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Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Horse Racing Simulcasts Return to 

some Montana Locations

By Phil Drake, Staff Reporter for Montana Watchdog, Helena , MT

[Reprinted with permission; original article dated May 17, 2012]

 

June 2012 issue

 

      Horse racing simulcasts returned to Montana on May 17, 2012, nearly six months after they were suspended due to huge financial losses that remain a mystery.

      The off-track betting returned to several Montana locations on the morning of May 17, with more expected to be added as the day went on, Dale Mahlum, president of the Board of Horse Racing, told Montana Watchdog.

      “I feel real good,” Mahlum said, adding it took “an awful lot” of persuasion to get some of the simulcast providers to take on Montana because of past problems with the state.

      The future of the state running simulcasting was in doubt until vendors who had offered the service before it was suspended stepped forward and said they would take over the business.

      Nick Alonzo, manager of Katie O’Keefe’s Casino in Missoula , formed a company, Montana Simulcast Racing, to run the program and to contract with the providers.

      Although it missed the May 5 Kentucky Derby, the simulcasts were back for Saturday’s Preakness.

      “It’s been a battle but I think we’ve won it,” Alonzo said Thursday. He said the simulcasts have returned to seven sites around the state. Alonzo said there are now about a half dozen tracks featured and he hopes to increase that number.

      In December 2011, the board suspended simulcasting for what it hoped would be two months while an advisory committee appointed by the governor tried to determine why it lost $609,638 operating off-track betting at eight sites in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula. Officials reportedly cannot find six of the eight vendor contracts.

      The board, administratively linked to the Department of Livestock (DOL), began managing simulcasting in November 2010, after ending its contract with Montana Entertainment, which took over in 2009. Prior to that, the state had a longtime contract with a nonprofit group, Montana Simulcast Partners, which reportedly had successfully managed the racing.

      In March, the board approved allowing DOL staff to pursue a “loan” from the Department of Administration (DOA) to pay off the deficit, which had been estimated at one time to be $614,249. Officials said the BOHR had to resolve the financial shortfall by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

      It has eight years to repay the loan to the state. At its April 2 meeting, the board asked staff to ask the DOA for a one-year extension on its first loan payment of $76,200, saying it needed that much time to get the money together. Also at that April meeting, several of the casino owners who had offered simulcasts told the board they may take over the service.

      Alonzo said the group hoped to have the simulcast return by the May 5 Kentucky Derby, but some of the providers said the state still owed them money and would not return simulcast until those bills were paid.

      Tom Tucker, a previous simulcast operator who was asked by the BOHR to untangle the financial quagmire, said Churchill Downs was reluctant to take on a new client so close to the May 5 Derby. Tucker said in the 18 years his company, Montana Simulcast Partners, ran simulcasts, it brought $8 million to state coffers.

      Organizers said in April that bettors would likely not have the high number of tracks to wager on. The simulcast selection would be pared down from 32 sites to eight – six horse racing tracks and two dog racing.

      Alonzo said he couldn’t guarantee it would be smooth sailing – at first.

      “There will be some glitches,” he said. “But I would rather have little problems than no problems and no simulcasts.

      “I am sad we couldn’t get the Derby , but we’ll get it next year.”

 

            Montana Watchdog has been closely following the progress of the Montana Board of Horse Racing and the financial woes of Montana ’s horse racing industry. For comprehensive articles which outline the issues and history over the past six months, visit www.montanawatchdog.org.

 

 

Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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