Fort Pierre Horse Racing in 2018
by Dave Askins of the Capital Journal
The Fort Pierre group that has organized and promoted horse races since 1948 is now officially planning to bring horse racing to the Stanley County Fairgrounds again in 2018.
It's been an open question since November. And some uncertainty remains.
But last Thursday night, the seven-member board of the Verendrye Benevolent Association voted unanimously in favor of hosting the races again this year. VBA board member Shane Kramme told the Capital Journal: "We plan on racing and are setting everything in place, and hopefully we get a favorable outcome from the Commission on Gaming."
The commission's decision, on which Fort Pierre horse racing this spring now depends, will be made at a March 27 meeting in Deadwood.
The Deadwood decision will depend on whether commissioners think the VBA has made changes to its financial record keeping that are adequate to meet the commission's expectations. The question in front of the commission will be: Should already-allocated funds be released?
The commission decided in mid-November last year to allocate $170,000 to the Fort Pierre track for racing this year. It's the same amount allocated to the only other South Dakota track where horse racing takes place – Aberdeen. The money is generated from taxes on pari-mutuel betting.
But Fort Pierre's allocation came with some conditions related to VBA's financial records.
The commission’s two possible conclusions on March 27 are straightforward – that the VBA has met the conditions, or that the VBA has not met the conditions, according to Larry Eliason, the commission’s executive secretary. Eliason said the commission and the VBA have been in frequent communication, informally and formally for the last few months.
That time frame has included an initial decision by the VBA not to host the races this year. That decision came towards the end of November last year, after the commission had made its $170,000 allocation. But by mid-December the VBA board had voted to reconsider its decision, based on the backing "from the horse racing community as well as the local community in the form of monetary and moral support."
At least $4,500 in monetary support for horse racing in Fort Pierre came in just the four hours of the SD Horsemen's Association’s annual banquet, held in Pierre on Dec. 2, vice president of the association Bob Johnson told the Capital Journal in early December.
Additional support from the broader community continues to be sought by the VBA board. The news of the last week's VBA board vote included the statement: "We are very optimistic that racing will occur in 2018 and would be very appreciative of any support offered in any form."
Asked about the conditions set by the commission for release of the allocated funds, Kramme declined to describe specifics, out of deference to the commission. He said in his opinion, the VBA had met the commission's conditions, but said the commission would make that decision, so he "would not be brazen and say we're definitely going to race."
Kramme put it this way when he announced the news: "Along with our optimism is a dose of cautiousness."
About the last few months of working with Eliason, Kramme said, "I have enjoyed his wisdom and insight," saying, "Mr. Eliason has been an asset to South Dakota horse racing for many years."
The conditional award of funds to the VBA was one item on the agenda of a special commission meeting held Feb. 16. The draft meeting minutes say: "Due to discussion regarding the [VBA's] business practice it was recommended that the update from VBA regarding conditions of licensing ... be provided by Verendrye Benevolent Association representative Shane Kramme ... in Executive Session."
South Dakota's general law on open meetings does not appear to provide for executive sessions to discuss "business practice" of a private entity. But the state statute on gaming gives the Commission on Gaming the ability to hold an executive session to discuss "business strategies, marketing, or pricing strategies of a licensee ... or discussions with a licensee ... for the purposes of overseeing and defining gaming contracts ..."
Another issue the Commission on Gaming will decide at its March 27 meeting is a request from the VBA to shift about $4,000 of its $170,000 allocation from purses to operations. The commission includes in its allocation a breakdown into different categories.
The $170,000 that's been awarded to VBA is separated out like this: $22,000 for South Dakota-bread stakes race purses; $16,000 for South Dakota-bred points race purses; $66,000 for operations; and $66,000 for other purses.
According to Kramme, the shift is a request that the VBA has made of the Commission on Gaming, but getting a favorable decision on that request is not the key factor that will determine if the VBA can host races this spring.
According to Eliason, any shift of money from pursues to operations would need to conform with the strict statutory requirements on the South Dakota-bred horse fund.
Photo © Plooster Photography