Fair Grounds Must Pay Record Fine in Clean Water Act Settlement

By T. D. Thornton

In an attempt to resolve years of federal Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at its Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company, LLC, has agreed to pay a $2.7 million penalty–the largest civil fine ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation in a CWA matter.

Under the terms of the settlement announced Sept. 29 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the limited liability company that runs Fair Grounds must also implement $5.6 million in operational changes and construction projects to eliminate the unauthorized discharges of manure, urine, and wastewater from the track’s stable area.

 

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Louisiana Judge to Rule Friday on Fair Grounds Emergency Stabling

By T. D. Thornton

A temporary restraining order issued Sep. 4 has blocked a Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) mandate from taking effect that seeks to force the Fair Grounds to open its backstretch stabling to as many as 500 Thoroughbreds displaced by Hurricane Laura in the last week of August. An Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge is now expected to rule on the injunction after a Sep. 11 hearing.

The news site Crescent City Sports first reported on the 57-page request for injunction filed by attorneys for the Fair Grounds, which is owned by the gaming corporation Churchill Downs, Inc. The filing stated that the LSRC “does not have the legal authority to issue the mandatory injunction” and that “issuing such an order constitutes an unconstitutional taking and violates Fair Grounds’ constitutional rights to due process.”

After the Aug. 27 hurricane wrecked infrastructure at Delta Downs, the racino announced that its property would close to assess and repair damage. The Oct. 6-Feb. 27 meet could be delayed or abbreviated.

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LA Horsemen Plea to Commission for Emergency Stabling

By T. D. Thornton

In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura that devastated structures at Delta Downs last week, the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA) made a written plea to the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) Sept. 2 asking for an emergency order to be handed down that would mandate “immediate access to stalls to stable at both Louisiana Downs and Fair Grounds.”

The request for stabling involves both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, and is complicated by meets for both breeds ending and starting within the same rough time frame at Louisiana’s four tracks. Additionally, the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic is making movement of people and horses difficult.

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Churchill Backstretch to Open May 11, Fair Grounds Horses Will Be First In

By T. D. Thornton

Churchill Downs has been cleared by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear to open its backstretch area May 11 so long as the track adheres to enhanced pandemic precautions approved by the state.

Beshear announced the clearance Wednesday at his daily COVID-19 video press conference as part of a phased-in reopening for various state industries. Churchill followed up about an hour later with a press release that included specifics pertinent to horsemen.

Neither Beshear nor the track pinpointed an exact date for the return of live racing. But the Churchill release stated “it will be staged at a minimum of four days per week,” Thursday through Sunday.

The following is a listing of racetracks and when horses based there may return to the Churchill Downs stable areas between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.:

  • Fair Grounds (May 11-13)
  • Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and horses based at Florida training centers (May 14-16)
  • Oaklawn Park (May 17-19)
  • All other locales (May 20 onward)

 

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Randy Romero, Classy Cajun With Deft Touch and Strong Spirit, Dies at 61

By T. D. Thornton

Randy Romero, the strong-willed Louisiana jockey who parlayed “Ragin’ Cajun” fearlessness as a bush-track phenom into a Hall-of-Fame career highlighted by a gentlemanly demeanor and dramatic victories aboard championship distaffers, died the night of August 28, according to published reports. He was 61 years old.

Romero’s deft, sure-handed horsebacking skills were eclipsed only by his reputation for having rock-solid spiritual faith in the face of numerous on- and off-track adversities. For decades he courageously battled liver and kidney troubles. In mid-June of 2019 Romero disclosed that he was receiving hospice care after doctors deemed him too weak to undergo further surgeries.

 

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New Georgia Racing Bill Strips Out Gaming References

By T. D. Thornton

The latest bill in a decades-long string of legislative efforts to legalize pari-mutuel horse wagering in Georgia was filed on Wednesday.

In a change of tactics from similar bills that failed in recent years, this year’s version does not tie the sport to any racino/casino gaming and focuses strictly on creating a mixed-use Thoroughbred venue that would host boutique seasonal meets and other non-racing events.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which first broke the story, the Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act filed by Republican Senator Brandon Beach pitches horse racing as “an economic development boon for struggling rural communities, which could see the creation of a new industry surrounding the raising of racehorses.”

“Each racehorse can have a ripple effect of creating more than 20 jobs,” Beach told the ABC. “This legislation provides my colleagues with a clear vision of the benefits of horse racing facilities, including new revenue streams to keep up with increasing demand for education funding.”

Beach told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week that, “We need to be in the equine industry. There’s more to it than racing. There’s horse farms and hay farms and breeding and auctions.”

The stumbling block to getting parimutuel laws enacted in Georgia–as it has been for the past 30 years–has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm for horses. The difficulty has always been rounding up enough elected officials who are willing to support expanded gambling in a state where moral objections to it run high and religious conservatism carries considerable clout.

Dean Reeves, president of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, told the ABC that his group is committed to building “world-class facilities that would benefit the state and serve as an asset to local communities. Our industry wants to be a part of a solution that gives rural Georgia an economic boost while also providing new revenues for the entire state,” he said.

