A Forsyth County legislator has introduced a bill that would encourage the creation of North Carolina’s version of horse racing’s Kentucky Derby.
Sens. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, and Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, are co-primary sponsors of Senate Bill 629, the “North Carolina Derby Act.”
The bill would “foster new development in the equine sector” that is projected to bolster the revenues of retail merchants, restaurants and other elements of the hospitality sector near the derby.
“Commercial thoroughbred racing would present a great opportunity for North Carolina’s economic growth, and it could generate extra gaming and tax revenue for the state budget,” Lowe said.
Bill sponsors cite the $122 billion annual economic impact of the equine industry in the U.S., which includes a $6.5 billion impact and 60,000 jobs just in Kentucky.
The bill says the annual Kentucky Derby generates about $350 million in revenues for the city of Louisville.
SB629 would create an N.C. Horse Racing regulatory commission that would oversee horse racing in the state, promote breeding and training of horses, and enhance the development of new agriculture crops.
No site has been selected for a potential North Carolina Derby.
One of the N.C. Racing Office’s first tasks would be “to determine the appropriate location and number of tracks to be built in this state, so as to position any major track and its purse structure in the upper segment of good quality tracks while creating a strong breeding, foaling and training structure throughout the state.”
The commission would issue permits “to build only quality racing facilities that are designed to permit year-round racing.” It would license all racing personnel and conduct drug testing and investigations.
There already is a rich equestrian history in North Carolina.
Locally, for decades the Tanglewood Steeplechase in Clemmons blended competitive horse racing with an eclectic mix of Churchill Downs wannabes in seersucker suits and wide-brimmed hats sipping sparkling wine, along with sunburned partiers in bikinis tapping kegs from pickups.
Perhaps the best known is the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Hill Springs, which is 80 miles west of Charlotte.
The $200 million center hosts the World Equestrian Games every four years with nearly 500,000 participants and attendees over a 13-day period. It contains a 10,000-seat outdoor arena, 1,200 horse stalls, a small hotel and restaurants.
The next scheduled games are set for 2022 and the event is expected to attract more than 700 competitors from 72 countries.
There’s also the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford.
“It’s understandable that the high-profile Kentucky Derby would prompt people in North Carolina to ask: Why can’t we have that here?” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“But one clear danger with government trying to manufacture a North Carolina version of the Derby is that it could end up diverting resources — public and private — from more effective uses that will emerge on their own from natural market interactions.
“If North Carolina’s existing equine industry supports the development of horse racing, that fact should become apparent long before government gets involved.”
Lowe and Perry also co-sponsor Senate Bill 688 that would allow for betting on professional, college, electronic/virtual and certain amateur sports.
However, wagering on youth club and school sports would be prohibited, as well as on injuries, penalties, the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings against an individual, and the outcome of replay reviews.
Kokai said the two wagering bills could “open the door” to additional gambling.
“It doesn’t make sense to give government more control over gambling operations,” Kokai said. “That’s especially true if government officials want to use gambling proceeds as the primary means of supporting important public programs.
“The proposal to put a new racing commission under the state lottery operation suggests that bill sponsors are considering tying racing to the state’s existing gambling options.
“It would be better to let private actors take the lead on any new development of industry in the state,” Kokai said. “Government’s most beneficial involvement would be to remove unnecessary legal and regulatory hurdles.”