Michigan Budget Crisis Could Halt Horse Racing

Michigan’s horseracing industry, already reeling from decreases in revenue and the possible closure of Great Lakes Downs after this season, is facing an Oct. 1 shutdown should the state legislature fail to approve a budget.

Michigan lawmakers were in session Sept. 27, attempting to hammer out a temporary budget deal that could hike taxes. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1, which means a budget must be in place by then to avoid a shutdown of state government.

Horse racing, operated under the auspices of the Office of Michigan Racing Commissioner, would shut down as well. Liana Bennett, a spokeswoman for the racing commissioner’s office, said live Thoroughbred and harness racing, as well as full-card simulcasts, would be suspended at all tracks in the state.

Great Lakes Downs, the state’s lone Thoroughbred track, is scheduled to host the lucrative Michigan Sires Stakes for Michigan-bred horses Oct. 6. The racing commissioner’s office on Oct. 8 has scheduled a hearing on racing applications for 2008; there is interest from individuals to operate Great Lakes Downs or build a track in the Detroit metropolitan area.

“If we’re not here, we’ll have to reschedule the hearing,” Bennett said of the possible government shutdown. “We’re sort of taking a worst-case scenario.”

According to the Associated Press, Michigan is facing a $1.75-billion budget shortfall. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the state legislature have failed to reach agreement on whether to raise taxes.

There has been talk this year in Michigan regarding slot machines or related gaming devices at racetracks in the state, but whether expanded gambling is a budget option remains to be seen.

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