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Archive for Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Smaller racetracks endangered

Decline in state funds may lead to closing of small local tracks

July 19, 2005

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— For more than 100 years, people in Kansas have been going to small tracks like Anthony Downs to watch horse racing.

But organizers worry a tradition that has survived for so long could be endangered as state funding declines. Funding for the Anthony Fair races has dropped every year for the last few years, said Dan Bird, president of the Anthony Fair Assn.

"We'd shut down without state funding," he said as he watched the horse and dog races Sunday at Anthony Downs in Harper County.

The state's contributions to Anthony Downs and Eureka Downs, in Greenwood, comes from a tax on pari-mutuel simulcast racing, said Stephen Martino, executive director of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. The commission also deducts expenses it incurs, such as paying stewards, judges and veterinarians, because of races at the two tracks.

As wagering has declined on simulcast racing, the amount of revenue going into the fair fund has dropped, Martino said.

The grant for Anthony Downs dropped from $171,778 in 2003 to $162,500 this year, he said. Eureka Downs, which runs only horses and has a much larger event than Anthony, has had funding drop from $601,222 in 2003 to $487,500.

Six days a year, people come to Anthony Downs for the races. The track opened in 1904, and horse racing began that year. Greyhound racing started 61 years ago, making the track the oldest simultaneous horse and greyhound racetrack in the country.

Bird and other supporters are promoting the expansion of legalized gambling, hoping some of the funds would trickle back to the small racetracks.

The tradition is important to the area's economy, Bird said.

"This is the biggest event for this community," he said. "It brings in 5,000 to 6,000 people, all the motels are full, and they're buying fuel, eating at restaurants, shopping downtown."

The races are a family tradition for many in the area.

"I look forward to this every year," said Megan Bayless, of Anthony. "You see people you haven't seen in a while. It's kind of become an old-time reunion."

Steve Erb, a rancher from Medicine Lodge, placed a few small bets at Sunday's races.

"It's more about having fun, though," Erb said "I've been coming here forever.

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