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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scarborough Downs on The Ropes

Scarborough Downs in Maine is struggling for survival.  The major track in Maine has tried multiple times to get a racino built, even ready to move the track with the last attempt but statewide voters defeated that referendum. 

Yes, there is Bangor Raceway, but Bangor races half the dates Scarborogh does.  There is a casino at Bangor Downs in a separate building and actually is separate from the track.  Due to state law, a percentage of the revenue goes to the operation of Bangor and Scaraborough Downs with equal amounts going to purses.  Even though Scarborough gets double the subsidy that Bangor gets, the longer racing season at Scarborough, cancels out that advantage.

Scarborough has $10 million in debt from continuing operations but has managed to hold this figure steady through reduction in employees and additional cost savings.  They had 400 acres of land surrounding the track they have attempted to sell to reduce the debt but there were no takers.

Wagering on Scarborough races went from $2.6 million in 2002 to an estimated $1.5 million by the end of the meet today.  The top class goes for $6,000, even with the subsidy from the Bangor casino.

As long as Scarborough Downs exists, they will continue their battle to establish a casino which will add operating and purse subsidies to their track but the question is how much longer.  Through careful management of expenses, the operating debt has remained constant, but at a certain point, there are no more employees to be cut, no more savings to be wrung out and the debt will grow and the time will come when the operator of Scarborough Downs will toss the towel in.  While they have the same number of racing dates assigned to them next year, the question is will Scarborough Downs make it to opening day and if they make it to then, will they make it to the end of the meet.  One thing is certain, if the debt doesn't kill Scarborough, if and when ownership feels there is no chance politically for a casino, the track will become a footnote in the history of harness racing in the Pine Tree State.

In the meanwhile, the best horses continue to leave the state, resulting in short fields which reduces wagering and the vicious cycle continues.  If Scarborough Downs closes, one must wonder if the industry can survive in Maine, especially if Bangor Raceway doesn't increase racing days.  An analogy would be if the Meadowlands closed, how long would Freehold last? 

Another problem Bangor faces is the casino is not attached to the racetrack grandstand so even those playing the slots at Bangor didn't even have a chance until recently to wager on the horses (they added one window). 

The situation at Bangor Raceway should be a concern to horsemen in New Jersey.  Some people are talking about having a casino where the old grandstand stands at the Meadowlands.  That would be disastrous for wagering on horses.  One hopes that the plans for the new grandstand at the Meadowlands allows for expansion to include a casino such as at Tioga Downs.

Georgia Concerns:  If Georgia parimutuels are legalized, where are the standardbreds going to be racing?  This is not an unrealistic question as there is a group of standardbred horsemen working to get parimutuel wagering approved and Mike Tanner of the USTA has testified in Georgia.  The reason I ask this question is there are investors ready to spend about $100 million to put in a first class facility.  What would be racing at this facility?

It would be more than thoroughbred racing. It would include quarter horses, Arabian horses, steeple chases, barrel racing and pole racing.

That's right, no mention of harness racing.  The standardbred industry has put some skin into the game to get parimutuels in Georgia.  They better make sure they are included when the racing begins.

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