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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Demise of Prairie Meadows - Why Should it Matter to You

The likely final pari-mutuel meet at Prairie Meadows is scheduled for October 7-22.  The racing commission has indicated that it is unlikely to force Prairie Meadows to host a pari-mutuel meet after the 2011 season, saying racing should be restricted to the fair circuit.

Prairie Meadows hosts thoroughbred, quarterhorse, and presently standardbred racing at their track and has become a destination track for thoroughbred racing.  The quarterhorse meet is not as successful as the runners, but the public has apparently rejected standardbred racing.  Last year, Prairie Meadows lost $26,000 a day running a harness meet. 

What makes Prairie Meadows situation of interest elsewhere is the track is a racino, complete with slot machines and table games, so the purses were subsidized by the casino.  For years, Prairie Meadows has sought to get rid of harness racing citing no interest in the product either locally or nationally and it appears after 2011, they will get their wish.

Fortunately, for Iowa horsemen, Prairie Meadows has been and will continue making a significant annual donations to the Iowa harness fair circuit so Iowa horsemen will still have venues to races at, just without wagering.  Attempts are being considered to codify the need for Prairie Meadows to continue to support the county fair circuit once the standardbreds leave Iowa's biggest stage for horse racing.  However, their breeding industry will take a big hit and remain the domain of backyard breeders, 

All it is taking Prairie Meadows to get rid of standardbred racing is promising to continue supporting the fair circuit as part of its 501(c)4 efforts.  No lobbying or offering a payoff to the legislature to get rid of harness racing; just proving a business case to the regulators at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).  Now, before people get to angry at the IRGC, they have required Prairie Meadows to continue hosting the standardbreds while they wanted to get of the trotters for several years, but even the IRGC has recognized the futility of mandating pari-mutuel standardbred racing.  The public has voted.

Now, if you are not an Iowa horsemen why should you care about what is happening at Prairie Meadows?  Wagering and lack of interest matters.  At least in Iowa, just racing for casino subsidies was not sufficient to maintain harness racing.  No support of the product in Iowa, no support of the product via simulcasting and ADWs has caused the upcoming demise of harness racing at Prairie Meadows. 

Granted, since Prairie Meadows is a track which raced more than one breed of racing, it was easier to get rid of the standardbreds as they will still be supporting racing in the state.  But the upcoming conclusion to harness racing at Prairie Meadows should make horsemen elsewhere whose purse account is 80-95% slot-derived reason to pause.  Racing in front of empty grandstands is unacceptable.  I realize the majority of wagering occurs via ADWs and simulcasting, but you have to work at developing a critical mass of on-track attendance and wagering to show there is interest in your product.

On most days, racetracks tend to be places for studio racing; the set can no longer be closed.  We need to have racing in front of a live audience.  Horsemen can't depend on racetracks to promote the sport, they will still be there with their slot machines spinning and card games being played; they may even keep importing races for simulcasting.  But if horsemen don't invest in themselves, they may be on the outside looking in.

The business case has been made in Iowa.  It can be made elsewhere.

1 comment:

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