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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Fractured Interests

Dean Towers in Harness Racing Update asks the question of the day, "What is the horsemen in your state doing for the time when your government cuts you off cold with regards to subsidies?"  Allow me to answer the question.  Nothing.  None of the provinces in Canada prepared for the loss of subsidies (or payments) when Quebec pulled the plug.  New Jersey racing interests did no preparation for the loss of casino subsidy payments despite the fact the casino industry was complaining mightily about it.

While horsemen in the United States may have started to get nervous, news out of Harrisburg, PA that the proposed $72 million haircut to the racing subsidy in Pennsylvania may only be $3 million is a blessing and a curse.  Pennsylvania horsemen of both breeds are breathing a sigh of relief that massive purse cuts have been averted for this year but on the flip side, it may lull horsemen in the Keystone State and elsewhere to think what happened in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and elsewhere in Canada is a Canadian phenomenon.  That is far from the truth.  The time will come when horsemen in the United States will find themselves on the outside looking in.  It is just a matter of when.

Why can't American interests seem to worry about tomorrow?  I call it the Fractured Follies effect.  Each state is an island to itself, horsemen in New York could care less about what happens in Kentucky, horsemen in Kentucky could care less about the events in Minnesota, and so on.  On top of that, breeders have their interests, horsemen have their interests, drivers have their interests, owners have their own interests, and certainly the track operators have their own concerns; some being how to get rid of the others.  As for the other stakeholders, the customer?  There is no one speaking for those nuisances with the exception of the Horseplayers Association of North America (Have you joined them yet?  It is free.)  It is so bad that if someone brought representatives from all these groups with the exception of the gambler (they get no real say) around a round table and a $100 bill dropped to the table, odds are it would be torn and shredded beyond recognition.

This attitude of "What's in it for me?" is what is killing horse racing.  Breeders look at racing as a means of selling yearlings.  Horsemen and owners look at racing as a way to make money through purses.   Few look at racing as a gambling/entertainment option for the gambler (customer); if anything, the customer is an inconvenience.

If the industry really cared about the gambler there would be rational planning of race dates and offtimes so races would be coordinated and gamblers would have a logical and rationale flow of wagering opportunities with pools worth wagering on.  If the industry cared about the gambler, there would be a fair start rule to provide at least a minimal amount of protection for the gambler.  There would be a tote system that gamblers would have integrity in, not a system where odds plumment after the race goes off and reasonable takeout rates.  Fines and suspensions would be meaningful and racing commissions would fight to the finish on imposing severe penalties instead of trying to save money and allow nefarious characters to plea bargain their way out of deep trouble; real attempts would be made to regulate who was training for who and bearding would be controlled; owners would be held responsible for horses drugged because let's not kid ourselves, trainers are passing those costs on to the owners who either believe in 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' or winning at all costs; trainers and drivers who get caught repeatedly for serious offenses would not be able to cross a border and continue a trade; and yes, equine welfare would be addressed so whipping would be regulated in a rationale manner and our equine athletes who give their all don't end up on someone's dinner plate in Mexico or abroad. 
But none of this happens.  It is all about everyone making money and no concern for the gambler.  Sure there are exceptions to this but when a track operator or anyone else tries to stand up for the gambler, those in power spend their time trying to tear those individuals who have the audacity of standing up for the gamblers a proverbial 'new one'.  Until the time comes where the focus of the industry changes to the customer, no one will change and sooner or later the industry will be given a death sentence by a state government that says 'Enough'.  The biggest shame is virtually no one cares.

Except the customer, but who cares what they think?