Here at VFTRG, we have argued for a long time that tracks which feature racing alone are going to have a hard time existing in the future. With or without a casino, racetracks are going to have to become entertainment centers to draw more people to the racetrack area.
Such is the case at Ocean Downs which just had a town hall meeting for the local community in Worcester County, MD. Plans are underway to add a bowling alley and movie cinema to the racino property. They won't be there for the next racing season, but they are definitely in the plans.
Of interest to racing fans was the lack of seating at the racetrack this past season. The track is working on plans to add outdoor seating in addition to more lights and hope to have it in place for next season. They talked about portable stands for the past season but since the asphalt outside the building is down sloping, they felt portable stands would not be safe. The plans is to have new seating in place by next year.
Why the need for seating? While betting was not as high as other tracks, on-track attendance at Ocean Downs was the highest in the country, even exceeding the daily attendance at the Meadowlands and Yonkers Raceway. Of course, this is made easier by Ocean Downs being in a tourist area and while the handle didn't show it, the track had the attendance of a boutique meet racing only during the summer months.
By having an entertainment center by your racetrack, you get more people aware of your facility and gives them another reason to stop into your racetrack after they are done with the alternative entertainment options. By not racing all year at one track, you draw the interest of your local population that something special is occurring and there is a need to check out the action; something which is lost when a racetrack operates all year round. This is why I say the problem is not the number of racetracks we have; but a problem of when they are all racing. Careful scheduling of race meets to prevent an overflow of tracks operating at the same time will allow the reduced handle to be spread over fewer tracks and also allow the local tracks the opportunity to position their race meets as boutique meets.
The question is will track operators and horsemen groups ever recognize this? Not as long as they look at their interests as if an island and not at the big picture. Someone needs to get their focus on the big picture instead of the little picture. Maybe somehow there could be advertising grants available for those tracks and horsemen who look at the big picture as an incentive. All I know is something needs to be done. We can't go on like it is now.
Meanwhile, in Bermuda, the sport of racing ponies under harness is popular and a recent meet just concluded. For the story and video from the racing there, feel free to click on this link. At 21 square miles of land, it is highly unlikely you will ever see a regular standardbred meet there as the space is extremely limited, but you have to wonder for those tourists who visit the pony racing, if a tie in could be made with a track in the United States (perhaps a cash voucher for visting a track on the mainland United States).