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Agency opts out of track decision

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Racing Commission considered and rejected getting involved in picking a new general manager for the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo.

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Racing Commission considered and rejected getting involved in picking a new general manager for the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo.

The discussion Tuesday was prompted by concern about the track's long-term finances and the August resignation of general manager Rob Lynch.

The commission granted the Fargo race track just over $1 million from its promotion, breeders' and purse funds this year for its racing season July to September.

Commission funds used to subsidize the Fargo and Belcourt tracks will be depleted in as little as two years because betting volume and the tax rate on bets from which it gets its funds is lower than several years ago.

One commissioner, Tom Secrest of Hettinger, said of Fargo, "We think they're not managing their property properly." But racing Director Randy Blaseg said after the meeting the issue is more a matter of helping the track hire a manager with the right expertise.


"All we're looking for is bang for our buck," Blaseg said. "We're just trying to turn the corner (financially), hoping they can locate an individual who has the expertise to move the race track forward to the next stage."

Commissioners dropped the idea, conceding it isn't their place.

"It's not appropriate for a government agency to have any input for a private organization hiring a manager," said Assistant Attorney General Bill Peterson.

"I don't want to micromanage" the track, Commissioner DeAnn Pladson of Fargo said.

But Secrest added, "We should make sure the money is being spent wisely."

The newest commissioner taking part in his first meeting, Pat Weir of Fargo, said the commission can set "payment criteria" the track would have to meet to qualify for funds.

The commission disappointed horsemen in the audience Tuesday by adopting new administrative rules that contain a section they said would hurt the state's horse breeding industry.

The dispute involves how the commission awards money to horse owners and breeders from its purse fund, and breeders' funds to horse breeders.


John Bubel of Center said pari-mutuel betting was legalized to spur economic development in the form of a growing horse industry, but the new rule would discourage horse breeding. Those who race horses have told him they'll buy horses in South Dakota if the rule is changed.

Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, said his constituents "are very upset about this ... This is what creates the animosity between the horsemen and the commission."

Secrest said other horsemen favor the rule change. Blaseg said the old rule allowed "double-dipping" by some horsemen.

The commission passed the new rules 3-2, with the new chairman, Jim Clement of Mandan, joining Clarence Frederick of Belcourt on the losing end.

"This rule, it furthers the animosity. It's a bad deal," Clement said before the vote.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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