Portland Racing Hinges on Legislative Change

Magna Entertainment Corp. has threatened to discontinue operations at Portland Meadows in Oregon unless it receives concessions from the state legislature.

In late December, MEC said it wouldn't renew its lease of Multnomah Greyhound Park, another pari-mutuel facility in the Portland area. In mid-January, the company announced a $51,500 reduction in stakes purses at Portland Meadows.

MEC has said competition from video lottery terminals at various locations in the state, Indian casinos, and account wagering is hurting on-track business. MEC official Scott Daruty said without legislative changes, the company would end its lease at Portland Meadows at the end of April when the live meet ends.

At individual meetings with members of the Oregon Racing Commission, and again at a Jan. 20 presentation to horsemen, backstretch workers, and industry leaders in the Portland Meadows Turf Club, Daruty laid out MEC's 2005 political agenda.

The company wants year-round simulcasting at Portland Meadows to provide money for purses during the live season, and elimination of or a reduction in the 1% pari-mutuel tax currently paid to the state. MEC also wants management and the Oregon Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to decide the number of racing dates rather than have the number mandated by state law.

The wish list goes along with an MEC policy to seek deregulation in the racing industry. The company has long said the pari-mutuel industry must be restructured to remain competitive with other gambling and entertainment options.

MEC also plans to ask the Oregon HBPA to lobby the racing commission for infrastructure improvements at Portland Meadows. Daruty questioned the commission's allocation of funds for new barns on Oregon's fair circuit and said the state's premier racing facility was more deserving of the repairs, according to reports.

MEC officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment Jan. 21.

Commission executive director Jodi Hanson, who attended the Jan. 20 presentation and had a personal meeting with Daruty and commission chairman Steve Walters, told The Blood-Horse: "The legislative agenda Magna is proposing does not fit well with the regulatory mission of this commission. Specifically, the tax reduction (MEC) proposes would impact money that goes directly into our operational budget."

Hanson also said the closing of Multnomah "has already affected this agency, our staffing, and our ability to accomplish that mission." According to published reports, dog racing interests in Oregon hope to generate financial support for a new facility to keep the sport alive in the state.