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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Illinois Joins the Online World, Entertainment Centers

As everyone knows by now, the 2010 Breeders Crown races scheduled for Pocono Downs will be held on Saturday, October 9 instead of the night of the Breeder's Cup races in November. The delay of The Red Mile Grand Circuit meet next year (due to the World Equestrian Games being held in Lexington) opened up a slot in the racing schedule where the Crown races (and eliminations) will be held. According to the press release, the Hambletonian Society "...worked with the existing stakes schedule and the Red Mile to optimize the situation for all involved."

Certainly the movement of the Crown races was a smart move. The Breeders Crown would have been swallowed up by the media frenzy of the Breeders Cup; similar to the interest a junior varsity football game would have received on the day of a varsity game. The Breeders Crown would have been an event few would have attended or noticed, even locally in the Pocono area. While interest in the Crown should be greater due to the date change, the delayed Red Mile meet will likely lose some of its luster; what were perfect stake races running right up to the Crown events may be bypassed by some of next year's Crown winners as being after the fact. With the Crown scheduled for late October in 2011 for Woodbine Racetrack, we trust this is a one year sacrifice.

This past week, online wagering was officially legalized in Illinois. Tracks and horsemen in Illinois have welcomed the official sanctioning of the ADWs (online gambling in Illinois was a gray area before) as it is expected to bring in up to $150 million dollars of additional wagers which will mean additional funds for the racetracks' operating budgets as well as the horsemen's purse accounts (the state welcomes the possibility of an additional $1.7 million in tax revenue). While it is hard to tell at this time how much this will benefit the standardbred tracks, the impact should be beneficial as with Illinois now joining the ADW fold, their tracks will get more exposure nationally.

Will racetrack attendance in Illinois suffer? Most likely, yes. It would be nice to keep all the handle on track as that is the place horsemen and racetracks make out best but you can't ignore the fact that the younger consumer demands convenience and convenience means being able to wager when and how they feel like it. Does this mean racetracks should become studios? Of course not; racetracks need to make their facilities a destination where racing is only part of the entertainment experience.

No VLTs? That does not mean you can't become a destination location. Have empty spaces in your grandstand and clubhouse? Have multiple restaurants with different price levels run by local restaurateurs with views of the racetrack instead of the typical dining options racetracks offer. Open on site a small movie theatre where parents can bring their children so they can watch movies while the parents are enjoying dinner and the races. Younger children? Consider offering a program where parents can bring their children to a supervised program.

Speed up your racing program so after the evening's live races patrons can choose to avail themselves of a comedy or musical show in one of your ontrack entertainment zones. Outdoor concerts when you are not racing. That's right, get people to visit your facility even when you are not racing; increase awareness of your facility; next time they may come when you are racing live. Have a real 'OTW' at your racetrack where you have simulcasting when live racing is not being conducted instead of just having people hang around in a half empty facility.

There is plenty of life left in the old racetrack; we just need to look out of the box.

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