Horse Racing Plan Missed Starting Gate Yet Taxpayers Foot $40,000 Bill Each Year
Kim Bell Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
No betting windows, no winner's circle, no grandstand packed with horse-racing enthusiasts.
Ten years after Missouri voters approved parimutuel wagering, the state has yet to see the construction of a single racetrack. And chances for one are slim.
The Missouri Horse Racing Commission last met more than a year ago. No racetrack applications are pending. The last one was withdrawn in 1990.
Still, taxpayers spend more than $40,000 a year on the office - most of it on the salary of the sole employee, a woman who says her main duty is answering inquiries from breeders and horse owners.
Jane R. Scheel is paid about $38,000 a year as acting executive director for the commission. "I'm here to answer any and all calls," Scheel said.
Earlier this month, State Rep. Zane Yates, R-Oakville, persuaded the House to drop the commission's budget to zero. Until an application comes in, the commission's only real duty is to wait, Yates argued.
"It's ridiculous we're spending this much money to be at-the-ready," Yates said. "We pay firefighters to be ready. To fund a commission that is doing nothing is wasted money."
Others stressed patience.
"We don't have horse racing, but let's leave it in there and see what happens and give it an opportunity to work," said Rep. Sam Leake, D-Laddonia.
The budget, which earmarks no money for the commission, now goes to the Senate.
Since its inception, the commission has handled 12 track applications. All were either rejected or withdrawn. Chances for a track are slim until the state allows off-track betting to make the venture profitable, Scheel said. A bill to do that is pending in the Senate.
Analysts say riverboat casinos, which opened last year, also threaten the success of any racetracks by offering gamblers another option for their bets.
In 1984, voters set up the Horse Racing Commission and approved parimutuel racing in a constitutional amendment. As a result, only the voters can dissolve the commission.
Yates took another tack. He won House approval to turn the duties of the Horse Racing Commission over to the Missouri Gaming Commission. Under Yates' plan, Scheel would lose her job and the Gaming Commission's current staff would pick up the slack without hiring more people. …