Prospects improve for 2018 Fort Pierre horse races

December 14, 2017 GMT

Organizers and promoters of horse races in Fort Pierre for more than fifty years are reconsidering a decision made in November not to hold the races next year.

Shane Kramme, a member of the Verendrye Benevolent Association (VBA) board, gave a written statement to the Capital Journal on Tuesday saying that the board had voted unanimously to reconsider the earlier decision not to host races.

The vote to reconsider was prompted by “an outpouring of support from the South Dakota Horsemen’s Association and the Fort Pierre community.” The outpouring includes $15,000 from the SD Horsemen’s Association treasury, according to the president of the association, Skip Moody.

In addition, Moody told the Capital Journal, $5,500 was pledged by individuals in just two days, and he thought that figure would increase. Vice president of the association, Bob Johnson, described how the first $4,500 was raised just in the course of their annual banquet, held in Pierre on Dec. 2 – in about four hours.

Moody also said that he hoped the cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre “can come up with something,” pointing out that the horse races bring in a lot of money to the cities through sales tax, when race fans buy food, gas or anything else during their visit.

The written statement by the VBA in November indicated that if the VBA were to host the races next year, it would face a shortfall of $40,000 to 50,000.

The shortfall is partly due to a continued decline in funds provided by the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, generated from taxes on pari-mutuel betting.

In mid-November the South Dakota Commission on Gaming allocated $170,000 to each of the state’s two racetracks – the other one is in Aberdeen. The amount is $19,000 less than last year, continuing a longer-term trend for pari-mutuel betting nationwide. According to previous Capital Journal reporting, as recently as five years ago the allocation to VBA was around $300,000.

Exacerbating the decline in pari-mutuel betting revenue, Moody pointed out, is the October bankruptcy filing of an advanced deposit wagering (ADW) operation in Sioux Falls – Bettor Racing, Inc. He said that revenue from taxes paid by Bettor Racing to the racing commission amounted to $18,000 for each of the tracks.

The vote to reconsider does not commit the VBA to reversing the previous decision. According to the statement, another vote will be taken on the question of hosting races in Fort Pierre for the 2018 season.

That vote will hinge on the VBA board’s confidence that the financial issues – that led to the initial decision against racing next year – can be resolved, according to Kramme’s written statement. Kramme said the timeframe for a decision could be a few weeks. They’re working with a deadline of March 1 from the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, he said.

Larry Eliason, the commission’s executive secretary, confirmed the March 1 timeframe for a final decision by VBA. That’s related to the next scheduled meeting of the commission, on March 21. Eliason noted that although the VBA’s previous decision was relayed to the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, the commission has not met again since awarding funding to VBA. So no action was taken on that earlier VBA decision.

According to Moody, it was Kramme who led the effort to round up some support for continuing the races. Kramme told the Capital Journal he’s had a hands-on role in the races for several years. From 1990 to 2003 he served as a header at the race starts – helping to get the horses settled into the gates. And since 2004 he’s served as the starter – pressing the button to open the gates.

If the VBA does eventually vote to host horse races in 2018, they will take place on the last weekend in April and first in May: April 28-29 and May 5-6.