Facebook Twitter

COUNTIES LIKELY TO GET INTO BETTING BUSINESS IF INITIATIVE A PASSES

SHARE COUNTIES LIKELY TO GET INTO BETTING BUSINESS IF INITIATIVE A PASSES

In addition to filling potholes, dousing fires and jailing crooks, some county governments in Utah could be making book on horses if voters pass Initiative A.

Salt Lake and Weber County commissioners acknowledged at a press conference Tuesday that the public arenas they operate would likely host pari-mutuel gambling operations, possibly administered by the counties themselves."We're in the horse-racing business now," Bradley said, noting that it's not uncommon for privately sponsored races at the county's South Jordan Equestrian Park to include winning purses.

Under Initiative A, counties could vote on whether to allow pari-mutuel gambling. If that happens, Bradley said, counties with race tracks would have the option of leasing the facilities to private pari-mutuel operators or make horse-betting a government function.

The county operates Symphony Hall and the Capitol Theatre for tenant organizations, and operating a race track wouldn't be much different, Bradley said. "It's something we would look at."

Bradley was joined at the press conference by Weber County Commissioner Randy Williford, who said pari-mutuel gambling could help reduce taxpayer subsidies of government-owned arenas. Weber County owns and operates the Golden Spike Arena, and Salt Lake County runs the South Jordan Equestrian Park.

Both arenas cost taxpayers more money than they generate, but Bradley and Williford say they could become moneymakers with pari-mutuel gambling. The counties are guaranteed 3 percent of the "handle" - amount wagered - and could receive an additional 6 percent as operators of the gambling enterprise.

"It would be difficult to lose money on the proposition," Bradley said.

Rob Rice, spokesman for Utah Citizens Against Parimutuel Gambling, disagreed, saying,"For the counties to get into the business of pari-mutuel gambling means that taxpayers will get into the business, and since it's a money-losing industry, county governments and taxpayers will be the big losers."

Moreover, if counties operate the gambling businesses, they will have a vested interest in supporting the inevitable introduction of off-track and simulcast betting in order to boost inadequate revenues, Rice added.

Four race tracks in Wyoming lost $500,000, and even the big track in Evanston, which is supported by Utah gamblers, "couldn't make it work this year," Rice said.

"Off-track and simulcast are barred by statute now, but counties would have more influence with the Legislature to get that changed," Rice said.

Noting that opponents and proponents are "wide apart" on their economic benefit projections, Wil-li-ford said he wasn't prepared to make any predictions himself. However, he said the horse industry would stand a better chance of survival with pari-mutuel gambling.

And he and Bradley said the most important issue is local rule. "What we're in favor of is giving voters at the local level the right to choose. If they want it, we're prepared to make it work," Bradley said.

South Jordan Mayor Theron B. Hutchings, whose city is home to the county race track, said he believes most residents oppose pari-mutuel gambling.