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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vernon Downs Reopening - Time to Retool (Updated)

Editor's Note:  Yes, you may have seen this article before.  The article has been updated as the source for information relied upon initially had some inaccuracies.  The article now reflects a more accurate picture of the situation at Vernon Downs. 

Vernon Downs opens its 60th year of racing this Friday, April 12; the start of a 90 day race meet.  Truth is it really isn't 60 years of racing; it is a convenient marketing tool.  During this 60 year period, there were a couple of bankruptcies which kept the track dark, if not a step away from the wrecking ball.  There was a bankruptcy in August of 2004 which closed the track and didn't reopen until August, 2006 under the current management.  If memory serves me correctly, there may have been an earlier period where the track may have closed due to bankruptcy or other dispute.  That being said, racing is returning this Friday and it has been 60 years since the track opened for racing.

Make no mistake, without the presence of VLTs at Vernon Downs, the track would have been razed or look like Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, VT; a derelict track still awaiting development since its closure in 1992. 

This is not to say Vernon's product is not being well received, the track on good nights have roughly a couple thousand people in attendance.  On-track wagering at Vernon Downs on their live product was up about 1% last year and their signal was well received as their export handle was up about 14%.  Where Vernon Downs is hurting is on their import handle, wagering on races at other tracks, including thoroughbred racing, was down. 

I wonder why more has not been done to improve the racing product at Vernon as well as getting it more attention in the simulcast market. You may not be able to get more people to the track on a nightly basis, but with a seven-eighths oval and the typical gambler's desire of the larger ovals, you would think the ability to increase interest in the product is there, just waiting to be uncovered.  After all, if Cal Expo can hit million dollar handles, there is no reason why Vernon can't produce similar results.  The key, as at most tracks is to get the pools as large as possible so to get more wagering on track as that is where the track and horsemen benefit the most.

Exchange wagering, something which is likely to be available at the Meadowlands in the not too distant future won't be available to Vernon Downs anytime soon due to objections Downstate.  Therefore, the key to making Vernon's product even more desirable is to get more exposure and increase handle.   Hence, here are my suggestions for Vernon Downs.
  • Pay to Play - As Cal Expo and the Raceway at Western Fair District has found, paying to be shown live on TVG has done plenty to get their product noticed and wagered on.  As much as customers have the ability to watch the races on their computer, watching the races on television puts it in front of the gambler's view, whereas on the computer someone has to take an effort to see it.
  • Minimize conflicts between Tioga and Vernon.  The two tracks should seldom race against each other. 
  • Start later and race faster - A 6:45 start gets you ahead of most Eastern harness tracks but it is during dinner time.  Start at the later post time of 8:00 when most tracks have started and at a minimum, the later races will be the only races on the East coast still being run.  With the later post time, races will need run faster to be done before midnight.
  • This may upset the local horsemen's group, but actively recruit stables and drivers from other tracks to come to Vernon.  Vernon has become a country club where the gang doesn't change and not challenged by outsiders.  Management has something to offer horsemen; in addition to racing at Vernon, Tioga is in their reach if they decide tot take advantage of it.  
  • Combine racing on television.  When racing together, intermingle Tioga and Vernon programs and offer exotic wagers between the two tracks.
The potential is there, someone needs to take advantage of it,

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