000 machines at each track. They must build $100 million racinos and race at least 140 days, but not more than 165. Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will sign the bill, perhaps by the time you read this.

So if your interest terms are right, Richard Moore, president and general manager of Hoosier Park, and Ralph Ross or Jon Schuster, the president and the general manager of Indiana Downs, probably would be happy to sit down and discuss your half-billion with you.

If that is a bit salty for your taste, try my low-end special.

One year ago last week, headlines in Ontario were ablaze with the story of a major drug bust. Lawmen from five enforcement agencies swooped down on two locations in the Toronto area, including a house loaded with drugs used to enhance performance by racehorses. They charged a man named Sandy DiFlorio.

The agents - from the Ontario Provincial Police Illegal Gambling Unit, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Ontario Racing Commission Investigative Unit, Thoroughbred and harness racing's combined Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau-Standardbred Investigative Services, and the Toronto city police - seized all of the stuff. The implication was clear: An important link in the drug chain was broken. If the computer files contained customers' names, it would be like a Washington madam's list of clients.

The tumult subsided after that April day a year ago, and little or nothing was heard of Sandy DiFlorio or his widespread drug operation. He disappeared from public view. Perhaps, some thought, he had been shipped abroad in extraordinary rendition for foreign questioning, or sent to Guantanamo.

Then, last week, he resurfaced.

He showed up in a Provincial Criminal Court in Ontario and pled guilty to two charges: fabrication, packaging and distribution of drugs without a license, and unlawful sale of a Schedule F drug (in this case erythropoietin, better known as EPO).

Surely this would take him out of circulation.

Sorry about that.

Mr. DiFlorio instead was fined for his misdeeds: $300 on each count, plus forfeiture of his computers, drugs, chemicals, and the instruments for making them.

Six hundred dollars please, and you are free to leave.

I was stunned when I first heard of this in an April 26 "Notice to the Industry" from the Ontario Racing Commission. It told of the fines and forfeiture, and included this reassuring sentence: "The efforts of the community-funded Equine Medication Control and Drug Task Force" - not to be confused with the U.S. Racing Medication and Testing Consortium - "will continue to identify and submit for prosecution those individuals who distribute illegal and non-therapeutic drugs and medications to the horse racing community. That community has sent a clear message that the acquisition, possession, and administration of such harmful substances will not be tolerated."

That message was not clear to me, so I called Rob McKinney, deputy director of the Ontario Racing Commission, and asked him if I completely misunderstood the DiFlorio decision.

He confirmed it, explaining that DiFlorio was not licensed by the racing commission and thus beyond its authority. I assume his "clear message" of non-tolerance of wrongdoing was as close to indignation about the criminal court's decision as the racing commission wished to go.

So I offer my second financial offer: Stay unlicensed, get a good lawyer, plead guilty to drug dealing, back up your computer, and thumb your nose as you walk out the door.

And be sure you have $600 on you, to settle up with justice. She is blindfolded, and in need of help.