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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Same Old Song

A column in the Indy Star talks about Governor Pence's proposal to eliminate the subsidy horse racing receives in Indiana from slots.  Sounds familiar?  Not a cut, but a total cessation of supporting the racing industry.  The Governor's argument, an old one: "There is a better use of the money”.  I must confess as much as I love horse racing, as a taxpayer I would agree with the Governor's position though I would argue you can't cut an industry off cold turkey; a transition period of reduced funding of a to be determined period is called for.

Meanwhile, in New York, horsemen were treated to a propaganda film by the New York Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance showing how vital horse racing is to the State of New York both in economic contributions and agriculture; the same arguments horsemen in Indiana and Ontario have been making.  

Of course, in both states horse racing has been called a strong industry and I have always wondered how that determination has been made, after all a sport where grandstands are empty and handles are low don't particularly strike me as a strong industry, it strikes me as an artificially propped up industry.   I realize racing needs to say it is strong for political purposes but the problem is state governments are starting not to buy this. After all, how strong can an industry be if it depends on subsidies?

The problem is this argument gets old after a while.  In the Indy Star's column, Matthew Tully states: "Mike Brown, who heads a horse-owners trade group, called Pence’s proposed cuts “shortsighted” and said they would decimate what he called a strong industry that permeates and enriches the Indiana economy. But here’s a question: If an industry is so vital and so strong, shouldn’t it also be able to survive independently after 20 years of government subsidies?" 

Fortunately for New York interests, there have been no real proposals to cut slot subsidies to racing at this time and it remains to be seen how far the trial balloon in Indiana goes.

It was announced yesterday that Saratoga Harness Racing Inc, owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway have completed their acquisition of Fitzgeralds Casino in Blackhawk, soon to be renamed Saratoga Casino-Blackhawk.  While SHRI is part owner of Ellis Park and operates the Instant Racing machines there, this is their first acquisition of a non-racing property (other than part ownership of a couple of hotels in Saratoga Springs, New York).  It will be interesting to see if SHRI will be adding an OTB to their Colorado casino to allow Colorado residents to wager on Saratoga Harness and other tracks or failing that, if SHRI is attempting to abandon horse racing as much as possible.

Cal Expo is dropping Thursday night racing after this week, once again returning California harness racing to a twice a week schedule.  In addition to dropping Thursdays, they have added two additional weekends of racing in May.  The dropping of Thursday nights is certainly a disappointment to racing interests in the Golden State as Watch and Wager's goal was to return to a three day schedule.  The cause for the scratching of Thursdays is said to be a large overpayment in purses which needs to be trimmed back, possibly because they are handling about $200,000 less on Thursdays when compared to their Friday and Saturday night cards when they handle close to $750,000.  My guess is Cal Expo is dependent on wagering from back east which is not available on Thursdays due to the lateness of their programs.  People have to go to work on Friday's so the weekend gamblers are just not available to Cal Expo.

Surprise, surprise.  Valley View Downs has been given another 45 day extension to get their act together.  They must have a management agreement in place by then along with a casino gaming license.  With what is happening in Ohio, don't be surprised if Valley View Downs is no closer to opening this time next year.


Anonymous said...


Governors and lawmakers in states that funnel a percentage of slot revenue to horse racing realize racing is getting millions more than ever imagined. The states need to eliminate the percentage, decide how much racing deserves and cap the annual dollars while adjusting each year for inflation. That way, other
"deserving" interests could also share the slot wealth.

Horsemen, track operators and bettors shouldn't have to go through this constant debate about whether to continue the subsidy. I think purses are too high in slot states, but I also don't want to see subsidies trimmed to zero.

Anonymous said...

You would think that Sunday evenings, with little harness competition, would take care of the Thursday handle problem. Works well for Balmoral.