New IHRC Chief Mike Smith will be Rules Enforcer in Horse Racing’s Hot Seat
Mike Smith is no stranger to discord in the workplace. The 62-year old served as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1993-2002, including a stint as Republican floor leader. He spent the last 13 years as chief executive officer of the Casino Association of Indiana, a lobbying organization representing casinos.
Smith is the new executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC). The board members of the IHRC along with area horsemen want Smith to spend more time marketing and promoting the sport. Wagering has dropped considerably at Indiana tracks and off-track betting parlors to less than $90 million since its peak of $190 million in 2005.
But before he gets too involved with promoting the sport, Smith told the Indianapolis Business Journal that his top priority will be enforcement.
“First and foremost, you have to be a regulator,” Smith told IBJ. “That’s the No. 1 issue; 1a will be promotion.”
Smith added that properly regulating the industry can be a form of “promotion in and of itself.”
“I truly believe [regulations and promotions] can coexist,” Smith said. “You have to have the integrity piece. People have to be comfortable with the product.”
Performance-enhancing drug use has become an issue in horse racing. Smith says he won’t be soft on enforcing rules on illegal drugs even as he tries to boost interest in the sport and halt the state’s decline in racehorse breeding
“I promise you I won’t be soft on illegal drugs,” Smith said. “If someone breaks the rules, they will pay the penalty. That’s the way it has to be.”
Smith said by regulating the sport fairly and launching new promotions to attract new horse farm operators and a new breed of—perhaps younger—bettors to the sport, he can reverse the two most troubling trends for the local horse racing industry.
The number of Indiana-bred foals has been in decline since 2011, when it was 2,733, according to the IHRC. Last year, the number was 1,717.
Also, the amount wagered at Indiana tracks and off-track-betting parlors has dropped each year, from its peak of $190 million in 2005 to $83 million last year.
Smith is more than a politician and lobbyist. He’s also a long-time horseman himself.
“My father and I were really involved in racing horses for 25 years, so I really wanted to be a part of this,” Smith said. “Even though I could be sitting on a beach, this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. I wanted to give back to a sport that’s given so much to me and my family.”