The window of opportunity for two key pieces of legislation impacting Indiana horse racing has closed. Measures involving alternative gaming at the state's two racetracks and the import of out-of-state simulcast signals have died after failing to advance before crucial deadlines in the Indiana General Assembly. Industry stakeholders now rest their hopes on the next session.
Among the casualties during this year's short session was House Bill 1077. The bill pinned the stability of the state's racing industry on 2,500 slot-like machines at both Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs, and was said to have support by both Democrats and Republicans should it have made it to the chamber floor. But HB 1077 never received a hearing and died in committee, leaving some frustrated.
"That's very, very disappointing," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said. "My frustration is we can't get a hearing and can't get the subject matter on the floor."
Larry Smallwood, a bloodstock agent who also represents the Indiana Horse Racing and Breeding Coalition, agrees. He said that, while the horse agriculture bill provided money for each of the state's 92 counties, election year politics resulted in its demise. At a time when alternative gaming could have afforded a means to fund property tax relief in Indiana, HB 1077 was overlooked, he said.
"Our legislators are a bunch of sheep. What our leadership wants to do is how the fold goes," Smallwood said. "I thought we had an excellent deal. Each county was going to get a portion of the money."
Indiana Downs, already reeling from the fate of HB 1077, was dealt a second blow later in the week as Senate Bill 24 was added to the ranks of failed legislation. The bill, which called for simulcast signals imported into Indiana to be offered to all tracks and satellite wagering facilities or be barred, failed to advance.
Currently, Kentucky horsemen withhold their Thoroughbred signal from Indiana Downs and at two off-track facilities in Evansville and Clarksville. The satellite operations are located across the Ohio River from Churchill Downs and Ellis Park, respectively. Despite operating without the Kentucky signal at both facilities, each is meeting projections. But Indiana Downs General Manager Jon Schuster says each location is hindered by being unable to offer simulcasts from Kentucky tracks.
"We're not looking for a handout," Schuster told the Louisville Courier-Journa
. "We're just looking for someone on our side of the river to take up the Indiana point of view to create an environment that requires a conversation."
Thus far, those attempts have been unsuccessful. Indiana Downs has fought to import the Kentucky signal into the southern Indiana outlets for several years. Indiana Downs management has twice taken the issue to the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. Each time IHRC members denied the request to ban the Kentucky Thoroughbred signal from the state, noting the negative impact the vacancy would create. Kentucky horsemen have approved sending the simulasts to Indiana Downs, Hoosier Park, and its three satellite facilities in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Merrillville.