Bill Would Increase Subsidy to Indiana Racetracks

by James Platz

Indiana's horse racing industry may have another opportunity to secure more financial stability. An amendment introduced and passed in the Senate Finance Committee Feb. 19 would increase the annual subsidy to the industry from $27 million to $44 million. It goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Robert Jackman introduced an amendment to a House bill that narrowly passed by an 8-7 margin. The amendment would increase the subsidy paid from riverboat casino admission tax revenue by $17 million.

The boost would designate $3.4 million more a year to Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. They currently receive about $5.4 million each year. But for both operators, which have made significant investments to construct multi-breed facilities that are under-performing or dealing with revenue declines, the increase may be inadequate.

"I don't think it's a long-term solution," Hoosier Park president and general manager Rick Moore said. "It's a short-term remedy."

A bill to authorize electronic pull-tab machines (video lottery terminals) was shelved in the Senate the week of Feb. 9. The legislation would have provided firm financial footing for both tracks, as well as significant revenue for purses and local government throughout the state.

Despite support from a coalition that consisted of track owners, horsemen's groups, and breeders, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton assigned the measure to the Senate Rules Committee, which signaled its end.

"We're trying to assist the industry," Garton told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "We're not trying to assist investor-owners of gambling activity."

Moore said he was "disheartened and disappointed" the pull-tab bill didn't get a hearing. Hoosier Park's revenue fell 16% last year, when Indiana Downs opened for its first full year of operation. Indiana Downs brought in half the income in 2003 it projected when it applied for its license.

"We're not looking for a handout; we're just looking for a hand," Indiana Downs general manager Jon Schuster told the Indianapolis Star.

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