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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published February 03 2012

Horse racing could return to Fargo

FARGO – Horses could be returning to the starting gate in Fargo after a two-year shutdown to pay bills and find new sources of revenue for the horse park.

North Dakota Racing Commission director Winston Satran said Friday the board that runs the horse park has paid off several thousand dollars owed to suppliers and vendors. Racing was put on hold after 2009, the track’s seventh season.

“We definitely have to have horse racing in Fargo,” Satran said. “The commission is going to give it an all-out effort to get it started again.”

The commission is scheduled to meet Feb. 16 in Bismarck to discuss racing dates for the state’s two tracks, in Fargo and Belcourt. It’s likely that Fargo will have a shorter season than 2009, when racing was scheduled to start on July 18 and end on Sept. 7.

“We have a limitation on the funds,” Satran said. “Decisions are going to have to be made on both sides, to give and take on what would end up to be a satisfactory racing season.”

Wes Heinert, president of Horse Race North Dakota, the board for the Fargo park, said he believes the two tracks should split the available funds, which is about $160,000 for purses and $120,000 for operating expenses.

“This isn’t an us against them deal,” Heinert said. “Belcourt horsemen support Fargo more than anybody anywhere. We all want to do it together.”

Heinert said he’s optimistic the Fargo track can get off the ground, but it’s going to take some work to fix the deteriorating track.

“The track isn’t ready to run if we ran tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going to take some money and it’s going to take some volunteers.”

Heinert cited three new sources of financing for the park, including two simulcast betting companies slated to start up in North Dakota and an electronic pull-tab site planned in Bismarck.

One of the simulcast companies, Integrated Betting Network, or IBN, is made up of local investors. The other simulcast contract is with a group called Social Gaming, Heinert said.

Matt Frisk, spokesman for IBN, said the two companies offer different products and complement each other.

“We’re more of a walk-up window and they’re more of a handheld device,” Frisk said. “Technically they are competitors, but at the end of the day we are all working for the same goal and that’s to get this track going.”

Heinert said it would be realistic to expect three weekends of racing in Fargo this summer. Frisk said it will take some time to build up the purses and attract top-notch horse players.

“They need a lot of help. That’s the bottom line,” Frisk said.

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