History of the Washington Horse Racing Commission
The Washington Horse Racing Commission was established in March 1933 as oversight to the legalization of the pari-mutuel betting on horse races in Washington State. The Commission is required to license, regulate and supervise all race meets held in Washington State. The legislation stipulated that 5 percent of the gross amount wagered would be collected as a tax and 80 percent of this tax would support the old age pension fund in the State treasury. The track also paid the State $100 a day licensure fee. This legislation opened the way for the foundation of the horse breeding and racing industries in Washington State. The Commission is made up of three commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate for a six year term.
Longacres racetrack was founded by Seattle real estate magnates. It opened in Renton, WA August 3, 1933. By the time it closed on Sept. 21, 1992, it had become the oldest continually operating thoroughbred racetrack on the West Coast. In January 1909, the WA State Legislature banned gambling in the State which quickly resulted in the demise of the first racetrack in Seattle, WA. Joseph Gottstein and his business associate, William Edris, loved horse racing and decided to revive the sport. From 1922 on they lobbied to bring thoroughbred racing back to Washington State. On March 23, 1933 their efforts were rewarded when the Governor signed the bill legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse races. (Pari-mutuel betting is a system whereby the winners divided the total amount of the bet, after deducting management expenses, in proportion to the sums they have wagered.) After arranging financing and hiring an architect, a crew of 3,000 worked around the clock to build Longacres -- racing strip, red & silver grandstand, clubhouse, 33 barns, a judge's stand and betting windows -- in about five months. During the track's initial years, thoroughbred horse breeding was confined to a handful of stables which prompted the founding of the Washington Horse Breeder's Association. 1943 was the only year that the track did not open. From 1972 through 1984 Longacres underwent a large expansion of the facilities. In Sept. 1990 Longacres was sold to Boeing and was closed on Sept. 21, 1992.
In 1933 the Washington State Legislature passed an act creating the Washington State Horse Racing Commission. The intent of the act was to regulate all aspects of thoroughbred and standardbred racing, and to regulate on-track betting under the pari-mutuel system. Under the act, the Horse Racing Commission was charged with licensing and regulating all participants in horse racing, including race associations, jockeys, trainers and owners. A letter dated September 27, 1933 includes a summary of the first racing season under the Commission's jurisdiction. The letter summarizes the amounts taken in by the racetracks, the amounts contributed to the old age pension and that the crowds at Longacres racetrack broke all records. They felt additional accommodations would be required at Longacres for the next season because attendance broke all Pacific Coast racing records. By 1938 there were three licensed tracks in the state (Longacres, Playfair and Wilbur Meadows) plus various other sanctioned meets at county fairs. In the years to come other tracks were licensed, but Longacres (Seattle) and Playfair (Spokane) remained the most important. During the first racing season little money was taken in by the Commission due to start up costs and the fact that the racetracks were not ready for the crowds. However, during the 1937-1938 biennium the Commission deposited $349,573 into the state treasury from pari-mutuel taxes and licensing fees. In the legislation that established it, the Commission was to encourage thoroughbred breeding in Washington State. Just the establishment of sanctioned racing helped immensely, as did a special "Washington Cup" race for Washington-bred horses. In 1948 a further step was taken with the establishment of Hilltop Stables to Washington State College with the help of a $75,000 grant from the Commission. From the beginning, Hilltop Stables was a great success. Each year the Commission set aside a minimum of $7,000 to help in Hilltop's breeding program and scientific study of thoroughbred horses.
By 1966 the Commission was able to report that great strides had been made over the years in the thoroughbred racing industry. They reported that seventy percent of the purse monies in Washington State went to Washington-bred horses, and that several Washington horses had done very well on the national level. Comparing 1946 to 1966, they noted that the total worth of Washington's thoroughbreds had grown from $469,000 to $8,980,000, and that the value of farms and buildings, etc., dedicated to racing had grown in value from $210,000 to $14,990,000. By 1966 the total fees and taxes collected by the Commission amounted to almost $25,000,000 since 1933. In the Commission's report of 1974 it could be seen that horseracing was a major growth industry. In that year alone over $4,200,000 was paid to the state in pari-mutuel taxes, and this represented less than 10% of the total cash flow of the industry. The 1974 report went on to say that "Thoroughbred racing at one Washington track has attained 'big league' status within the last three years and prospects for the other Washington tracks is bright." The Commission exercises regulatory activities at race tracks, and licenses jockeys, owners, operators, and trainers. Its primary function is to protect those who bet against illegal practices. Pari-mutuel funds received by the Commission go to support horse racing at the nonprofit Class C race meets. The Commission consists of three members appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Governor.