State senate passes horse racing bill

Tri-City HeraldMarch 8, 2014 

Sun Downs horse racing

Opening day of the 2013 spring racing season at Sun Downs race track in Kennewick.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

OLYMPIA -- A bill that passed the state Senate 48-1 on Friday could provide more financial flexibility to horse racing at Kennewick's Sun Downs.

House Bill 2125, sponsored by Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, passed the House unanimously last month.

Currently, money from horse racing fines can only be used for Class C race purses, Schmick told the Herald. The bill would allow that money to be transferred instead to the horse racing commission's general fund.

Sun Downs is the only Class C horse racing track in the state. Moving the fine money to a general fund, Schmick said, would provide more flexibility, helping pay for additional operating costs such as workers' compensation insurance for jockeys.

Sun Downs is provided with $25,000 to $30,000 annually for the season, mostly provided through grants, said Doug Moore of the Washington Horse Racing Commission. The fine amounts average about $12,000 a year.

Sun Downs' six-day racing season is scheduled to begin April 19, running each Saturday and Sunday through May 3, the weekend of the Kentucky Derby.

There were once four Class C racetracks operating in the 16th Legislative District, according to Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla-Walla. Today, only Sun Downs remains.

Auburn's Emerald Downs, the only Class A track in the state, operates 75 days a year. There are no Class B tracks.

Emerald Downs helps provide enough operating and purse money to help support nonprofit racing at Sun Downs, Moore said.

Competition from other types of gambling and entertainment have taken their toll on horse racing in Washington in recent years, leading to the closure of tracks including Yakima Meadows and Spokane's Playfair Race Course, Moore said.

"We've been in a decline for several years," he said. "It seems to be leveling off now. I think we may have, hopefully, gotten to the bottom (of it)."

-- Tri-City Herald intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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