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Live horse racing receives funding for 2021 season

The North Dakota Racing Commission met Thursday, March 18, to award funding to the two tracks in the state, North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo and Chippewa Downs in Belcourt.

Bryton Dewald’s horse Chickies First Lady races to first place with jockey Giovany Estrada during the first race of the day on July 18 at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

BISMARCK — Families may have another summer fun option when live racing opens across North Dakota, including in Fargo.

The North Dakota Racing Commission met Thursday, March 18, to award funding to the two tracks in the state, North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo and Chippewa Downs in Belcourt.

The North Dakota Horse Park can run eight days of live racing or four weekends of racing between July 10 and Aug. 9. Chippewa Downs can run eight race days between May 28 and June 28, although it had hoped to run 10 days. The commission granted the dates at a meeting in December.

The Racing Commission, which regulates horse racing and off-track betting sites licensed with the state generally awards race dates in late December and grants funding requests from two pots of money each spring. One amount is granted for purse money and the other is for track operations or promotions.

On Thursday, North Dakota Racing Commission Executive Director Jack Schulz recommended the two tracks each be given $220,000 from the promotional fund and $176,000 for race purses.


The purse funding would allow for an average race to be worth about $2,750, and a minimum of $2,500. Purse money is the amount won by the horses and horsemen in races.

"That's the bottom [of purse money], it doesn't prohibit tracks from running $10,000 bottoms if they can raise the money," Racing Commission Chairman John Hanson said.

Chippewa initially requested $250,000 in promotional funds and Horse Race North Dakota, a nonprofit which operates the Fargo track, requested $300,000 in promotional funds.

"We had a pretty good meet there last year, not the best one but a pretty good one," Schulz said of the Belcourt track.

Chippewa Downs requested $240,000 in purse money and the Fargo track requested $200,000 initially, according to Schulz.

Purse money determines the value of each race. This means races could be worth an average of $2,750 per race with a minimum of $2,500 purse. The tracks will receive the full amounts provided they run the full eight days they are allotted.

In 2020, the North Dakota Horse Park was allotted six days but it only used four, or two weekends, which officials said was the most affordable option for the track.

The Fargo track has grappled over the years with debt, including paying back the city of Fargo for $1.4 million it spent to extend sewer, water and other infrastructure to the horse park in 2003, when the track opened.


This year, Schulz recommended no money be granted to the two breeders' associations. The two associations, the North Dakota Quarter Horse Racing Association and Thoroughbred Association, support North Dakotans who breed and raise racehorses in North Dakota.

Schulz said he heard a lot from horsemen and the tracks that they would like to have more say over money allocations for the two breeds, which was why he recommended the funding be awarded directly to the two tracks this year.

The state commission earns money through taxes paid by Advance Deposit Wagering companies. ADW is a form of gambling on horse races in which bettors must fund their accounts before being allowed to place bets. ADW companies operating in the state are licensed by the commission and then taxed through the state.

Live racing encourages jobs in the equine and agriculture industries. There are 460 people licensed to work at the North Dakota race tracks. More than 525 people are registered with the state breed funds and at least 28 businesses were involved with the two race tracks in 2020.

A 2016 study at North Dakota State University found the horse racing industry generates about $5 for the state for every $1 tax dollar spent.

Hanson suggested Thursday that an advisory committee be formed to address new racing opportunities in North Dakota.

"It's my wish we get a little more progressive, maybe a little more aggressive," Hanson said.

Interest in building a track in western North Dakota has gained traction while a new fairground is planned in Watford City. Horsemen and regulators in central North Dakota have also discussed reviving the Wells County track in Fessenden, where a track, grandstand and stables still remain. The Fessenden track hosted races for decades into the 1990s.


As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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