Racing supporter proposes horse track, casino for Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A longtime horse racing supporter has proposed building a $400 million horse track, casino and hotel that would be put on a referendum for voter approval.

Richard "Sonny" Bauman has called for state legislation to allow the casino as the only one in Tennessee, where casino gambling is illegal.

The facilities were proposed for the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and the city has hired a consultant to recommend the best use for the property.

City officials do not seem very excited about Bauman's proposal.

"We can't do a casino (legally in Tennessee)," said city Chief Financial Officer Robert Lipscomb, who oversees the fairgrounds re-use process. "We're looking for something we can do right now."

Bauman said the public should have a voice in the process, but he also believes he must have support from the re-use committee.

"No disrespect to Mr. Lipscomb, but we think that the people of Memphis should make that decision by way of a local referendum. After all, the citizens of Memphis own the fairgrounds," he said.

A horse track also would have a hard time getting approval because the state Racing Commission was abolished in 1998. Under Bauman's plan, the commission would be revived. Without it, the track could not operate. Memphis voters approved pari-mutuel horse racing by referendum in 1987.

The proposed Riverside Downs would be the state's only horse track.

In determining the future of the fairgrounds, many believe the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and The Children's Museum of Memphis will remain. But the Mid-South Coliseum could be torn down and the Mid-South Fair moved.

The city recently made a deal with outdoors retailer Bass Pro Shops to reuse The Pyramid arena. Officials announced in January they had agreed in principle to sell the arena. A county commissioner had suggested turning it into a casino.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)