A plan to revitalize thoroughbred horse racing in Washington doesn’t sit well with operators and horsemen from Spokane’s Playfair Race Course.
Arguing that Senate Bill 5762 threatens live racing at the financially struggling track, Playfair representatives condemned the proposal to allow simulcasting of out-of-state races at the state’s three biggest tracks on Monday.
The bill, co-signed by Spokane Sens. Jim West and Bob McCaslin, would allow the state’s three Class One tracks - Auburn’s Emerald Downs, Yakima Meadows and Playfair - to offer betting on races from out-of-state tracks.
Both Emerald Downs and Yakima Meadows support the bill, saying it would bring in additional revenue. But Playfair officials told lawmakers the bill would cut the Spokane track out of the lucrative Western Washington market.
Since 1992, total wagering on thoroughbred horse racing has plummeted by nearly $100 million statewide. After losing $1 million over the prior four years, Playfair had no racing last year. Last month, the track began a winter meet for the first time in its 62-year history.
SB 5762 would allow each track to simulcast its races to other tracks across the country. Half the revenue generated from out-of-state simulcasts at Playfair or simulcasts of Playfair races elsewhere would be retained by the Spokane track and be to the purse account for live races.
But the bill would not allow simulcasting to off-track betting sites within 60 miles of any track conducting a live meet, a restriction that proved too much for Playfair representatives to handle. Ted Martin, the track’s director of racing, said that would shut Playfair out of the Western Washington market.
Currently Playfair simulcasts its live races to other in-state sites. In 1995, 89 percent of the track’s off-track betting came from within 60 miles of Emerald Downs.
“We need to get into that market,” Martin said.
Horsemen at Playfair also are concerned simulcasting races from other tracks could limit live racing.
The bill requires tracks to race only 30 days a year to receive simulcast rights. Because overhead can be avoided, simulcasting can be cheaper than live racing.
“Washington state should be protecting live racing, not reducing it,” Mike Odom, Playfair’s leading trainer, told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. “With this bill, Spokane will no longer have 50 to 60 days of racing.”
Playfair operators argued allowing simulcasting to off-track sites within 60 miles of state tracks would put the Spokane facility on a more level playing field.
But prime sponsor Michael Heavey, D-Seattle, was more skeptical of their intent.
“I don’t think there’s another track that is owned or potentially owned by an Indian tribe with (such outlets nearby),” he said. “I just can’t see how you’re going to be losing money if you can drive all those people into your facilities.”
The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe recently renewed its interest in purchasing the Spokane track and renaming it New Playfair Park. Last fall, the Washington Horse Racing Commission rejected the tribe’s application to run the track then later ruled Playfair could not accept the tribe’s off of a $700,000 line of credit.
The Muckleshoots operate a casino near Emerald Downs.
, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition.
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