AS I RECALL | JACK DAMICO As told to Mike Tierney, for the AJC 4/26/14
AS I RECALL | JACK DAMICO BY MIKE TIERNEY
Jack Damico is a founding partner of the global forensic accounting firm Matson Driscoll & Damico and the managing partner of The Posse Racing Stable, both based in Atlanta. He has been at the forefront of an off-and-on campaign to legalize horse racing in Georgia, dating to the early 1990s.
Years ago, a group of horsemen, business leaders and lobbyists met with Gov. Zell Miller to discuss allowing Georgians to vote on a combined lottery/parimutuel wagering constitutional amendment. Gov. Miller indicated he wanted to pass the lottery first and then take up horse racing. He apparently believed the lottery would have a better chance of passing if not joined at the hip with parimutuels. The lottery passed, but horse racing was pretty much forgotten. The lottery was his baby.
The second go-around was when I was president of the Georgia Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. We reached out to Frank Stronach, who owns automotive-parts manufacturing plants as well as a prominent breeding and racing operation and several racetracks. His team spent considerable time and expense putting together a business proposal and model for a racetrack/racing museum/family entertainment complex. Mr. Stronach thought Georgia was an ideal location for the venue that could be open all year long, with plenty of things for families to enjoy. He even proposed a design for a light rail that would take people to the complex. He pledged to build two auto-parts plants in Georgia.
He essentially told Gov. Roy Barnes he would write the check himself to fund the entire project. We thought, “Wow, here is a successful businessman who’s going to completely fund it and create jobs and revenue at no cost to Georgia.” To our shock and amazement, the governor and his aides declined to accept his proposal.
During Gov. Sonny Perdue’s term, we sat tight and let it rest. Within GTOBA, nobody was saying, “Rah-rah, let’s go try it again.”
In 2011, I jumped back in with a new group of local racing enthusiasts and businessmen called Georgia Horse Racing Coalition. We commissioned an economic study by Georgia State that clearly shows horse racing will bring needed revenues and new jobs to the state.
In 2012 and 2013, we made presentations to a Senate committee. We subsequently met with House Speaker David Ralston and Gov. Nathan Deal. While they did not openly commit to supporting our proposal to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, our sense is that both clearly understood the tremendous statewide economic opportunity that would come with the passage of parimutuel legislation.
I’m not a very good handicapper, but I would give it 3-to-1 odds of being legalized. In years past, it would likely be 50-to-1. We are encouraged and cautiously optimistic.
As told to Mike Tierney, for the AJC