The Fort Pierre area was hit with the news last week that organizers of horse races in the city will not be able to continue next year the spring tradition, which dates back to 1948.
But at Tuesday’s regular Stanley County Commission meeting, a faint ray of hope surfaced that the races, which are held at the county fairgrounds, might return next year.
County Commissioner Dennis Booth – who’s also secretary to the board of the Verendrye Benevolent Association, which has put on the horse races for more than a half century – responded to a question from Fairgrounds Manager Scott Deal about the future of the races: “They’re not totally dead, yet.”
Booth’s statement at Tuesday’s meeting came after he provided a written statement two weeks ago stating that the VBA “will not be hosting the horse races for the 2018 horse racing season.”
Deal told Booth at the meeting that he wouldn’t be making any other plans for the fairgrounds until he heard for certain that no horse races would be held at the facility next year.
The reason given for the VBA’s decision was a continued decline in funds provided by the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, generated from taxes on pari-mutuel betting.
South Dakota has just two horse racing tracks, the one in Fort Pierre and one in Aberdeen. In mid-November the South Dakota Commission on Gaming allocates to the two race tracks funds generated by the state tax levied on pari-mutuel betting.
The commission decided on Nov. 16 to follow essentially the same approach it’s taken in past years – by splitting available funds evenly between Aberdeen and Fort Pierre. That meant the VBA was allocated $170,000 for next year’s racing.
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.
If the VBA were to host the races next year, it would face a shortfall of $40,000 to $50,000, according to Booth’s written statement two weeks ago.
After the commission meeting, Booth told the Capital Journal that there are some conversations taking place among some people who might have the ability to raise the funds required to put on the races. He said he’d have a better idea about those prospects by the end of the week.
When the VBA’s news broke two weeks ago, Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson was one of those who indicated that some kind of effort should be considered to band together to preserve the long-running tradition. “There’s a whole group of us who need to talk about this,” she said.
Among those who should be a part of the discussion are the city, the county, the Business Improvement District Board and the Fort Pierre Tourism and Promotion Council, Hanson said.
Contacted Wednesday, Hanson said she had not been a part of the conversations Booth mentioned at Tuesday’s commission meeting.