For the first time in decades, there will be no horse racing in South Dakota.
Aberdeen’s horse racing organization, Northeast Area Horse Racing, released a statement Tuesday morning indicating that after 60 years of racing in Aberdeen, it will not have races in 2019. This comes two weeks after Fort Pierre’s racing organization announced its own suspension of racing activities this year.
“The (Northeast Area Horse Racing) board is very disappointed that there will be no live horse racing in Aberdeen in 2019,” the release reads. “However, they remain ‘optimistic’ that there will be a new revenue source to support South Dakota’s horse racing industry in the future.”
The reasoning, as laid out in the release, is that the organization is “unable to meet the recent changes of a bond requirement put in place by the South Dakota Gaming Commission.”
As explained by Northeast Area Horse Racing president Bubby Haar, the bond requirement was insurance to cover loss or unpaid vendors. Several bonds were sought out to satisfy the Gaming Commission’s requirement, but a satisfactory option could not be found, Haar said.
The news comes as something of a surprise after the South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 128 that was signed by the governor, allotting $120,000 over two years to help float the horse racing industry another season or two. However, the bill, which had been amended down from an initially proposed $600,000, was never going to be nearly enough to sustain both racing sites and was evidently still not enough to prop up even one.
Haar, who released the statement on behalf of the board, has previously explained that the races once ran on more than $300,000 per location, per season. While obviously purses and operating costs had significantly decreased, it evidently was deemed impossible to operate on the offering from the Legislature.
The real blow to the chances for racing this season was the failure of House Bill 1251, which would’ve created a new stream of revenue by taxing out-of-state companies that operate online, placing off-site betting terminals in South Dakota and directing those funds to the horse racing industry.
That bill failed by a 19-15 vote. The bill that passed was viewed as more of an emergency measure.
“It is a sad day for all of us who care about the industry,” Haar said in a phone interview. “I’ve got a lot of longtime friends in the industry who do this as a business, raise these horses for this reason. We are hopeful and remain optimistic that in the future perhaps there will be some new form of funding or a type of private investor who would be willing to help the industry get going again.”
It was important to Haar, both when reached by phone and in the written statement, to thank those who have supported the industry to this point, including the city of Aberdeen and the Brown County Fairgrounds. He said that Aberdeen has been “awesome,” in terms of supporting horse racing for so many years.
“NAHR staff and management would like to thank all of the businesses and sponsors from Aberdeen and surrounding communities,” the release reads. “We could have never done it without your support.”
According to the release, horse racing has been in Aberdeen for six decades. Northeast Area Horse Racing has operated the races for the past 23 years.
Along with appreciation and acknowledgement for the legislators who supported the two bills and many others, the statement also thanked horse racing fans who supported the races and racers through the years.