‘Historical horse racing’ might not get out of the starting gate in Minnesota

Historical horse racing might not get out of the starting gate in Minnesota

Historical horse racing might not get out of the starting gate in Minnesota

A half dozen states have legalized “historical horse racing” (HHR) machines that allow bettors to place wagers on races that already happened. If it sounds unusual, that’s because it is unusual and profitable. Some credit HHR with saving the horse industry in Kentucky.

“The person that is skilled in this game has a better chance of winning than someone that is not,” said Running Aces horse track CEO Taro Ito, in explaining why he thinks they are different than slot machines. He says the Minnesota Racing Commission agrees after they voted 5 to 1 to allow 500 HHR machines at each of Minnesota’s two horse tracks, Running Aces and Canterbury Park.

The HHR machines allow you to bet on thousands of races in their database that have already been run. No specific information about the races is given, but bettors can get anonymous information about horses, jockeys and odds in making betting decisions. Ito says that’s what separates HHR machines from games of chance like slot machines.

“They put together a race card just like they would if you came to a day at the races at Canterbury or Running Aces,” Ito said. “It’s a nine-race card. And then you can go and handicap each one of those races individually if you so choose.”

The racing commission approved the machines even though the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement office sent commissioners a letter saying, “We have concluded the technical aspects of HHR match the elements of (statutes regarding gambling devices and games of chance) making HHR a gambling device under MN law.”

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) also weighed in.

“The Minnesota Racing Commission…voted to authorize historic racing machines (HHR) at the state’s two racetracks. This action was an extreme violation of legislative authority,” MIGA’S executive director Andy Platto said in a statement. “The commission rejected the opinion of the state’s gaming regulators at the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division who have consistently held that these games are gambling devices just like slot machines, and thus are illegal under state law.”

Platto went on to say slot machines not on tribal land remain illegal in Minnesota.

At a hearing on a sports betting bill in the Minnesota House, bill author Rep. Zack Stephenson said his bill would specifically prohibit HHRs at Minnesota horse tracks.

“I don’t know who is claiming this is a game of skill, but I would say that’s a very questionable assertion,” Stephenson said. “There is no universe in which any bill leaving this committee is going to authorize historical horse racing at the tracks. That’s a total non-starter. Will not happen. Will not be part of the sports betting deal. Bright red line in the sand.”

Several Republican lawmakers say the legislature needs to do something to help the horse racing industry and pointed out a big majority of the racing commission had a different view of historical horse racing.

HHR machines are currently legal in Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wyoming. They were also legal in Louisiana until late February when the state Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional.