Michigan Racetrack Surrenders License Thanks To Snyder’s Gambling Veto

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Former Gov. Rick Snyder’s veto of a package of gambling bills late last year is still being felt in Michigan, and it’s already costing the state jobs and economic development.

Late last week, the Michigan Gaming Control Board issued an order accepting a request from AmRace and Sports L.L.C. (owner of the Sports Creek Raceway) to surrender its 2019 “race meeting” license and simulcast permit. The track, which has been closed since 2015, announced late last month that it was delaying its plan to reopen until 2020.

“AmRace and Sports indicated it plans to seek track and race meeting licenses for 2020,” said MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm. “We hope the extra time will be enough for the firm to accomplish everything needed to bring horse racing back to Sports Creek.”

Kalm added that AmRace and Sports giving up the regulatory approval it secured in October was “unfortunate,” but he said that he understands the business decision.

The previous plan was to reopen this year, under a new law allowing the track to offer betting over mobile devices statewide, an offering known as advance-deposit wagering. If it eventually reopens, Sports Creek would be Michigan’s only thoroughbred track.

“Without the supporting legislation and overall economics to support live racing in this current year, and after considering all options, AmRace will withdraw its 2019 license application, commit its efforts to seeing beneficial legislation redeveloped and passed this year, continue to work through the renovations required at the race track facility and then submit an application in August for 2020 racing,” the company said in a statement last month.

Track sold ahead of bill reaching Snyder’s desk

There was quite a bit of local buzz for the reopening of the Sports Creek Raceway after its sale to AmRace and Sports was completed in December. The track is located outside Flint, which could use the economic development as much as any city in the Wolverine State.

In many ways, the track’s closing was part of a larger economic decline for the area.

Locals were excited about the sale of the shuttered track and were looking forward to the impact its reopening would have on other businesses in the area. Thanks to Snyder, everyone will have to wait at least another year, assuming advance-deposit wagering again passes the legislature and is this time signed by the (new) governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.

Horse racing legislation’s muddied path

Among the handful of gambling-related bills that Snyder nixed on his way out the door was House Bill 4611, which sought to amend the Horse Racing Law of 1995 to effectively authorize the Michigan Gaming Control Board to allow the use of advance-deposit wagering for the first time in Michigan.

The proposal was opposed by all three Detroit casinos, according to a Michigan legislative analysis of the bill. Per that report, the primary argument against the bill was that it would need approval from Michigan voters at the ballot box. Supporters of the proposal disagreed.

At any rate, the measure failed. It’s well-known that the Detroit casinos have tremendous pull in Lansing. HB 4611 was tie-barred to the Michigan Lawful Internet Gaming Act, which meant that the horse racing bill couldn’t have become law unless Snyder also signed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, which would have given the Detroit casinos online gambling.

It’s unclear if the horse racing bill compelled the Detroit casinos to prefer to see everything vetoed rather than have new competition from a rejuvenated Michigan horse racing industry.

“It has been my experience that casinos don’t like any competition, and horse racing in particular is a target in many states,” Steve Brubaker, a fantasy sports and horse racing industry lobbyist who has worked in Illinois and Michigan, told MI Bets earlier this year. “If the casinos can choke out tracks, they have less competition for existing and future gambling dollars. I was told in one of my first discussions with Michigan legislators that the three Detroit casinos control everything in Michigan.”

Last year wasn’t the first time that ex-Gov. Snyder shot down a plan to help the state’s struggling horse racing industry. In 2013, Synder vetoed a piece of legislation that would have allowed the then four Michigan racetracks to have slot machine-style betting on historical races.

Michigan was once home to 13 tracks. The only one that remains is the Detroit-area Northville Downs, which has harness and thoroughbred simulcasting  as well as live harness racing.

The horse racing bill vetoed by Snyder was sponsored by State Rep. Dan Lauwers, a Republican. Lauwers is now a Michigan State Senator. On Jan. 15, Lauwers introduced Senate Bill 12, effectively the same legislation that Snyder rejected. It currently sits with the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

Photo by Dennis W. Donohue / Shutterstock.com

Brian Pempus

Brian served as a senior reporter and online content manager for Card Player Magazine for nearly a decade before joining USBets in October 2018. He is currently focused on legal and regulated sports betting and online gaming. He's an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner in his free time.

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