Sunday, March 11, 2007

Weidenbener Writes Puff Piece For Horse Racing Industry

I don't know what's going on over at the State House, but it's clear lobbyists for the horse racing industry have State House reporters wrapped around their little finger. The Louisville Courier-Journal's Lesley Stedman Weidenbener writes glowingly about a proposal to allow the state's two horse race tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville to essentially become land-based casinos by authorizing slot machines at the tracks. Weidenbener writes:

The future of Killenaule, son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, is in the hands of the Indiana General Assembly.

If state lawmakers authorize slot machines for Indiana's racetracks, the ambunctious stallion will stand for breeding at Larry Smallwood's small Scott County farm.

The legislation would make Killenaule's offspring eligible for purse bonuses meant to boost the state's horse industry, prizes that could increase substantially with the revenue that slots are expected to provide.

"If the bill doesn't pass, he'll stand in Kentucky," Smallwood said last week.

Similar decisions by horsemen across Indiana await the outcome of House Bill 1835, which would authorize 5,000 slot machines to be split between Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Downs in Shelbyville.

Excuse me, but why the hell should I give a damn whether Killenaule breeds at a wealthy horse breeder's farm in Indiana or one in Kentucky? This proposal has been and still is about putting money--lots of money--into the hands of a few greedy individuals who've been wining and dining legislators for the past decade. They've sometimes resorted to some pretty sleazy activities as has been reported in the mainstream media. But it's all good as far as Weidenbener is concerned. "Supporters say the Indiana bill has perhaps its best chance ever of passage thanks to years of lobbying by racing interests, a need for revenue and the defeat of legislative leaders who in the past blocked its path," Weidenbener writes.

Those defeated legislators she's speaking of are former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton and long-time Senate Finance Committee Chairman Larry Borst. I suspect one of the reasons they blocked slots at the tracks is because they knew some of the sleazy characters pushing it and feared a major legislative scandal was brewing. Borst, a veternarian by trade, is actually a horse racing enthusiast and would never do anything to harm the industry. These horse racing folks were way too close to more than just a handful of legislators.

The Hoosier Park race track at Anderson is currently being bought out by Centaur. Recall this item I found in the Indiana Law Blog's archives which the Star's Michelle McNeil wrote about on March 10, 2005:

A lawmaker's connection to a gambling company has led a top Republican to declare that legislation to put slot machines in Indiana horse-racing tracks is dead for this year.

Another lawmaker with ties to that same company announced Wednesday he would resign from a charity funded with that company's money.

The involvement of those lawmakers with Centaur, part-owner of the Hoosier Park horse track in Anderson, was revealed last week by The Indianapolis Star.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton, R-Columbus, said there is now no chance of passing a bill allowing slot machines at horse tracks.

Garton, an opponent of expanding gambling, said other senators asked him to take the slot machines off the table after learning of business ties between Centaur and Sen. Jeff Drozda, R-Westfield, hired to do marketing for a Centaur casino in Colorado. Killing the slot machine issue for the year is a blow to the state's horse-racing industry, but one Garton said is necessary to "protect the integrity of the Senate."

The other lawmaker with Centaur ties was Rep. David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, who said Wednesday he had resigned as president and chief executive officer of the Third Millennium Foundation, which had hired him at an annual salary of $68,000.

In his resignation letter, Frizzell said he told the board that serving both as foundation president and as a state representative "may detract from the good work of the foundation." * * *

Because gambling companies are barred by law from donating to state and local political candidates, government watchdog groups questioned the influence of gambling in the legislature after the Star reports. "It was the perception," Garton said, reiterating that Drozda will disclose the business ties, as required by law, on his 2005 statement of economic interest that will be filed in January. Garton said the move to stop slot machine legislation protects Drozda's integrity, too.

Garton said horse racing lobbyists planned to meet with him to try to change his mind. He said he doubted he could be swayed.

Gov. Mitch Daniels weighed in on the mingling of legislators and gambling at a meeting with The Star's editorial board this week: "I think it's bad judgment."

Garton has been a stickler for the rules since 1980, when he became the Senate's president pro tempore after two previous Senate leaders went to prison for taking bribes from a railroad group.
The proposal is being cast as a panacea for funding property tax relief, full-day kindergarten and health care for the uninsured, which is really pathetic when you stop to think about it. "The revenue could be important because the Senate has passed unfunded bills for full-day kindergarten and an expansion of health care for low-income families, said one of the bill's advocates, Rep. Scott Reske, D-Anderson." "This is the only source of revenue floating around," Reske said. "Even Kenley said the money would be useful to help him implement a property-tax-reduction plan."

Now, back to that poor horse breeder in Scott County, Weidenbrener has this additional tear jerker:

Smallwood, who leads the Indiana Horse Racing and Breeding Coalition, said he has put off decisions about expanding his small farm in Nabb, between Scottsburg and Madison, until the legislative session ends.

