Racing revival – Wyo Horse Racing sees surge
In 2015, 32 live horse races were held across the state of Wyoming. Of those, 16 were in Evanston, nine in Rock Springs, four in Casper and three in Gillette.
“It was 17 years since a horse race was last held in Casper and 19 years since one was last seen in Gillette,” says Eugene Joyce, president and CEO of Wyoming Horse Racing.
After House Bill 25 passed in 2012, allowing historic horse racing, Joyce notes that he told the legislature that they would work to expand horse racing throughout the state.
“There wasn’t a long line of people behind me to do it, so I figured we had better get it done,” he says. “We saw a great reception in both Casper and Gillette for the horse racing. It really pumped up jockeys, trainers and owners to know that communities across Wyoming can still support racing.”
The expansion of the horse racing industry across Wyoming has resulted in a resurgence of owners and breeders, as well as an economic influx into the communities where racing occurs.
“Right now, what we are seeing is that owners and breeders are investing more in racing stock broodmares,” says Joyce. “We are seeing an influx of people who want to have a Wyoming-bred horse and Wyoming-bred program.”
For example, Joyce cites several Utah horse breeders who have expanded their operations to Evanston where brood mares are raised year-round.
“From the racing perspective, because of the purse structure, we have seen horseman from as far away as Minnesota and New Mexico. Horseman from Montana, the Dakotas, Colorado and Nebraska also come here,” Joyce notes. “It is gratifying to see that people are willing to travel to come race in Wyoming.”
The economic benefits of horse racing have bolstered the horse industry in the state.
“If we have an accredited Wyoming-bred racehorse that competes in Wyoming, they accumulate points every time the horse races,” Joyce explains.
For example, the winner of a 10-horse race receives 10 points, and the horse in last place receives one point.
“Three years ago, a point was worth about $100 because the pool was only about $40,000,” he continues. “Now, with over $1 million in the Wyoming-bred fund, each point is worth about $1,000. It really incentivizes people to breed and own Wyoming-bred horses.”
With a boost to the horse racing industry, Joyce emphasizes that the Wyoming economy has also seen gains.
“Racing has been a huge economic boon for communities where we have live racing,” he explains. “A race weekend brings $1 million to $1.5 million in economic impact as people come to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, hire ferriers, go to feed stores and utilize the services of veterinarians.”
“Those big bonuses are an economic homerun from House Bill 25 to allow historic horse racing,” Joyce adds.
A look back
Judy Horton, Wyoming American Quarter Horse Association director, explains that in 2010, there was no live horse racing in Wyoming.
“In 2010, we didn’t have any live race days because we couldn’t generate enough revenue to feed the live racing stream,” Horton explains.
However, in 2011, racing began to slowly creep back.
“We had four days of live racing at Rock Springs in 2011,” Horton explains. “In 2012, there were four days of live racing in Rock Springs, and in 2013, there were 10 days, with eight days in Rock Springs and two in Evanston.”
In 2012, historic horse racing was legalized in Wyoming through the passage of House Bill 25.
“Historic horse racing fed the live horse racing the last two years,” says Horton. “Basically, the bill allows historic race terminals through the state where people can wager on historic races.”
Off-Track Betting (OTB) sites have both live horse racing and the historic races. For the historic side, Horton explains that people can wager on the historic races, a venture that has been profitable for the horse industry.
Following the addition of historic horse racing, Horton notes that 2014 featured 20 days of live racing, with 16 in Evanston and four in Rock Springs.
“The 2015 racing year was very successful,” she adds.
With some questions raised by the Attorney General as to whether the current historic horse racing system conforms with statute, Joyce notes that they hope to reach a resolution by November when they begin to look at race dates.
A press release from Wyoming Downs said, “On Oct. 2, the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission ordered the shutdown of all Historic Horse Race Terminals in Wyoming. The basis for the shutdown was a claim by the Pari-Mutuel Commission that the historic horse race terminals contained a component of luck or randomness in contradiction of state law.”
However, they also noted that the Commission determined the terminals operated in a manner consistent with the law prior to the beginning of their use.
The release further noted that historic horse racing is still legal, as is licensing to operate the terminals. The terminals will, however, be shut down until adjustments are made to comply with statutes.
Eric Nelson of Wyoming Downs said, “It’s going to be tough, but Wyoming Downs is working to complete the transitional requirements as quickly as possible in order to re-open the off-track betting facilities, bring people back to work and hopefully ensure that we have a live horse race season next year.”
“We were dead in 2010,” Joyce says. “There was no live horse racing. This past year, there were 32 days of live horse racing here in Wyoming. The future looks bright.”
With what Joyce calls a “speed bump” in current discussions about the racing, he emphasizes that the economics are hard to argue. In 2015, over $2.5 million was injected into the cities and counties across Wyoming.
“In this economy, those are significant dollars that can be used however they are needed,” Joyce comments. “It has been a boon not only to the horse industry but to local cities and counties in the state.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.