The ABC reported that legalizing parimutuel betting in Georgia requires a constitutional amendment that would be subject to a statewide referendum.

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Election Aftermath Mixed for Thoroughbred Interests

By T. D. Thornton

In the aftermath of Election Day, the gambling landscape shifted significantly overnight in three states. But the results are mixed in terms of how the measures will affect Thoroughbred horse racing.

In Arkansas, Oaklawn Park won the right to add full casino gaming and sports betting to its existing wagering menu of pari-mutuels and electronic gaming. The vote percentage was 54-46.

In Idaho, historical horse racing (HHR) video gaming at tracks was defeated by a 53-47 margin, putting the state’s already tenuous Thoroughbred future in even more of an endangered flux.

Florida voters banned greyhound racing by a 69-31 margin, with a 2020 sunset date but a provision to keep other forms of gaming at those tracks.

A separate Florida measure that passed by a 71-29 margin mandates that any future changes to casino gambling have to be approved through statewide citizen-initiated ballot measures, and not the Legislature.

All tallies in this story cited are listed in rounded percentages, and are according to results posted as of 2 p.m. Wednesday on Ballotpedia.com.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, the passage of Issue 4 amended the Arkansas Constitution to grant four casino licenses in specified locations. Oaklawn in Hot Springs and the Southland greyhound/gaming venue in West Memphis were granted “automatic licenses” for expansions “at or adjacent to” their existing operations. Both tracks already offer electronic games of skill under a 2005 state law.

Additionally, one casino license will be up for bid in both Pope County and Jefferson County.

As part of the Arkansas measure, “casino gaming shall also be defined to include accepting wagers on sporting events.”

The ballot initiative also included a tax revenue distribution plan that mandates “17.5% to the Arkansas Racing Commission for deposit into the Arkansas Racing Commission Purse and Awards Fund to be used only for purses for live horse racing and greyhound racing by Oaklawn and Southland.”

Idaho

The defeated Proposition 1 was designed to once again legalize HHR video terminals at tracks in Idaho, where seven fairs circuit tracks raced short meets in 2018. The measure would have granted HHR gaming rights to any track that cards eight calendar dates annually, and passage would almost certainly have meant the re-opening of Les Bois Park, formerly Idaho’s only commercial track.

Idaho had briefly legalized HHR in 2013 but the law was repealed in 2015. When the state pulled the plug on HHR, Les Bois, which was one of three locations that had the machines, shut down. Les Bois spent heavily to support Proposition 1, and reportedly had several hundred HHR machines still on the property ready to resume operation, along with live racing.

Florida

Florida’s two approved ballot measures might end up raising more questions than they answered in an already confusing state for gambling.

The Amendment 13 ban on dog racing actually had the support of some of the state’s 11 greyhound track operators, who saw it as a de facto way of attaining “decoupling” from less-profitable pari-mutuels while retaining lucrative gaming rights.

Some “What happens next?” scenarios could include horse tracks angling for similar decoupling rights based on this precedent. And with greyhound racing mandated to end, animal rights activists might now more closely focus on horse racing.

Carey Theil, the executive director of GREY2K USA, one of the leading backers of the ban, told the Orlando Sentinel that the vote appears to mean the greyhound industry will likely be “swept away in the night” and that “the historical consequences of this are incredibly significant.”

Amendment 3, which took control of future casino gambling decisions out of the hands of the Legislature, was proposed by Voters in Charge, a political committee largely financed by the tourism-centric Walt Disney Co. and the Seminole Tribe, which operates existing gaming facilities. According to published reports, that committee spent more than $31 million on the effort to transfer future casino decisions to voters.

According to a post-vote analysis in the Tampa Bay Times, “While the amendment, in theory, gives voters the power to expand gambling, it could actually make the process more difficult. Changing anything by voter decision is a long process, and would therefore keep competition low for the Seminole Tribe and ensure a more ‘family friendly’ tourism environment here, to Disney’s benefit.”

The Miami Herald recapped the vote this way: “Opponents to the amendment—like NFL teams, online betting sites like FanDuel and DraftKings and dog and horse tracks—have argued that it is unclear what affect the initiative would have on previously authorized gambling sites across the state.”

United States Congress

Two U.S. Representatives in positions to have an impact on Thoroughbred racing both won re-election bids Nov. 6.

Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) are co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus. They are also co-sponsors of HR 2651, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017, which was first introduced in a different form in 2015. Its revised version has not had any legislative action since a June 22 subcommittee hearing.

Barr won by a 51-48 margin. Tonko’s winning margin was 68-32.

Lexington Mayor

Linda Gorton bested Ronnie Bastin by a 63-37 margin in the Lexington, Kentucky, mayoral race.

In a profile published the week prior to the election, Gorton told TDN that “I have a long history of working with the equine industry here. I know many of the horse farm owners and managers. I understand their concerns…. That’s important for me, to have people understand that I have worked with this industry for many, many years, and have great experience in doing that.”

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