News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

April 19, 2011

‘Racino’ subsidies are back on track

Senate committee restores funding to boost state’s horse industry

TERRE HAUTE — A rosier tax revenue forecast may mean good news for the Indiana horse-racing industry.

On Monday, the state Senate appropriations committee restored millions of dollars in gaming-related funding created to boost horse racing in the state.

 The restored funding is part of a revised budget bill that also adds $150 million in new funding for K-12 education and beefs up the state’s surplus to $1 billion by 2013. The budget bill is scheduled for debate in the Senate today.

The House version of the budget bill had slashed dollars set aside to promote and subsidize horse racing by 57 percent, from about $60 million down to $27 million.

A revised economic forecast unveiled by state budget analysts late last week boosted the chances for the funding to be restored. The new revenue forecast predicts the state will take in $644 million more than previously expected between July 2011 and July 2013.

Statehouse Republican leaders want much of it to be put into reserves. But Sen. Luke Kenley, the Senate appropriations committee chairman, pushed to restore the gaming funding, citing a Purdue University study that found horse racing had a $1 billion economic impact on the state.

“It’s an investment that’s paying off,” Kenley said Monday, adding that the legislature also had an obligation to keep the promise it made four years ago to support the industry’s growth.

That “promise” was made by state lawmakers who approved setting aside millions of dollars generated by the state’s two “racinos” —  the combined horse tracks and casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville — and spend that money to help expand horse racing in Indiana.

Much of the money set aside goes toward prize money to lure competitors to races. The state’s horse breeders benefit because race horses bred and born in Indiana are eligible to win a bigger piece of the purse.

State budget-makers had initially proposed a cut in that funding, saying the revenues brought in by racino gambling could be used to pay for other things. 

But the horse industry fought back. In March, the Senate appropriations committee heard testimony from horse breeders and others who had relocated their businesses to Indiana after the legislature passed the law that compelled the racinos to share 15 percent of their adjusted gross revenues with the state’s horse industry.

Staff members from the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, the state government entity that oversees the industry, also testified that the number of registered thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses in the state had increased over the last three years, an indicator the industry is growing.

Maureen Hayden is Tribune-Star Statehouse bureau chief.

 

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