Jason Settlemoir and Tioga Downs is the topic of Bill Finley’s latest ESPN column on horse racing. In the article, Finley discusses how harness racing is resurging at Tioga Downs thanks to the efforts of Tioga Vice-President Jason Settlemoir. What makes Tioga Downs unique? It is likely the only racino investing money and effort in making harness racing popular, an equal partner to the slot machines. The track has already broken ground in the industry by lowering their takeout rates to the lowest in North America with win bets having a takeout rate of 15%. Is Tioga satisfied with this? No, management realizes even with a 'low' 15% takeout rate, most bettors have a hard time making money on wagering horses. While other tracks would be happy with the results Tioga is getting, the Tioga team wants to do better. It is their hope a legislative change will take place which will allow them to reduce the takeout rate on win bets being pegged at 9 or 10%; equal to the takeout rate on their own slot machines; meaning their racing customers will be treated the same financially as their slot guests.
This past Sunday, Tioga Downs found their grandstand roughly half full, meaning just under 2,000 people were in attendance, wagering primarily on the horses. Not impressed? How many people do you see watching the races at Chester Downs or any other harness track with slot machines? Most tracks, with or without slots would die to get the type of attendance Tioga Downs gets. Let's put in in perspective. Tioga County, where Tioga Downs is located has a population of roughly 50,000 people. Bergen County, where the Meadowlands is located has roughly 895,000 people. When you consider the Meadowlands averages less than 3,000 people a night, Tioga's attendance is downright impressive.
Of course, it is not just the gambling which makes racing attractive at Tioga Downs. Racing there is also entertainment, it is community involvement. In addition to the slew of contests, Tioga Downs has been asking patrons to contribute funds to help two ill children in the community. For patrons contributing, they get to participate in a contest to win a car. Ownership matches the donations. Children picking up rubber ducks off the track get coupons for free ice cream. Earlier this year they had a corn festival to celebrate the largest agricultural product in the region, giving away free corn to patrons. There are children rides on Sundays. Tioga Downs is not just a business in the community; it is part of the community. When was the last time your local track took an active interest in what is happening in their community?
Tioga Downs has shown racing is not dead yet. All it takes is a little faith and a willingness to believe in your product. More importantly, it shows you need to work on it. Just opening your gates does not work.