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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Editorial: Why I Can't Get Upset About Losing Subsidies and Partnerships

I am sure I will be angering some individuals today, and for that I am sorry.  However, one thing I have always done is speak honestly about my opinions.  Pardon me, but I just can't get upset about horsemen (of all breeds) facing the possible loss of subsidies or, in the case of Ontario, partnership dollars.

The entire racing industry has totally butchered the racino model.  Everyone said slots were going to be a temporary crutch to allow the industry to reinvent itself.  Can you tell me what the industry has done besides take in additional revenue yet keept the same failed business model?  We ceeded the ADW industry to companies that don't put on races and with the exception of Churchill Downs through TwinSpires, no national attempt to regain business from the ADWs such as TVG has taken place.  Yes, there are local ADWs but for the most part their markets are extremely local and uncompetitive.  It should have been clear to all that the casino industry does not have their hands tied like racing, such as an example that in a certain state a plan to give away a $100 betting voucher requires racing commission approval and a month lead time to get approval.  No attempts were made by racing to have the ties around its hands loosened from silly regulations such as promotions. 

The integrity issue of racing sticks out like a sore thumb yet nothing has been done to meanfully address the problem; this one lying on the foot of regulators.  Fines and suspensions which are slaps on the hand and a lack of willingess to stick to their guns when it comes to the worst of the violators and even when someone is dealt with severely, they move on to other states or Canada to avoid the reach of the regulators.

Where were the attempts to update the product to reflect modern trends?  People screaming bloody murder when there was discussion about eliminating whipping despite it clearly not being accepted by the general public.  Animal welfare not getting anything more than token lip service.  The pace of racing not being speed up.  No 'sexing up' of the racing experience at the track to keep younger people showing up.  Until lately, when did you hear of take out cuts?  Only after the youth has left the room.  In metropolitan areas, there is no seasons for racing.  People joke about how long the hockey and basketball seasons are so long yet we think there is nothing wrong when a track races from January 1 through  December 31.  Just recently, the idea of Canada One went nowhere due to tracks bickering over how it would work.  A request last year for a portion of the purse acocunt to be used for marketing was rejected by horsemen in Ontario.

We have an industry which refuses to deal with the over capacity of racing product considering the demand of the product.  I understand the reluctance of forcing drivers, trainers and others out of work, but why should racing be any different from any other industry?  The best survive and the others fall to the side.  I am not even saying we should deliberately close tracks, but if tracks raced meets of lengths appropriate for them to offer decent purses, we would have a strong racing product to offer.

Horsemen complain how racetracks don't care about racing anymore.  Well what do you expect when you make a deal with the devil?  Tracks could not afford to bring slots in so they either partnered or were bought out by gaming companies that could care less about racing other than having it as a necessary evil; sort of like you having to take in your mother-in-law which you can't stand.

Then someone comes along and offers a bold new way of how racing should be marketed to get young people involved and what happens?  He gets pilloried and fought against because it changes the model the insiders like; despite the fact the insiders' have not been able to do anything to move racing back into the conciousness of the general public.

The bottom line is despite the increased purses and some trainers and drivers doing better, the reality is  racing had continued to decline in interest and wagering as the older generation dies off and they are not replaced.  Not that this should be surprising as after all, nothing has been done to stem the declines.  For these reasons, I can't get excited if the industry finds itself left to fend for themselves. 

It boils down to one question.  Why should the government help an industry that refuses to help itself?  I welcome your responses to this question. 

Let me make it clear, while I have no problem with the industry facing cuts in support from alternative gaming, I do think the way the Ontario Provincial Government, provincial governments in other provinces, and states like Pennsylvania are treating racing is immoral and dirty pool.  If you want to take your alternative gaming support away from the horse racing industry, that is your prerogative, but after building the industry up with this funding, to pull the rug out from under the horse industry's feet without warning is irresponsible and borders on the criminal.  Remember, horse racing is a legitimate industry.   You may argue about its value to society, but the fact remains it is legal and people have millions of dollars invested in the various breeds of racing and ancillary businesses.

For example, let's look at Ontario at present.  The industry impacts roughly 60,000 jobs.  Yes I understand the headcount is probably somewhat inflated based on how a job is calculated but you can't deny a lot of people in the province and others (remember people are trying to breed horses in other provinces they hope can be competitive in Ontario) depend on racing for their livlihood,  What Ontario is proposing now is the equivalent of letting the Big Three automobile companies go bankrupt; forcing all the businesses that supply the manufacturers parts, even the small company that provides buttons for seat covers into bankruptcy; turning tens of thousands of lives upside down.  I understand the province is planning transitional aide to get people to change careers, but let's not kid ourselves, some of these people will not be re-employable due to age or other issues.

