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NORTH DAKOTA PARIMUTUAL BETTING: Racing Commission soon will face shortfall

BISMARCK - The state Racing Commission came face to face Monday with the inevitable. Its fund that subsidizes live horse racing at Belcourt, N.D., and Fargo nearly is dry.

BISMARCK - The state Racing Commission came face to face Monday with the inevitable. Its fund that subsidizes live horse racing at Belcourt, N.D., and Fargo nearly is dry.

Racing Director Randy Blaseg told commissioners and others attending Monday's meeting that he's received grant requests totaling $530,000 for the next calendar year. Most of it are the requests from the two race tracks.

The commission's promotion fund, which was established by state law to subsidize live horse racing at state tracks, has a balance of $550,000, Blaseg said.

Last year, the commission granted more than $1 million to the North Dakota Horse Park and smaller amounts to Belcourt and other racing-related groups.

The commission took no action Monday on the grant requests; the subject was on the agenda to give everyone forewarning of the situation.


The commission and people who follow the commission's actions have known since 2003 that large balances built up in all of its special funds were going to gradually wither. As recently as 2004, the promotion fund, purse fund and breeders' fund all had balances of about $2 million or more.

The funds were built up in a windfall of betting taxes collected between 1998 and mid-2003. That was when big-volume bettors, primarily Peter Wagner of Las Vegas, were placing wagers totaling as much as $8 million to $10 million per week. Wagner and others fled the state when Racing Services Inc. of Fargo came under state and federal investigation, and the amounts wagered at off-track betting parlors plummeted. The Legislature also lowered betting taxes in an attempt to draw bettors, which has had some success, but the rate is so low, the state can't make as much money.

Starting in 2003 or before, racing commissioners have tried to extend the life of its treasury as long as possible by not granting all the money requested of them.

"We've been stretching these dollars for years," Commissioner DeAnn Pladson of Fargo said at Monday's meeting.

"We're going to have half of what we need for two years, 2008 and 2009," Commissioner Tom Secrest of Hettinger said.

Also at Monday's meeting, Chairman Jim Clement of Mandan said he wants the commission to be a more customer-friendly operation, especially for the horsemen it regulates. For instance, commissioners were told that some horsemen's breeders' fund award checks for last year - totaling about $500 - were not mailed out because they had not applied for them.

In the future, Clement said, there is no reason the commission's staff can't call the handful of horsemen who are in danger of missing the application deadline and reminding them to apply.

Clement has been on the commission for several years but only became chairman in July.


His comment brought a complimentary note from a former commissioner. Lance Hagen of Bismarck e-mailed Clement after the meeting, saying, "Your statements on making the commission more consumer friendly were right on."

Hagen congratulated Clement for "one of the best meetings the Racing Commission has had in years."

Cole reports for Forum Communications Co, which owns the Herald.

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