By PHIL DRAKE
HELENA – Board of Horse Racing (BOHR) member Ray “Topper” Tracy has resigned, creating the fourth change to the seven-member panel in the past few months as the state figures out how the BOHR became saddled with a $614,249 deficit in its simulcast program.
“I was asked to be on the Board of Horse Racing by Al Carruthers and you appointed me to this board,” Tracy, who said he has been involved in horse racing in Montana for 30 years, wrote last week in a letter of resignation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer. “Now that he is gone — and you have a new board to take over racing — and I think that it would be better if I left this board.
“I thank you for appointing me, and I will miss it,” the Stevensville resident wrote.
Tracy, whose term was set to expire in January 2013, was appointed to the board in 2007. His resignation is the latest development in what is becoming a reorganization of the board. On March 5, the governor named Dale Mahlum of Missoula, Allen Fisher of Ashland and John Hayes of Great Falls as new members. The governor did not reappoint two existing board members whose terms had expired. Another board member, Al Carruthers, had died in January. Mahlum replaced Carruthers and was named board chairman at the board’s March 8 meeting. Fisher replaced Cody Drew and Hayes replaced Mike Tatsey.
The remaining board members are Shawn RealBird of Crow Agency, who is now board vice chairman, Susan Egbert of Helena and Susan Austin of Kalispell. The terms of RealBird and Austin expire in 2013. Egbert’s term expires in 2014.
In December, the board suspended simulcasting for up to two months while an advisory committee appointed by the governor is trying to determine why it lost an estimated $614,249 operating off-track betting at eight sites in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula (Officials reportedly cannot find six of the eight vendor contracts) . In December, Ryan Sherman was fired as executive secretary of the BOHR.
The 73-year-old Tracy said state Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, asked him to resign from the board, citing his age. He said at first he was angry at the suggestion, but realized he had served his purpose on the board. And if he were going to resign, he wanted it to be his decision. Larsen was appointed by Schweitzer to a panel to look into the BOHR and simulcast deficit.
“Am I too old? I am not too old,” Tracy said. “But do I want to race horses? To tell you the truth I’d rather go fishing every day.”
Larsen said he did approach Tracy about leaving the board. Larsen said he personally was an older person who is considering leaving the high dynamics of raising horses and horse racing.
“I suggested we both hand off the baton to younger people who have the energy,” Larsen said. “We’ve identified the problem, let them fix it.”
Tracy was one of three commissioners who came to Helena for the March 8 meeting in which the three new board members were introduced and two other board members participated via telephone. He said he was considering resigning but feared he’d be nominated to be vice chairman, so he nominated RealBird instead.
“Now that I resigned I feel 100 times better,” he said. “I am not mad at anybody.” Tracy trains horses and was publisher of “The Racing Journal” in Montana for 25 years.
According to its website, the board is charged with ensuring “the integrity of the state’s horse racing industry, both live and simulcast, through customer oriented regulation and monitoring of compliance with the Montana State Board of Horse Racing Laws and Rules.”
At its March 8 meeting, the board approved allowing Department of Livestock staff to pursue a “loan” from the Department of Administration to pay off the $614,249.
George Harris, DOL administrator, said DOA officials would want some kind of assurances the money would be paid back. He suggested using revenue from fantasy sports and advanced deposit wagering to meet those obligations. The board was told the deficit would have to be cleared by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
Harris said the deficit included outstanding accounts payable of $40,775, which includes $573,474 in cash and $30,306 for taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service for winners withholdings.
Also, the Beartooth Resource Conservation & Development Area Inc. received $10,500 of Big Sky Economic Development Trust Funds to assist Yellowstone Horseracing Alliance with completion of a simulcast business planning study. The study will evaluate current system flaws and make recommendations for alternatives. At one time officials said they hoped to hire Tom Tucker, whosecompany ran simulcasts of horse racing in Montana for 18 years, until the BOHR went with Montana Entertainment. Tucker said in those 18 years his company brought $8 million to state coffers.
Tucker is reportedly in Helena this week sifting through the $614,249 deficit.
He said he would like to see simulcasts return by April 1, but still had details to work out with state officials and BOHR members.