Having Mandan lose the bid to be the site of a state-assisted horse track was hard to take locally, but to have the North Dakota Racing Commission give the developers of a Fargo track an extra $1.5 million to do the job raises serious questions about the thoughtfulness of the whole operation.
Mandan and Fargo had been finalists for $1 million to develop a live racing operation. Fargo won the bid in August. But last week, the North Dakota Horse Park Foundation asked the Racing Commission for, and received, an additional $1.5 million to build a track with no permanent grandstands, restrooms or barns.
The commission's money comes from the state's share of simulcast betting.
The Mandan bid had made use of the grandstands and other facilities at Dacotah Centennial Park that are used for stock car racing - making that park more multipurpose. For another million, the Mandan developers could have offered something rather remarkable.
There were two apparent deciding factors: The Mandan track would have to be shorter than the horsemen wanted, and the Fargo area's larger population offered more potential at the ticket booth.
The racing community also wants a track that's successful. One that can sustain itself if possible. Mandan had the potential to do that for $1 million from the commission.
As it stands now, the Fargo track, built from scratch, will be very basic. It means building a facility in phases. It means long-term hard work. That will require a great deal of good faith support from the public in terms of attendance.
The Racing Commission, through this process, has been at best inconsistent. And in recent weeks, the chairman of the five-member commission, Roy Gilbreath, and one commissioner, Lance Hagen, have resigned.
Gov. John Hoeven has the task of appointing their replacements. Hopefully, he will find people who will bring stability and consistency to the commission and demand that the Racing Commission hold the Fargo track developers accountable for the state funds they have received.
To have a successful Fargo horse racing operation would be great for North Dakota, but it's no sure bet.