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Playfair On Unfair Ground In Turf War

The Washington Horse Racing Commission should change its name. Something like Western Washington Horse Racing Protection Club would be more appropriate.

The two West Side representatives on the three-member commission that doles out important racing dates act like the state extends eastward only to the Cascades.

Playfair Race Course and horse interests on the other side of the mountains are a nuisance.

In fact, many on this side of the Cascades believe the two - Chairwoman Barbara Shinpoch and Robert Plut - signed Playfair’s death certificate by approving a compromise 50-day 1995 season that eliminates summer racing and extends past Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, Governor Mike Lowry intervened this week, and talks with industry representatives look promising.

Playfair deserves a fair shake.

It’s not only the oldest track in the western United States but also helps the Spokane economy, provides several hundred jobs, including some to hard-to-employ people, and adds a certain summer ambiance here.

Playfair general manager Dan Hillyard predicted about 70 percent of the tracks jobs (about 180) will be cut if it’s forced to live with a season that runs from Sept. 6 through Nov. 27 - 23 fewer racing dates than last year. Weather probably will prevent Playfair from completing the harsh schedule.

Unless the dates are changed, Playfair would have to cater to the 800 or 900 hard-core horse players who go to the track solely to gamble, eliminate family-oriented promotional events, reduce payroll, and close part of the facility.

Even then, Playfair can’t survive without the Western Washington market. On-site betting no longer pays the bills.

A local steering committee has proposed dual-card simulcasting with an overlap of racing seasons - basically doubling up, with summertime racing from Yakima by day and Playfair by night at betting locations throughout the state.

Such an arrangement works in other states, but the racing commission hasn’t been interested in it. Of course. The commission attorney said such an arrangement is illegal. But state Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, a non-voting member of the commission, disagrees. Besides, West said, he’s willing to introduce legislation to clear up problem areas - if the industry gets its act together.

There’s the catch. The Washington industry is a horse-eat-horse business - with racing groups zealously guarding their own turf.

So far, the state racing commission has enabled West Side interests to protect theirs better.

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