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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is This a Racino Operator?

One of the many criticisms by certain horsemen groups and individuals is Jeff Gural is racino operator.  Well, of course he is by his operating Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs and it is no secret that he is hoping to get slots installed at the Meadowlands someday, but the impression his critics would like legislators and others to take away is Gural could care less about racing; it is all about the slot machines.

This image his opponents are trying to paint does Gural and the industry a huge disservice.  Make no mistake without a racino, Tioga Downs would never have been built; Vernon Downs would probably have met the wrecking ball, the result of a sale of assets in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.  Without having these two New York racetracks, Jeff Gural may not have had the ambition or the clout to acquire the Meadowlands when the track's existence was threatened.

Yet, he is far from the typical racino operator.  Name me one other racino operator who is actively trying to make a difference in harness racing?  Other than a few operators who try to promote their existing product, most racino operators are content with the status quo, looking at racing as a loss leader which allows them to have alternative gaming, waiting for the opportunity to cut racing lose when the opportunity arises.  Gural tries to promote racing, encouraging people to attend the races and get people interested in the game.  He cares about the game.

These opponents of Gural would be wise to open their eyes and smell the coffee.  Right now, racing has no better spokesman and cheerleader than Jeff Gural.  Instead of spending their time attacking him every time he makes a comment, I would suggest these horsemen groups and individuals take a step back and look at the state of the industry.   It isn't pretty.

Contrary to what some may feel, a strong industry is not one which races for purses which are 90% slot revenue and 10% wagering handle in front of barren grandstands with a few people standing on the apron.  Just look at Ontario and you see we have an industry on life support, one which will certainly wither or in some cases die when the feeding tube is removed come April, 2013.  Yet, many are content with the status quo, failing to realize at any moment their feeding tube can be squeezed or even pulled by a legislature.

Many talk about how the industry needs to be fixed but few people act.  Jeff Gural acts.  At the Meadowlands, he makes it known people with a question mark on them need not apply to race for they won't be setting foot on the grounds.  He tries to keep the beards out.  In response to complaints from the betting public he tells drivers courtesy tucks and driving in-out are not going to be tolerated.  Instead of lamenting about the myriad of medication rules, he works on getting states to adopt a common standard.  In an effort to stimulate wagering at Tioga Downs, where the horsemen are receptive to change, he cut takeout rates on all wagers in an effort to stimulate wagering.  In an effort to keep stars on the track, stake conditions are modified to keep off-spring of four year old studs out of the races.  Is this a racino operator or a person who cares about the sport?

I understand horsemen groups have a responsibility to protect its members' interests and no one is suggesting they abandon those responsibilities  However, serving the horsemen's interests includes making concessions to ensure there are long term interests for their members to protect.  Jeff Gural also needs to recognize horsemen have valid concerns which need to be considered.  There must be enough common ground where the parties can work together for the betterment of all.

So stop trying to tear Gural down.  Like it or not, right now he is the only person who has the personal reputation to get things done. Referring to Gural as a 'racino operator' diminishes his actual contribution to racing.  He is a supporter of racing first, racino operator last.  It is time to talk of him in this context.

Hambletonian on CBS Sports Network - It has been announced this year's Hambletonian will be shown on CBS Sports Network.

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