July 09, 2020

Off-track simulcasts could be in Maine by September

The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee held a hearing on bills solely related to harness racing on Wednesday in Augusta.

Although five bills pertaining to the racing industry and agricultural fairs are currently in the legislative process, the major focus and discussion at the hearing was the amendments to LD 932 – an act to amend the law pertaining to the limitations on simulcasting.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Bob Tardy (D) Palmyra, who also sponsored LD 932.

The current proposal allows only commercial tracks to simulcast to off-track betting sites without races being conducted at the race trtrack betting sites without races being conducted at the race track at the same time, according to Phil Tarr, chairman of the Maine State Harness Racing Commission.

The amendments finalized Wednesday include: The addition of telebetting (by telephone) to a race track; Loosening restrictions on OTB betting by making it available to class A restaurants and taking it away from the commercial tracks only and allowing the commission to license approved site locations; Providing protection for live racing by making OTB subservient to live race meets with a 50-mile protective zone for a commercial track’s live race meet. That would be reduced to 37.5 miles in early 1994 and decreased to a permanent 25 miles in November 1994.

“Part of this amendment will give Scarborough Downs an opportunity to extablish an OTB,” Tarr said. “If Scarborough fails to do that in the alloted time, they lose some of the richest off-track betting territory in the state, the Lewiston-Auburn area.”

Scarborough Downs has the veto power over establishment of any OTB as long as the zone remains in effect. “If they don’t exercise their option before the specified time limits, they lose it,” Tarr said.

The takeout on wagering money remains the same for all out-of-state simulcasts – Maine must make the adjustment. But there is an amount that goes to commercial tracks who participate in OTB, according to Tarr.

“This could affect the city of Bangor. If Bangor races live races only,” Tarr said, “they are not eligible to receive the approximately 3.4 percent from out-of-state simulcasts. However, if Bangor decided to participate in out-of-state simulcasting, they would get the stipend pro-rated on the number of days they are licensed to race.”

Co-mingling of wagering pools generated the most discussion. There is no universal “takeout.” Each state has a different amount that is deducted from the wagering dollar. Tarr said the Maine takeout is “one of the highest and so it automatically matches that of incoming states. There is now no more disparity between our takeout and that of New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania.”

A schedule of takeouts at out-of-stake tracks nationwide will be computerized. Wagering at Maine OTB sites now becomes part of the host facility’s wagering pool. The payoff for racing fans at The Meadowlands would be the same for Maine fans at any licensed OTB facility.

“There are some minor things to work out, it certainly isn’t impossible,” Tarr said.

Under the amended bill, a new nine-member harness racing promotional board was discussed and authorized, with representatives to be drawn from the industry, and appointed by the MSHRC.

“The commission could charter a course of action and explore all avenues of promotion, outside of racing. We need to create an identity for harness racing,” Tarr said.

The board would be funded (one-quarter of one percent, about $75,000 per year) by the people receiving takeout benefits from the current racing pari-mutuel handle – tracks, breeders, fairs, horsemen, state and the purse account.

The revisions to LD 932 are now complete. Legislative assistants will make the changes in the emergency legislation and the bill is scheduled for final approval before the Agriculture Committee at 2 p.m. on Wednesday at Room 107, State Office Building, Augusta. It then moves to a vote by the 116th Legislature before the current session closes.

“I feel very confident that once the bill has passed that we will be receiving applications for both independent as well as track-operated off-track betting facilities,” Tarr said. “By fall, these facilities should be up and running.”

Tarr said the new proposed video gambling terminals would compete with harness racing. “We can’t stand to allow another betting entity like that into the state without either defeating it or getting a piece of the action. Video lottery would devastate the harness horse industry, a going business in this state for more than 150 years.”

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