A responsible way of ending support from alternative gaming is a transitional period.  Perhaps cutting 10% of the revenue dedicated to racing each year over a ten year period.  It will allow the industry to slowly contract shedding jobs and racetracks in a manageable process yet give the industry time to revamp the industry as it is being weaned off the extra funds. 

Want to cut your support to racing?  Fine, but you have an obligation to do it smartly.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the government always give away money to people who refuse to help themselves? Why should horse racing be any different? At least it generates economic activity and tax revenue. Whereas, someone unwilling to work doesn't contribute to society in any meaningful way.

JLB said...

I will echo the comments about Pocono Downs. Given the length of their season, and the possibility of rainy weather throughout the year, there is no indoor seating-except for the cluhbhouse dining room-where one can get shelter from the elements and sit down to watch the racing. And Yonkers Raceway presents the same model.

Pacingguy said...

Anon #1,

As to your complaints regarding Vernon Downs and Pocono Downs, I can't speak about them having never been to Vernon and it being awhile since I have been to Pocono.

My question to you is have you made your complaints known to track management? As I have said before, customers have rights and responsibilities, one of the responsibilities is to let management know when you are not happy.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, tracks with slots today have had a flawed business model for the past 20 years or more. Their ineptitude has caused further damage to this sports decline than what would have generally been expected. Tracks can't seem to get the basic matters of convenience right that should accompany any successful business model. Experienced bettors who have visited many racetracks can walk into any of these tracks and tell management what they are doing wrong. Yet management won't listen or can't figure it out what the problems are. Tracks continue to hire people in management that know squat about the game and the average horseplayer is left with the most inconvenient place to wager.

Take for example two harness tracks that I frequently visit, Vernon and Pocono Downs.

Vernon recently built one of the worst simulcast facities that I have ever been to. In order to save money they closed the track when live racing is not taking place and built an addition in between their hotel and casino. Whoever designed this simulcast room knows nothing about horseplayers needs. A total lack of general area and accomodation for proper business. In the room they have a booth were a maximum of two tellers can accept wagers pretty much when you first walk in the room. About seven feet behind the booth the individual carrels are located(a whopping 29). So there is room for 4 or 5 people to stand in line to place a wager. When more people arrive total confusion erupts and the line becomes disorderly. There are a total of three or four self service betting machines and if you are sitting on the wrong side of the place you have a lengthy walk just to put in a bet. It's tough just to get a bet in on a slow day. If someone wants to leave the room to smoke, go to the bathroom, get something to eat or drink, or leave it is a hassle because you have to squeeze through people waiting in the betting line. It's a total disaster and the person behind this design needs to fired. And this facility is owned by one of are most popular supporters of the game, Jeff Gural.

[Edited, See Below]

Pocono Downs grandstand level is a complete joke. Seventy-five percent of the area is for smokers and the place is nothing but a cloud of smoke. Bar area is so small people often overflow into betting area where they become annoying and it hinders many people's concentration. Any serious horseplayer would avoid this area like the Plague.

When tracks force people to stay home or choose alternative forms of entertainment the tracks lose out. Tracks can't seem to focus on customer service as their number one priority. When it becomes more convenient for me to stay home and bet through Twinspires or any other ADW the tracks lose out. Very little is done up to the standards required to retain or attract new business.

Editor's Note: I have edited this comment regarding some of the complaints about Vernon Downs. Not being able to go to Vernon Downs, I have no way to know if the complaints are true or not. Not knowing who anonymous is, there is a possibility of him/her being a horsemen. Being the horsemen and the track have less than a cordial relationship, I want to give Vernon Downs management an opportunity to respond to the rest of the comments. I anticipate posting the rest of this comment along with a response from Vernon Downs, if provided after I hear from them.

I regret doing this. Rest assured this is an exception.

Anonymous said...

Management (Jeff Gural) will not put one dime into Vernon Downs to accomodate the horseplayer. Nothing major has been done in several years as the place continues to deteriorate. Seems like the never-ending feud between horseman and Jeff Gural hasn't helped the cause. Like I said in my first comment, management knows but have very little power or willingness to get anything accomplished.

Pacingguy said...

I checked with an online friend of mine who visits Vernon Downs. On Days when there is live racing, simulcasting takes place in the racetrack. The simulcast area Anon is talking about appears to be an area just outside of the casino section which is used on dark days and during the off season.

My friend claims that 95% of the time the simulcast area is sufficient. Are there days it gets crowded? Sure. But those days are far and few in between. Of course, people have different perceptions of the same thing.

As per not putting money in the actual racetrack facility, I can't speak on it. It is well known that the relationship between Vernon Downs and the horsemen group there is not the best. However, one must remember the racetrack has been in use for many decades and may be showings its age. Regardless of which track, if a facility is that old, it will show some signs of age.