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Murrel BlandMurrel Bland
The last “jewel” in the triple crown of horse racing will be Saturday, June 8, with the running of the 145th Belmont Stakes in New York. Other jewels earlier this spring were The Preakness at Baltimore, Md., and the Kentucky Derby at Louisville.
This focus on racing has caused renewed discussion as to what might happen at the dog and horse tracks at The Woodlands that closed in 2008. In 2002, a record $381,000 was wagered on horses at the Kentucky Derby through simulcasting at The Woodlands.
The glory days of the Woodlands were right after it opened with dogs in 1989 and horses in 1990. Then the riverboat casinos opened in nearby Missouri towns in the mid-1990s. That severely cut into gambling revenue for The Woodlands.
The owners of the track declared bankruptcy in 1996. Bill Grace, a St. Joseph, Mo., construction company and casino owner, bought the track in 1998.
I recall meeting with Grace, his associates and members of the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors shortly after he purchased The Woodlands. He very frankly admitted that he faced a very significant challenge to bring The Woodlands back to profitability.
For several years Grace and others with horse and dog parimutuel gambling interests lobbied the Kansas Legislature to get slot machines at their tracks. One of the problems in all this was Grace’s dispute with horse breeders, according to a good friend, Dick Clasen, who was the publisher of the Eureka (Kan.) Herald.
Clasen was also a supporter of quarter horse racing at the Greenwood County Fairgrounds. He told me that if Grace would have been more reasonable, there could have been slot machines at Kansas racetracks.
Grace died in 2004; his heirs continue to own the track.
Today, the Kansas law requires state-run casinos such as the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway to turn over 22 percent of its revenue to the state; however, horse and dog tracks with slot machines would have to send 40 percent of its earnings to Topeka.
Kansas track operators say that margin is too steep. Of course state legislators and city officials are not about to change the rules. These casinos are cash cows for state and local government; slot machines at racetracks would cut into nearby casino profits.
If Grace would have been a little more reasonable, there probably would be slot machines at Kansas tracks and the casinos such as Hollywood would have never been built.
So what can reopen The Woodlands and other Kansas tracks? A recent article in Time magazine may have the answer. The article suggested that a properly managed and regulated Internet wagering program could help save the sport, introducing a younger, worldwide racing fan.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.