Day At The Track

Michigan gaming board releases $1 million

06:11 AM 07 Sep 2017 NZST
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Hazel Park , Harness Racing
The association will receive about $850,000 to cover prize purses for future races at Northville Downs, while Hazel Park Raceway (above) will receive about $150,000 for track operations and enhancements.
John Sobczak Photo

The Michigan Gaming Control Board has released more than $1 million in horse racing purse pool money held in escrow for more than two years to the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association and Hazel Park Raceway.

The association will receive about $850,000 to cover prize purses for future races at Northville Downs, while Hazel Park Raceway will receive about $150,000 for track operations and enhancements, the MGCB said in a news release. The gaming board ordered the funds to be split after the two parties failed to sign a race agreement by Sept. 1.

"We could not disburse purse pool funds allocated to harness racing at Hazel Park Raceway unless the MHHA signed a new contract to race there," MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm said in a statement. "Since the 2014 season ended, MHHA has not signed a contract to race at Hazel Park."

The prize money, collected at Hazel Park Raceway in 2014 for the MHHA's 2015 season, was put into an escrow account in 2015 after the venue decided that it would stop hosting standardbred races. MHHA took its harness races to Northville Downs, but state law at the time required that prize money be paid out at the race track where it was accumulated.

In 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed an amendment to Michigan's then-20-year-old horse racing law, which set the September contract deadline and reconfigured the way that purse money is paid out to the state's two remaining tracks.

"It's a good thing for us. We're really happy we negotiated because, obviously, it's not doing anybody any good sitting in escrow, and we hope it will help racing in Michigan," MHHA President Tom Barrett told Crain's. "It allows us to maintain or expand our schedule for the next couple of years."

MHHA races will resume this Friday through December at Northville Downs, which is south of Eight Mile Road and Center Street in Northville. The association decided to spread the purse out over the next three years.

Purse money can cover about 20 to 25 race days at about $40,000 to $50,000 per day, Barrett said.

Seven race tracks have closed in Michigan since 1998, with Hazel Park Raceway having the lone remaining thoroughbred track and Northville Downs having the lone standardbred race.

"We may release the funds now thanks to the legislation sponsored last year by Sen. David Robertson and Rep. Dan Lauwers," Kalm said in the statement. "This change in the law will help the state's horse racing industry."

Hazel Park will be required to report its track operation and enhancement expenses to the MGCB, the release said.

By Tyler Clifford

Reprinted with permission of The Crain's Detroit Business

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