Oaklawn Park, the thoroughbred track and casino in Hot Springs, has announced that it will not charge admission to horse races this year.
The track had charged $2 for general admission, but owner Charles Cella said waiving the fee was a way to celebrate completion of a casino expansion project. The racing begins Jan. 9.
Coincidentally this season will be the first racing season at which hordes of fans won’t go to the gate with free racing passes distributed by the Arkansas legislature. In years past, the legislature exempted racing passes from rules that banned legislators from taking gifts worth more than $100. They got hundreds of racing passes, worth $2 each day they were used, and the clamor for them was so great that some legislators wouldn’t take them.
Now, with the approval of Issue 3 and its ban on gifts of value of any size by lobbyists or people who employ lobbyists (Oaklawn does), the distribution of racing passes would appear to be illegal, unless the legislature by supermajority vote again exempted them from the brand-new amendment. That would be bad form. Cella has now given the legislators an out. Most of them will likely be happy to take it.
But to continue the thought on the loophole lobbyists and greedy legislators have already carved out of Issue 3:
Cella could declare every day of live racing — hell any day — a legislative event to which all members of the General Assembly are invited. He could then instruct all bars and restaurants that every day was legislative day and all meals and drinks and parimutuel tickets could be comped. What’s the difference in that and the Mullenix firm declaring a steak and shrimp dinner by its lobbyist an official event and slopping the hogs for free? Same theory, different venue, greater frequency. Why not?
Michael Cook had been inquiring about this subject at Talk Business before Oaklawn issued its news release.
Here’s another thing: What is UAF going to do about the special seats and free parking it has provided state legislators at cost below those charged to other garden variety Razorback football fans? Will that practice continue? I’ve asked a campus spokesman. Thirty-nine legislators got preferred seating last year, plus free parking. All but one got them without making the Razorback Foundation contributions required of others for better seats.
UPDATE: I put a couple of questions to Oaklawn about the change and got these answers from David Longinotti:
Any chance that the free admission has some connection to the new ethics amendment which ends gifts of anything of value to legislators?
Not entirely. We had been thinking about a way to say ‘thank you for your patience’ to our patrons for quite some time – they’ve put up with quite a bit during this construction phase. That’s when the idea began. The passage of amendment 3 may have nudged us, but we were already heading in that direction.
Or, to put it another way: Will Oaklawn give racing passes to legislators any more?
Not this year