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Senate OKs pari-mutuel tax break

BISMARCK - The way may be paved for high-volume horse race bettors in North Dakota now that the Legislature has approved a bill that gives them a break on the state's pari-mutuel taxes.

Senate Bill 1389 passed on a 39-8 vote on Wednesday.

Mike Cichy, general manager of Lien Games, said he has a tentative contract with three bettors currently wagering on simulcast racing in Iowa. Their move to North Dakota has been contingent on the bill passing. He said they will apply to the state Racing Commission to share the state simulcast service provider license with Lien Games.

The bill allows the state's 2 percent pari-mutuel tax to drop to one-quarter of a percent if annual off-track betting, the handle, surpasses $11 million in a biennium.

It will not cost the state in lost pari-mutuel taxes, said Cichy and other backers of the bill.

Since high-volume bettors left the state in 2003, bets placed on simulcast horse and dog racing by casual wagerers has been no more than $5.5 million annually. That was also the maximum annual handle before the big bettors arrived in the late 1990s.

If the high-volume bettors return, the handle would likely go beyond $11 million during future bienniums. Though the tax will be a smaller percentage after that threshold, it still will represent more money to the state racing funds, state Racing Director Dean Meyer told senators Tuesday.

Bismarck lawyer Joe Cichy, Mike Cichy's brother and a lobbyist, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that bettors expected to move their business here placed wagers of $1.2 million in Iowa last week.

Charitable proceeds from those bettors' business in North Dakota will benefit the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo.

House Bill 1389 passed the House earlier and goes to the governor for his signature.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830