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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can Someone Explain This To Me?

I must confess a little confusion.  If the industry is really looking for survival, why can't the industry spend as much time trying to fix the sport as it does in attempting to get slot machines?  In Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky and other states, the emphasis is on getting slot machines and not improving the racing product. 

If not for Governor Christie, New Jersey would be included in the list.  Like it or not (NOT), thanks to the Governor, the New Jersey standardbred industry has called on Jeff Gural, perhaps one of the few track operators who believes in the product, to save the industry; there they may be grumbling but they have no choice but to attempt to improve the product.  Thankfully, the Democratic controlled legislature was willing to give the racing industry some tools to give it a fighting chance to figure it out.

Oh, people will say slots does improve the product.  It gives us bigger purses which allows us to have better horses to race, the breeders and horsemen haven't done so well in ages in these slot states,  Well your wrong.  A product is something that people, the public, want to buy.  All slots are doing is lining the pockets of breeders, owners and horsemen as the product continues to whither; fewer people attending and lower handle.  In plain language, slots are nothing more than artificial price support for a product which continues to get rejected by the public; it is like the record industry being paid to produce eight track tapes that will just sit in warehouses.  I am being charitable when I call it artificial price support (the politically incorrect term is welfare).

Where I get confused is in wondering if people in the industry feel there is a future for horse racing (and those thoroughbred and quarterhorse horsemen, you are included).  Where are all the attempts to get handle increased, some more people in the stands, people excited about racing?  Not a couple of token events so horsemen and tracks can say "See, we did something".  With the exception of a few tracks and horsemen groups I just don't see the effort being made.

Oh, I see the industry fighting for slots and subsidies but let's look at the track record of some states with slots or attempting to get slots.  (in no particular order): Maine - State legislators are wondering why horse racing is getting any slot revenue.  Illinois - A slot bill gets killed in the last minute of the previous legislative session.  Massachusetts - No slot movement.  New Hampshire - No slots this year, meaning Rockingham Park will likely be closed another season.  Pennsylvania - Has twice cut the amount horse racing receives; what is to stop the next cut from coming?  Indiana - Proposing a 47% reduction in contributions to racing. It may not be 47% this year, but who knows how much and how quick they will be coming back for more?  Delaware - Now they want to open two more casinos in the state, which may take business away from Harrington Raceway, Delaware Park, and Dover Downs.  Don't talk about the enabling laws intent to provide support for racing.  You know laws are as good as the paper they are written on and unless you have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing you a fixed amount of slot proceeds; you are going to be fighting every year to keep your share of the pot and odds are it is a losing game; subsidies being whittled down until there is nothing left to the subsidy.  Is this anyway to keep the product viable or merely a way to pad bank accounts before forced retirement comes?

Logically, if people had faith in their industry, they would spend more time on fixing the product instead of trying to get slots or maintaining their share of the revenue and the truth is with the exception of New Jersey on a state-wide basis, it is totally the opposite.  A fixed product can last for years while slot revenue is fleeting.  Where are the industry leaders, the USTA Directors, heads of the local horsemen and breeder groups who have faith in their product spending most of their time on making the product more appealable to the public?

There are a lot of young people in the industry so I guess my question to them is can you explain to me why you continue to elect the same officers, year in, year out who are more concerned with getting welfare payments instead of making the product desirable and self sufficient? 


Harness fan said...

Slots, slots, slots, slots, I'm so sick of hearing slots are the cure all when you state clearly they do nothing to improve the product. Pools are still low. Handles leave much to be desired. Takeouts remain high, with a few exceptions. Grandstands are less populated. The quality of racing hasn't improved in racino states. If anything, it has spread out the talent as trainers decide which track will provide them with an easy paycheck. The stars still retire early giving fans little chance to follow the the best of crop.

Talk about an odd couple, most casinos could care less if they had horse racing. Just look at their websites. Why should casinos promote harness racing when they are a loser for most?

"All slots are doing is lining the pockets of breeders, owners and horsemen...". That's exactly what this arranged marriage is doing but most people don't want to hear it. In the mean time, the fans are left holding the bag hoping for a free program or hotdog.

You hit the nail on the head, "Logically, if people had faith in their industry, they would spend more time on fixing the product instead of trying to get slots or maintaining their share of the revenue ...., it is totally the opposite.

Thank you for stating the obvious, the people in power don't know how to improve the product or they would try. For starters, get the Grand Circuit to include the smaller tracks so fans have a reason to go back to the track and they might pick up a new fan or two. It's hard to get excited watching the same horses race every week.

My guess is you won't make many friends in the business by writing this entry but it needed to be said. Thanks again.

Pacingguy said...

Make no mistake, while the situation is more dire in the standardbred industry, I am including the quarterhorse and thoroughbred industries in this,

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything you said, save one...."lining the pockets of the breeders,owners and horsemen"...Isn't that who should be getting paid?....I don't know ... maybe I'm wrong... but those 3 groups of people are the ones fronting the money to "make" the horse to get to the track"...They are the ones with the biggest risk financially....

