Let Georgians decide the fate of in-state horse racing
BY MIKE TIERNEY
As my undistinguished gelding reached the finish line first at a second-tier racetrack, I clutched my son’s hand, and we Usain Bolt-ed from our seats down to the winner’s circle. A framed photo from 1999 dominated by our beaming faces freezes the cherished moment forever.
So I totally get where Dean Reeves is coming from.
If I were paddling then in a wading pool of small-time investors in thoroughbred stables, he swims in a Great Lake. Reeves partly owns Mucho Macho Man, defending champion of the Breeders Cup Classic, with earnings of $5.6 million. Smitten since he and wife, Patti, took the plunge in 2007, the native Atlantan, 62, is captaining the latest campaign to overturn the ban on racing — specifically, parimutuel wagering — in our barren state.
For Reeves and the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition (www.gahorseracing.org) over which he presides, the ideal end game is a constitutional amendment approved by the legislature and passed by voters.
The alliance’s proposal, once fully disclosed, should be vetted and, if deemed sensible, considered. Not to accommodate high-powered horsemen such as Reeves (and non-1-percenters like me) seeking a convenient locale to engage their fancy, but because he is able to view the pastime through a wide-angled lens.
Where others might see grizzled old gamblers, Reeves sees patrons of all ages, especially families, and majestic animals to be appreciated without a trip to the betting window. Where others see a possible drain on resources, Reeves sees job creation and entertainment value.
He makes the case for racing as a self-sustaining industry. As CEO/owner of Reeves Contracting, whose projects include the Georgia Dome and the Aquarium, here is a successful businessman with a plan.
The modestly sized racetrack would be privately funded, with no burden on taxpayers. Biannual “boutique” meets, limited to about 20 days apiece in spring and fall, would contrast with the dragged-out sessions that bog down other tracks. The balance of the calendar would be sprinkled with equine events and concerts.
Some skeptics and flat-out opponents fear any form of wagering wound infringe on the lottery. Reeves points to statistics that suggest otherwise. What’s more, a slice of revenues could help prop up the wobbly Hope Scholarship program.
While other foes might want to hang a “keep out” sign for all non-lottery gambling, Reeves has a two-word response: too late. Wagering on horses (and two-legged athletes) has shifted to the Internet, and scores of Georgians place bets at other tracks. Why not, Reeves argues, contain some money within our borders?
To be sure, horse racing hardly is a growth industry. As a sport, it cries out for reform. Yet an old saw still rings true for some: A bad day at the track beats a good day anywhere else.
It is (post) time to let the people, both under the gold dome and at the polling booths, decide. Maybe the entire state can squeeze into the winner’s circle.
Mike Tierney, who grew up in Kentucky, is a former AJC assistant sports editor.