He's currently breeding eight of his 10 mares to Kentucky stallions. If the bill passes he'll raise them in Indiana. If not, he'll take them to Kentucky. "I think the legislators understand that the horse-ag industry and the racetracks are kind of on death row," he said.

Hopefully, you've had a chance to dry your eyes. Weidenbener's sympathy for the horse racing industry isn't shared by the riverboat gambling industry. The riverboats on the Ohio and the newly-opened one at French Lick will no doubt pay a big price if two land-based casinos spring to life in central Indiana.


Wilson46201 said...

Is there no honor among thieves?

Anonymous said...

This is clearly one of those cases where the reporter was directed by the newspaper's management to write a pro-horse racing industry story. The industry has a lot of influence in Kentucky, which extends to the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

"This proposal has been and still is about putting money--lots of money--into the hands of a few greedy individuals who've been wining and dining legislators for the past decade."

Sounds like Jim Ir$ay and his tax-payer funded stadium.

Anonymous said...

Who are the people behind the horse tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the horse tracks are pleading poverty to justify getting slots, yet the don't blink an eye at the proposed $100 million license to get them.

Additionally it is interesting that a group of Hoosiers would spend millions to buy out Churchill Downs majority interest in the Anderson horse track if it really is loosing money and they have no guarantees of getting slots.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Here's the breakdown in the shareholders according to a report filed with the Indiana Gaming Commission:

William J. Brost 5%
Melvin A. Budreau 5%
Edward Chosnek 2.5%
Walter H. Kelley 4%
David Lorey 4%
M. Shane O'Malley 5%
Robert M. O'Malley 39%
Steve Norton 25%
Roderick J. Ratcliff 4.75%
John A. Senesac 4%
Kurt E. Wilson 1.75%


Gary R. Welsh said...

That information is actually dated. As a result of a merger of the minority companies owning an ownership in Hoosier Park, Rod Radcliff actually increased his stake in Centaur. Not sure how the percentages breakdown today.

Anonymous said...

What about the people behind the Shelbyville horse track?

Gary R. Welsh said...

For those of you interested in who is lobbying for Centaur this session. The list includes no fewer than 3 former Speakers of the Indiana House. They include:

Phil Bainbridge (former House Speaker)
Mike Phillips (former House Speaker)
Bose Treacy (employs former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler as well as the current and former Marion Co. Dem chairmen, Mike O'Connor and Ed Treacy)
Jim Purucker
Rod Ratcliff
Jeffrey Smith

Anonymous said...

Isn't Purucker the same lobbyist who was found to be providing free housing to former Ways & Means Committee chairman Sam Turpin a few years ago? I'm surprised Turpin isn't on the list of lobbyists for Centaur.

Gary R. Welsh said...

LHT Capital and Oliver Racing on Indiana Downs at Shelbyville. LHT Capital is owned by Paul Estridge. They have retained Krieg DeVault to lobby for them, which means former state GOP chairman Mike McDaniel and former Marion Co. Dem chairman Kip Tew are their lobbyists. I should note that Deborah Daniels (the Guv's sister) lobbied for Estridge and his horse racing pursuits back in the 1990s. Daniels, a former U.S. attorney, is credited with digging up all the dirt on Sam Turpin, forcing his resignation from the House and later indictment by Marion Co. Prosecutor Scott Newman. Turpin escaped a conviction on legal/technical grounds. Deborah Daniels is related to former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler.

Gary R. Welsh said...

And yes, anon 12:17, Purucker is who Turpin lived with for awhile after Turpin's wife filed for divorce.

Anonymous said...

Horse racing in Indiana is a failed government creation.

First the government dictates $25 million of horse track subsidies each year to get them started.

Next, the horse tracks say they cant make money unless they have off track betting parlors in every major city in Indiana.

Now horse tracks say they need slots to make money.

Enough already, clearly profits are being "managed" to reflect losses to justify additional government help.

Would the world end if a couple of gambling establishments go out of business because people have found more constructive types of entertainment?

It's time to let these "money loosing" government entreprises compete in a free market without an additional government bail out.

garyj said...

Wilson46201 said...
Is there no honor among thieves?

Non at all Wilson. Wait until you see how fast Bart drops the protection of Sweet Pea when the fed come knocking! Poor Ole Monroe will be left out to dry all by his lonesome.
Glass Houses!!!!

Anonymous said...

Maybe if we give these privately owned horse tracks a casino licence, legalized prostitution charter, and a medical marijuana licence on top of $27 million in state tax subsidies, statewide off track betting parlors, and alcohol licenses they will finally be able to make a profit;)

Anonymous said...

Who are the members of Oliver Racing?