Pacingguy said...


I have no problem with those people making a profit. However, in America you are supposed to make money by selling a product that people want. These people are not doing it. Can you honestly tell me the way racing is currently formulated, it's a product people want? Handle, attendance tells me otherwise. If not for racino funds, the people at Chester would probably be racing for $2,000 purses. What you have are artifical price supports, i.e., welfare.

Going to my earlier analogy, it is as if the racing industry is being paid money so people keep buying horses, so the breeders can sell their horses. Meanwhile, the customer keeps getting the same crummy product that people don't want. Is this right? Is this a good use of tax payer money?

If the people in the industry spent as much time trying to improve the product as they do spending time to keep their welfare checks, maybe they wouldn't need those payments.

John said...

I remember back in 1991 when I was in college I used to have my Sports Eye and handicap during lectures. Other students didn't look at me like I was weird or strange. Fast forward to 2011 and I would never, ever be seen in public with a racetrack program. The shame of being a horseracing fan mirrors how the racinos operate. They give a small % of the space, advertising, marketing, etc to the harness tracks like they are ashamed to be associated with it and can't wait to change the "r" to a "c" asap.

Pacingguy said...

@John, a man after my own heart. It was a lot earlier:-) The early 1980's and I used to go to the local news store and pick up my copy of the Meadowline (advance program for the Meadowlands, a couple of days before race day) and handicap during lectures as well. The professor, didn't appreciate it:-)

Anonymous said...

Harness Fan- dead on. As an industry everyone in the food chain is 1- guilty of fighting for the subsidy, and not fighting to improve the product. 2- once the taste of the subsidy is there, welfare, there is no incentive to improve the product beyond where it is.

I find nothing wrong with the horsemen getting a percentage of the slot money if the race tracks are the venue, and as the Legislative Bills in Texas are fighting for, but for the tracks to then look at the horsemen as necessary evil and not work together to improve the product- put butts in the seats, lower take outs, etc., the business of horseracing will be over. Too many get glazed over eyes with what slots will do, when it is more and more evident every day that state legislatures will not tolerate long term welfare for "rich horsemen", (oxymoron I know) when poor people and schools cannot be properly funded. We are all going to have to live within our means. To me that means going back and building a sustainable product. The problem we will have is the racetrack as we know it today will not want to function for that purpose. With the casino or slot parlor the profit opportunity will far out weigh holding a race meet. (Which is why I believe some funds should come to the horsemen, since the tracks are using the "venue" as a means, and horsemen as an excuse.)

JLB said...

Re: the last two comments of John and Pacingguy, I would surmise that harness racing has fallen so far under the radar, that I doubt anyone would care if you brandished a Harness Eye in "polite company". I made this very comment to one of the sport's legendary drivers-I told him that in the 70's and 80's, if one said one was a horse racing fan, the image that came to mind was not the grandeur of Lexington or the glamour of the Meadowlands, but rather, NYC OTB. Today, no one even knows that harness racing exists.

jrgators said...

I am so pleased with this article! I'm in the Tbred business in Texas, and we are currently in a fight trying to get something as simple as ADW's...We don't even have that!
As for the slots thing...I support the slots desire, but I'm much more in favor of improving the product, and drawing in the fans!
We (Texans) are fighting a hard fight, and I believe as more of us fight together we'll accomplish the mission.
I've been so fixed on what's happening in Texas, that I failed to look outside our borders, and realize that it's the same in several states!
We want people to come for horseracing, but some want them to come for the slots instead!


Pacingguy said...


One of the problems all breeds of racing have is that each state horsemen's group worries about themselves and they don't work together to improve things. Hence, you have the haves and the havenots. As long as the haves are happy, they don't worry about the other states and the industry will gradually fall apart. Eventually, the haves will be havenots.

Anonymous said...

This article and the comments are right on!!! So long as we have people running our industry who do not believe in the priduct the decline will continue, and if it has not already happened, reach a point of no return. Here in Texas our tracks were built to be simulcast parlors not horse racing facilities and when that was not good enough they want VLTs not better horse racing. Our "LEADERSHIP" has been trying to get VLTs for the past 7 or 8 legislative sessions with no success and the racing and racing opportunities haqve steadily declined.

Anonymous said...

The infussion of slot money has not improved the product. It only supports a welfare state that is doing nothing to support itself. When you continue to run $5000 claimers for $18-20,000 purses, it supports an inferior product. We are over sold and the public is not buying. We need more quality and less quanity. The closer you are to the business the better the view of the problems that are causing the demise of our industry.

John said...

I hope one day to meet you Pacingguy and JLB. It will be a happy and somber occasion to talk about the days when being a harness racing fan didn't raise eyebrows with the general public or pure confusion what the heck harness racing is.