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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Penalize the Tracks

Horsemen are frozen out of racing at Rideau Carleton as a result of the ORC's judges' stand being declared unsafe.   The track says the problems are minor and have been rectified but the Director of the ORC refuses to let his judges back in the stand claiming there are still serious structural hazzards.  Meanwhile, horsemen, who are only racing two days a week this time of year at the Ontario oval are not racing and losing money. While their horses are sitting in the stalls,  horsemen continue to pay their rent for these stalls.

The horsemen are angry and justifiably so.  As the horsemen sit and lose money, the slots keep running and the track makes money.  As with many racinos, tracks make more money by not racing.   A driver or trainer makes a mistake and the racing commission comes down on them (hopefully).  What is going to happen to Rideau Carleton when the situation is over; will they be fined and fined heavily?  We will see.

Many people know the winter has been rough on the tracks in the Northeast.  With the exception of Freehold, the non-racino tracks seemed to get back to operation much quicker than the racino tracks.  Coincidence?  Probably not and I dare say those racinos will not be looking to reschedule lost days.  It's no secret at many tracks, racing is a losing proposition and to these racinos, they are more than happy not to race the days they are scheduled and if a snow storm provides them the means to cancel, they will.  Certainly the day of the snowfall is justifiable, but the other days which were cancelled you need to wonder; especially when most of the wagering is done off-track.  But it goes past cancelling more days than necessary.  How many slot tracks have invested little in their racing facilities for customers?  The poster child for this would be Monticello Raceway with Yonkers Raceway's racing section of the clubhouse lacking as well. 

In Ontario, slot machines were put in by the government to support harness racing.  With a track like Rideau Carleton having slots installed by the OLG, a suitable penalty would be to order the for each day the track is not racing due to unmaintained facilities, the track's portion of daily slot revenue should be added to the horsemen's purse account. 

As for American racetracks, it was the joint lobbying of horsemen and track operators that got slots at the racetracks.  I often criticize horsemen for not doing enough to promote racing, and accepting changes for making racing more attractive.  However, horsemen along don't own all the blame.  Racing commissions should be looking at racetracks that have refused to do anything substantive to improve the facilities for horse racing gamblers that actually show up to the track.  A fresh coat of paint and throwing up some more television monitors does not make an improved experience to those who want to watch the races live.

Tracks will answer, "Why should we improve the facilities if no one is watching and wagering on our live product on track"?  Well, maybe if you did spend some money to make going to the track a pleasant experience, maybe, just maybe, you will get more people showing up and wagering.  And horsemen, why a new back paddock or owners lounge is nice and repairs to barns (if your track still has them) are important, they don't do anything to induce horseplayers to show up.  After all, when was the last time you heard a horseplayer say "Oh, let's go to [name the track], I hear they put in a new owners' lounge."  A grandstand that hasn't been changed since the 1970's other than walling off part of the building isn't going to induce horseplayers to show up.  An investment in upgrading the bathrooms, food service, and installing new comfortable seats may.

No one expects a racino to invest all their slot profits into fixing up their grandstand, but slots were approved under the guise of saving horse racing so an investment of a small but significant portion of the slot revenue is not uncalled for.  Perhaps threatening to shut down the slots at the racinos who refuse to invest in real capital improvements for the wagering public, may be a way to get some of our gamblers back to the track.  If racing commissions don't have to power to do so, perhaps some legislative changes to existing slot bills are necessary to give commissions this power.

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