Though I am not a member of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), I would like to suggest New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a nominee for the USHWA's Proximity Award, an award presented annually to someone who made an outstanding contribution to harness racing. That's right. The same person who is saying 'No' to VLTs, "No' to subsidies, wants to cut the number of racing days, and possibly close the Meadowlands should be considered as a candidate for the Proximity Award.
How could someone willing to reduce the number one 'A' track in the United States to a 'B' track be considered for an award honoring a person making an outstanding contribution to the sport? Before you think I have gone stark raving mad, let me explain my rationale. If Governor Christie gets his way, at least there will be standardbred racing in the New Jersey. The same can't be said for some other racing states. In the short term, horses may be heading in caravans to race at other tracks, in the long run they will be back.
Sixteen years ago, Iowa approved slot machines at the racetracks to save the greyhound racing industry. As long as the tracks agreed to contribute money to the purses of the races and race a minimum number of days, they could have slots. Thanks to this legislation, Harrah's is contributing $12 million a year to support the greyhound meets as wagering accounts for only 4% of the purse account at the tracks. Sounds familiar? Well now, as reported in the Des Moines Register, Harrah's is offering Iowa $70 million over seven years if they allow the racetracks to drop greyhound racing. A bill has been introduced to allow Harrah's to do so.
If successful in Iowa (or not), how long do you think it will be before Harrah's offers an incentive to the state of Pennsylvania to discontinue harness racing at Chester Downs, something they have made no secret they would like to do? After all, the same arguments Harrah's is making in Iowa can be said in every other state with racinos. If Harrah's gets the okay to drop racing at Chester, it will be the death of the sport in Pennsylvania as Pocono and the Meadows would get the same option. Then how long until this happens in Florida, Maine, or New York?
At least they will still be racing in New Jersey. While in the short term Governor Christie will be causing pain for horsemen, in the long run the sport will be better off as he will be forcing the sport to make the changes it needs to remain competitive and self sufficient. Rather than fighting the Governor's plans, horsemen would be better off trying to get the two commissions dealing with racing to address the simulcast and ADW issues which cause signals to be boycotted when a track attempts to lower takeout. Explore the possibility of the Mid Atlantic Racing Cooperative coming up with their own ADW to break the stranglehold that TVG and Youbet/Twinspires has on signals and pricing. Explore coordinating race dates within member tracks of the cooperative and come up with a meaningful simulcast schedule to maximize wagering on the tracks open.
The longer the industry waits to try to solve its problems the harder it will be to survive. By turning off the supplement tap now, Christie is giving the sport a chance by forcing it to deal with the problems now, not fifteen years from now when the sport is in an even weaker condition. For this, Christie should be given our thanks.