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Monday, November 21, 2011

Let's Talk Reality

This is the article I have been trying to avoid writing.  I thought somewhere, the industry would work together to improve the industry with a solution that didn't involve slots.  Boy, was I wrong.  The only time the industry works together is in a fight to get slots or other forms of gaming at their local track.  The funny thing is once the legislation is put in place to permit alternate gaming, the track is typically sold to a gaming company and they immediately take whatever steps they can to minimize racing to cut loses (perhaps Tioga Downs is the exception).

Are the horsemen upset?  Heck no.   The horsemen seem to be buying new sets of driving colors with bigger pockets so they can stuff whatever money they can in their pockets which has been mandated by the state before the spigot gets turned off.  It is like the promotion tracks used to run, the money machine; the only difference is all the horsemen are in the booth at one time grabbing together what they can.  The difference is this money machine doesn't shut off; what will happen is the state will merely shut the funnel of money being given to the racing industry.

If the states had any sense, they would do what Quebec did.  Cut out all the incentives for racing and pay the breeding farms for a year of two not to breed horses and allow them to time to convert to another agricultural business.  This industry is totally dysfunctional.  Breeders attempt to do what is best for them.  Horsemen attempt to do what is best for them.  Track operators attempt to do what is best for them.  Big time owners have learned to game the system to get their share of the slot revenue which owners of the lesser horses  are tolerated and customers are treated as a necessary evil, unless they can be directed to a slot machine..

Other than the USTA Strategic Wagering Program, what has the USTA accomplished for the promotion of the sport?  It is not lack of wanting to try to do more, it is the limited resources and the sixty-two representatives who are busy protecting their particular turf (be it breeding, racing, or track operation).  So the USTA gets two Zelinski reports and what has transpired since they have been received?  Nothing significant that I am aware of.

There is hope at the Meadowlands; not just because the Meadowlands has been saved, but the fact it is one of three tracks in the Gural portfolio allowing them the option to cross-market the tracks and try different things.  If survival of  harness racing comes, it will come from the models developed at Gural's tracks.  Yet he is worshiped for buying the Meadowlands and once that is done and he comes up with some new ideas, those ideas are treated by most people as something you try to scrape off the bottom of their shoes.

How come the simplest of ideas to get more revenue to racetracks and horsemen has not been tried?  Open up a track-operated ADW to compete against the existing ADWs.  Due to anti-trust laws you can't cut your signal off or price the signal too high, but the tracks can offer similar offers the other ADWs do; rebates and the such.  No, you won't get every dollar back but instead of getting so little of the gambling dollar back into the sport, you can get some of that revenue back for little effort.  Will this solve racing's problems?  No, but it is a start.  Another complaint is there is too much time between races.  What has been done to solve that problem?
I fear the biggest problems racing has is the old timer hold too much sway.  A rule should be passed to make any USTA director or horsemen association director over the age of 50 directors emeritus and invite them to the banquets.  All that would remain is people who have a long time left to dedicate to the sport and let them work on the problems maybe something would happen.

You have to hope.

Racing can be attractive again if people worked on it.  There are too many people concerned with filling their pockets with welfare payments that they forget to look at the bigger picture, fixing the product

Horsemen whine if they draw the second tier so we card races that our few gamblers have no interest in wagering on.  By guaranteeing elimination winners their choice of post position, we make the race for them easier to win because we want to reward them for their victory in the meanwhile there is no allowance made for the horse in the elimination which draws an impossible post position and races well enough to advance.  But we do this because this is what the horsemen want; not the customers.

Takeout is the lifeblood of every non-casino track yet with the exception of a few adjustments on some exotics, we continue to rip the gamblers off if they bet Win, Place, Show, Exactas or Trifectas.  Yet at racino tracks, where the handle would probably contribute enough money to card five races for $1,000 claimers, heaven forbid they reduce their takeouts.  Let's face it, they can offer 0% takeout on those wagers and not impact the purses of most races.

One of the complaints of the Zielinski Report was that racing is basically the same as it was back in the 1950s and here we are two reports later and nothing has changed significantly.

I understand the world has changed and racing may never be king again.  I wouldn't mind the alternative gaming at the tracks if they tried to fix the racing product, but no, racing becomes the ugly stepchild at racinos not worth trying to change. It is not the number of tracks which is the problem, it is the number of tracks racing at the same time which is the problem.  It is not a horse shortage which is our problem; it is the number of days each track operates a week.  In the United States, the racing commissions fail their goals miserably.  In Ontario, the ORC is one of the lead parties to modify the sport.  Neither side is exactly happy but they make sure the number of race days don't go nuts.

 Times a wasting.  Let's get those who really have a lot of time left iin racing together and work on solutions, ignoring those who are just riding out the wave.

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