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Its His Time: Father of Michigan Horse Racing Deserves Recognition

31 August 2005

Last week, Great Lakes Downs hosted the "Dowling Stakes," a $50,000 purse thoroughbred race. The race did not receive much coverage. Frankly, I wasn't aware of it until after it ran. However, I got intrigued about the namesake of the race when I learned that Bill Dowling's grandson, Jim Trew, travels each year from his home in Chicago to the event to present a trophy honoring the winner.

Having been around a while, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn't know who Bill Dowling was. A few calls to the Office of Racing Commissioner later, I discovered that Bill Dowling was truly the father of Michigan horse racing, the first form of legalized wagering in this state. As such, all of us who work in the gaming and wagering industry owe him a great deal.

Mr. Dowling was a horse owner, breeder and trainer from Owosso, Michigan. In the early 1930s, he spearheaded the effort to legalize pari-mutuel wagering on horse races in this state. At that time, one of the major debates was over the issue of whether horse racing or dog racing would be authorized. Chicago-backed interests (rumored to be tied to Al Capone) were wining and dining legislators in an effort to bring dog racing to the state. Mr. Dowling played a key role in convincing the Legislature that horse racing should be the choice in order to boost Michigan's agricultural business.

Mr. Dowling initially drafted a bill to authorize pari-mutuel racing and took it to the Commissioner of Agriculture. Mr. Dowling rallied support from the farming communities and convinced the Commissioner to push for his bill. The Commissioner at the time, Sam Metzger, had considerable influence with then Governor William Comstock. After a tumultuous debate, the Legislature agreed to authorize wagering on horse racing and the modern industry was born.

In subsequent years, Bill Dowling served as our State Racing Commissioner (1943-1947) and Assistant Racing Commissioner (from 1933 to 1943). In state service, he worked tirelessly to prevent corruption. He retired in 1952, and passed away in 1960 at the age of 81. The Dowling Stakes, which was created to honor him, first ran in 1972 at the Detroit Race Course and has continued through this day at Great Lakes Downs.

Dowling's impact on the Sport of Kings in this state, his role in seeing to it that this state authorized wagering for the right reasons, and his on-going success in preventing corruption within the wagering industry lead to public acceptance of gambling as a form of fun and entertainment. This, in turn, paved the way for the authorization of a Lottery and casino gaming.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned as I researched this column is that Mr. Dowling has never been recognized by the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. For the hundred of thousands of direct and indirect jobs his vision created in this community, Bill Dowling deserves this recognition. Fittingly, the winner of this year's Dowling Stakes was a three year old named "Its His Time." Hopefully, those who make the selection to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame will agree.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com