Jerry Kopel

Horse and Dog Racing

Oct. 26, 2006

By Jerry Kopel
According to the "experts", we may have to consider, in the near future, a "cut and run" policy after a continuous decline over a number of years. No, I'm NOT writing about Iraq. This is about the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) recommendations on live horse and greyhound racing in Colorado.
The Colorado Racing Commission and the Division of Racing Events are scheduled for Sunset repeal July 1, 2007, unless continued by the legislature. One recommendation is to continue regulation until 2016. Another recommendation is to provide the executive branch authority to repeal the law prior to 2016.
That would be quite difficult constitutionally, and also unwise. Legislators should decide whether to repeal regulation of both horse and greyhound racing, or just one, based on revisions needed to avoid corruption.
Why the sour approach? Over a 10 year period, 1995 through 2005, live racing days for greyhounds has declined from 720 to 269. That's nearly a two/thirds drop. On the other hand, simulcast greyhound racing days in 2005 numbered 249.
Live horse racing days in the same decade have dropped from 268 to 37, an 86 percent drop. DORA reports:
"Racing Associates of Colorado is the sole sponsor a horse race meet and it does so at Arapahoe Park in Aurora." Its live race meet in 2006 consisted of about 36 racing days. If so, live horse racing in Colorado has "bottomed out" for the most recent three years.
On the other hand, there were 240 simulcast racing days in 2005. Combine 240 and 37, and it's a little better than the 268 live horse racing days in 1995 when Colorado simulcast race days didn't exist.  
According to DORA, a simulcast is "A live, audio-visual broadcast, transmitted simultaneously with the performance of a live horse or greyhound race by either an out-of-state host track or an in-state track, which is received by a simulcast facility." In my days, before regulation, these were called betting parlours, sometimes owned by unsavory characters. Remember the movie "The Sting"?
There are three greyhound associations running live races at two tracks. There were 269 live racing days and 249 simulcast racing days in 2005. It doesn't appear that live greyhound racing is running out of patrons.
One DORA recommendation is Reaganesque: Lower the tax rate on greyhound gross handle (the amount wagered) from 4.5 percent to the 0.75 gross handle presently levied on horse racing. In 2005, 86 percent of the taxes paid to Colorado came from greyhound racing.
The recommended reduction would likely reduce Colorado's $3.5 million in total tax receipts by several million dollars.
But the tax reduction "might" produce larger prizes, help in overhead costs and keep a good  number of employees at work.
The gross amount wagered in 2005 was $159 million with the largest portion coming from simulcast operations. The amount is respectable but not significant, having dropped $64 million compared to 2001, almost all the drop coming from live races.
In 2003, a British Gambling Corporation, Wembly PLC, by voter initiative got a measure on the November ballot to allow Video Lottery Terminals at five designated racetracks, four of which it owned. The initiative was badly defeated.
In my opinion, the growth of alternative gambling incentives such as casinos and lotteries has resulted in the demise of at least, live horse races. A simulcast approach fits in nicely with gamblers and it might be wise for the racing commission to view that as the main source for patron entertainment and state taxation.
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The overwhelming desire of persons to have their occupations regulated continues unabated. As babies, we needed pacifiers, as adults, we need occupation licenses. DORA has completed its Sunrise reviews for bill introductions in 2007.
New reviews for 2007 are good  for two years. Occupations reviewed in 2005, but not passed in 2006, have one more chance without a further DORA review.
The one year limit applies to landscape  architects, conveyances, crane operators, fire and burglar alarm systems, athletic trainers, school psychologists, and naturopathic physicians.
The two year limit applies to interpreters for the deaf, private investigators, private security companies and private security guards, hemodialysis technicians, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants.
Bills for morticians, sports agents and debt management were  introduced in 2006 based on a legal services memo suggesting that since language already existed concerning morticians, sports agents, and debt management there was no need to go though Sunrise review. An informal memo by the attorney general's office, took the opposite view. 
The morticians and sports agents bills passed the legislature but were vetoed in part because of the attorney general's opinion. The debt management bill did not pass the legislature.
In its broadest interpretations, the Sunrise law only allows five new occupations to be licensed in any one year. Lobbyists may not care, but before introduction, those footing "the bill for the bill" should ask governor-elect Bill Ritter which ones will get his veto. He has already publicly announced he would veto the bill regulating athletic trainers.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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