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Horse Commission Forced To Play Fair

The Washington Horse Racing Commission and its Western Washington buddies don’t play fair with the Playfair Race Course. So, the commission deserves a clever amendment to Washington’s $18 billion budget that forces it to do so.

Simply, the amendment, sponsored by state Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, requires the three commissioners to give the state’s three major racing associations a minimum season of 60 days with statewide off-track betting. Unless it complies, the commission won’t get its $4.73 million state appropriation.

Only Playfair has less than 60 days.

The commission, which sees the future of Washington thoroughbred racing in a proposed Auburn track, chopped Playfair’s race dates from 79 to a meager 50 this year, stretching from Sept. 6 past Thanksgiving.

Playfair can’t survive without August racing dates and off-track betting in the populous Puget Sound market.

Typically, the commission greeted West’s move by lobbying Seattle legislators to kill the amendment in a conference committee after it passed the state Senate last week - rather than correcting the problem.

In January, the thoroughbred industry struck a tentative agreement brokered by West that gave Playfair more warm-weather dates and a foothold in the jealously guarded westside market. But the deal fell apart 10 days later.

It’s easy to take Playfair for granted.

Playfair, the oldest horse track west of the Mississippi, isn’t a major track. Still, it provides hundreds of jobs, many to hard-toemploy workers, attracts millions of tourist dollars, provides a feed market for area farmers, serves as a feeder track for promising thoroughbreds, and adds a certain ambience to Spokane summers.

West, who was criticized by local horse interests earlier in the session, deserves credit now for giving West Side interests a welldeserved dose of their own medicine.

West will serve on the conference committee that begins meeting Monday to massage the 1995-96 budget, along with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Jean Silver, R-Spokane. West may have the votes to make his amendment stick.

Still, he’s willing to pull his legislation, if the state thoroughbred industry can get its house in order by the scheduled end of the session, three weeks away.

He shouldn’t hold his breath, though.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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