Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Odds uncertain in state control of horse racing

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By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service

LANSING – All bets are off in predicting the future of horse racing regulation in Michigan.

An executive order by Gov. Jennifer Granholm would dissolve the Office of Racing Commissioner (ORC) and move its duties to the state Gaming Control Board effective Jan 17 unless the Legislature rejects her directive.

However, a package of bills in the Senate would eliminate the office but keep its responsibilities in the Department of Agriculture, where it’s now housed.

Former Racing Commissioner Bill Ballenger said the ORC could find itself in limbo.

“If the executive order is rejected or the bills fail to pass, then the ORC would remain in place with an uncertain future,” he said.

The ORC regulates horse racing, including licensing owners and trainers, looking after the health of horses and enforcing racing laws. The office is headed by a racing commissioner, who is appointed
by the governor.

Liz Boyd, Granholm’s press secretary, says the administration stands behind its decision to move the ORC’s duties to the Gaming Control Board.

“Racing is really a gaming institution, and that’s our reasoning,” she said. “This executive order is all about streamlining state government.”

Kendra Everatt, legislative director to Sen. Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River Township, who is the lead sponsor, said racing is closely linked to agriculture.

“Senator Brown thinks horse racing has a better tie to Agriculture Department,” she said. “There are so many more aspects of horse racing that deal with agriculture, including taking care of the horses.”

Everatt said that while the bill doesn’t specifically call for the elimination of any postions other than the racing commissioner, there would be a reduction of personnel.

“Since it’s rolling into another office, there wouldn’t be a need for budget analysts and other administrative positions because the Agriculture Department already has these positions,” she said.

According to the House Fiscal Agency, the bills would have no fiscal impact on state government.

Other sponsors include Sens. Dennis Olshove, D-Warren, and Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores.

Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said horse racing faces different issues than other gaming institutions.

“There has always been a close connection with agriculture,” he said.

“There is certainly a gaming aspect to horse racing, but other forms of gambling don’t have horses. They don’t have to administer drug tests or look after the health and safety of animals.”

Eric Bush, administrative manager for the Gaming Control Board, said the agency has no position on the issue and will take over the offices’ responsibilities if it has to.

“If we’re instructed to do it, then we will,” he said. “Right now, we have 40 to 50 business days to prepare for this. That’s our focus.”

The board is responsible for regulating commercial and Native American casinos.

Bush added that he is confident the board can handle the additional work and that he views horse racing as focused more on gaming than on
agriculture.

“It’s more of a gaming venture than a horse venture, though I understand there is an agricultural component to it,” he said.

Michigan has tracks in Hazel Park, Northville, Mount Pleasant, New Boston and Schwartz Creek.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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