Windsor Raceway opened up their 2010-11 racing season Sunday evening; the first night of racing after fines and lengthy suspensions were handed down to Brad Forward, Gene Piroski, and Kevin Wallis for their alleged involvement in race-fixing at Windsor. No doubt, people were expecting the handle to take a hit as a result of the scandal, but the question was how bad it would be.
It was very bad. Wagering Sunday evening was down 33% from opening night last year ($177,067 last night versus $262,467 in 2009). Obviously many racing fans voted with their wallets by staying away. Once again, the honest horsemen who toil daily in this industry are paying for the alleged sins of cheaters. Every time there is a racing scandal, the industry suffers a crippling blow to its integrity. Regardless of what kind of gambling it is, integrity is number one. When you lose the trust of your customers, you have nothing to offer the gambler; especially when there are alternate gaming options available. Not just at Windsor, but at WEG tracks, Michigan, and anywhere else harness racing is conducted; scandal paints the whole industry with a broad brush.
Everyone is outraged and quick to condemn when a race-fixing scandal breaks out and the entire industry is painted as 'fixed'. Of course, not everyone is dishonest; there are many honest hardworking horsemen in the industry trying to make ends meet, doing what they love. Yet, the same people outraged when a major scandal errupts keep quiet while trainers violate medication rules, say nothing when they know a suspended trainer is using a beard. Nothing is said when drivers get away with very cheap fractions and no one is willing to prompt an honest pace. It is an unspoken rule that no one talks badly (at least publicly) about their fellow horsemen.
The problem is the betting public notices when a mediocre pacer all of a sudden looks like the second coming of Niatross one week and returns to mediocrity shortly afterwards. Experienced horseplayers notice when a driver doesn't close up a hole and lets a buddy drop in or a horse gets away with cheap fractions with no one trying to force a honest pace. They notice when a horse races off the pace in elimination races and qualify for the final where they suddenly wake up and race aggressively when the big money is on the line. While the races are not be fixed, they feel they are not getting a fair shake and they walk away. No, the handle doesn't drop 33%, but the handle slowly but surely decreases.
Horsemen need to realize these 'little' things are harming the sport. No, you don't get that immediate handle drop all at once, but make no mistake about it, the handle drops and interest in racing shrinks. The time has come for horsemen to get outraged about these little things and tell their follow horsemen that business as usual is no longer acceptable.