Allowing private funding of horse racing is great option

Horse racing in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton is an important part of community festivals.

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It's a positive development that horse racing could return to Eastern Washington.

Race organizers now have the option of finding the private funding to underwrite the annual spring races in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton. The spring race meets are an enjoyable tradition linked to community festivals.

The private funding option became available last week when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law legislation proposed by Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, that gave nonprofit horse tracks some leeway in how they can fund insurance and other necessary expenses.

It's a terrific solution that doesn't burden taxpayers. It simply infuses some common sense in the process. If a community wants to support horse racing, why not let it?

Financing horse racing in Eastern Washington - or anywhere else - is not a critical function of state government.

Yet, because horse racing involves gambling the state has oversight and control. And with that control came some state funding via a tax on wagering at Auburn's Emerald Downs, the state's only for-profit track. This tax picked up the tab for insurance at the state's four nonprofit tracks, Walla Walla, Waitsburg, Dayton and Kennewick.

Unfortunately, as the amount of money collected on the wagering tax has declined (mostly due to competition from tribal casinos and lotteries), the funds were not available to fund all four race tracks this year. Only Kennewick received funding, and it was reduced so the number of race days was cut accordingly.

But the lack of state funding wasn't the central problem. The real problem was the law didn't allow these nonprofit tracks to go anywhere but the state for funding.

The legislation approved last week changes the state statute governing nonprofit horse tracks to allow them to receive both public and private funds.

"This gives them the latitude to stay in the hunt and accept some private funds if they can find it," Hewitt said.

It's unfortunate the spring races have been lost for this year, but now organizers have some time to get funding lined up to bring horse racing back next spring.

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