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Racing Commissioner Approves Lansing-Area Racetrack

13 October 2004

In late September, the Office of Racing Commissioner held a hearing on the live racing dates for the upcoming year. With the exception of Jackson Raceway, the participants at the hearing painted a fairly bleak picture of the future of horse racing in our state, noting that with increased competition from tracks in other states, the supply of horses is becoming a major issue for the tracks. Despite this economic climate, a new entrepreneur has surfaced in the field, seeking to open a new track in Eaton County, just west of Lansing.

Last week, Michigan Racing Commissioner R. Robert Geake announced that he has granted a track license to Platinum Partners, LLC, doing business as Windsor Downs, to operate a new pari-mutuel horse racetrack. The track is to be constructed in Windsor Township, near the intersection of I-96 and I-69, on the southwest side of Lansing. Platinum Partners is a single member limited liability company with real estate developer Dorian Lange as its principal owner.

Racing Commissioner Geake said, "Our office has performed due diligence regarding the documentation submitted by Windsor Downs as well as the information gathered at the public hearing." Geake went on to say, "I have determined that Windsor Downs meets the requirements as set forth under the Horse Racing Law of 1995, as amended. The issuance of this license gives Mr. Lange the right to proceed; however, he will need to obtain further approvals from local units of government."

Geake noted, "No new pari-mutuel racetracks have been built in Michigan since May 1989 when Muskegon Race Course opened for harness racing. It closed in 1997, but reopened in April 1999 under the name Great Lakes Downs, giving Michigan its only thoroughbred racetrack."

Windsor Downs plans to conduct live thoroughbred racing as early as 2006. Geake commented that if Windsor Downs opens as scheduled in 2006, it will become Michigan's eighth pari-mutuel racetrack. A racetrack must be awarded live racing dates prior to offering any simulcast wagering at the facility. The application procedure for racing dates is separate and apart from the application for a track license. Pursuant to the Administrative Rules governing the awarding of race dates, Windsor Downs will need to show that it has community support, that the racing dates will not create harmful competition for other tracks in the state and that there is an adequate supply of horses for the proposed dates.

Windsor Downs plans to operate a European style, undulating turf track and equestrian complex near the intersection of I-96 and I-69. Mr. Lange projects that the new project will create approximately 900 new direct and indirect jobs in the community.

Mr. Lange plans to have a multi-use facility that will be far more than just a racetrack. He believes that Michigan desperately needs an equine center, and that the location of the facility, in the center of the state, will allow the facility to thrive even at times when racing is not occurring. His plan includes a convention hall, a Hall of Fame Center for horses, a commercial area and stables. He envisions the facility to be utilized for a variety of equine matters separate and apart from horse racing.

Given the defeatist attitudes of many in the horse racing industry in Michigan, it is wonderful to have a fresh new voice with an entrepreneurial spirit coming into the industry. For many years I have suggested that the members of the racing industry could learn a lot from visiting a minor league baseball game at one of Michigan's premier locations (such as the Lansing Lugnuts or the West Michigan Whitecaps). The success of minor league baseball in this state demonstrates that when the focus is properly placed on expanding the base of visitors, and finding ways to truly entertain them in every way possible during their visit to the facility, the market will grow. For horse racing to thrive as something more than just another form of gambling, the people who run the tracks need to embrace what it is that attracted all of them to the industry in the first place - their love of horses. They need to foster this love for the animal in our young people and expose them to the grandeur that is (or can be - if done right) horse racing.

I am sure that many in the racing industry are shocked that the Racing Commissioner has approved a new track. They are probably also secretly hoping that Mr. Lange does not succeed in clearing the many remaining hurdles that lie before him. The track owners who are wise will focus on becoming more competitive in every way possible. Windsor Downs may not yet be "in the stretch," but those in the industry today better recognize that, with the business plan Mr. Lange has developed, by the time he is in the stretch, he may just be a length or two ahead of them.

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