This past week, Philly.com had an article which described Pennsylvania's Act 71 as a massive welfare program for horse racing. Welfare may be too harsh a term, workfare is probably a more appropriate term as no one is getting paid to sit home and do nothing. Trainers need to train, drivers and jockeys need to race, grooms need to groom, and breeders need to breed in order to get their hands on the money Act 71 generates for horse racing.
According to Philly.com, over $1.5 billion has been given to horse racing as a result of Act 71. Of course, a lot more money went for property tax relief in the Commonwealth. The question must be asked is this money well spent? I am sure those in the horse industry would say yes. I have to wonder if the State of New York gave Kodak $1.5 billion over a period of years to keep producing film and non-digital cameras, if horesmen would feel that was money well spent? I suspect they would say no.
Of course, the problem with Kodak is it responded too slowly to the introduction of the digital camera and the other forms of digital printing. Being behind the curve, Kodak was never really able to make inroads into the consumer market for digital cameras, but they were still making film for the longest time to feed those cameras for that ever shrinking population of photo camera users. Perhaps, if Kodak had acted sooner and real progress was being made, government help would have been more acceptable.
Well, horse racing in many ways is like Kodak. Technology has flown by and racing has been slow to react. They missed the popularity of ADWs, with only now some tracks trying to compete against the big ADWs such as TVG and Twinspires, but by now most players have already sworn their allegiance to the big companies and unless they get totally annoyed with their ADW provider they are likely to stay where they are (remember, it is cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a customer) unless someone offers a phenomonal offer.
Racing is totally missing out in attracting young people by not speeding up the action. Worse yet, it has been slowing things up. Younger people crave constant action so as bad as it is to have 15 minutes between races, many tracks have changed the definition of post time from being the time the race goes off to the time the horses step on the track, adding anywhere from four to ten minutes between races. Talk about not relating to the younger generation.
There is a new technological option out there which has the potential to change racing and attract younger people and quite honestly, people who don't know a thing about horses. It is called exchange wagering. Not only once a race is over does the market open on the following race, the market remains open during the race so people can continue to bet for or against a horse like the commodity dealers trade pork bellies or winter wheat. Exchange wagering is very popular where it is offered and while horsemen and tracks don't get as big a share as they do with traditional wagering, the volume more than makes up for it. Yet in North America, despite the evidence of its success, the racing industry is largely rejecting the concept of exchange wagering.
Only Cal Expo in California will be offering exchange wagering at the start of the year. New Jersey, which has approved the concept of exchange wagering is apparently waiting on the sidelines to see how it goes while all the other states refuse to consider this form of betting. What we have here is racing continuing to produce film (pari-mutuel wagering) while the public is clamoring for digital cameras (exchange wagering).
Is this really the time for horse racing to be that cautious? This problem is not unique to harness racing or quarter horses; just look at thoroughbred racing. In California, Bay Meadows is history and by the end of this year, Hollywood Park will be a mere memory. Yet in California, the horsemen refuse to give permission to exchange
wagering so initially, the standardbreds will be all alone. In New Jersey, thoroughbred horsemen talk about the end of racing at Monmouth Park if slots or sports wagering doesn't arrive in time. If not now, when?
Then there is a declining foal population which seems to find a new low every year despite engorged purses, because horsemen rather reward the perennial overnight horses over green horses, refusing to increase purses sufficiently to make interest in yearlings increase as there would be a better chance to recover more of their investment, especially if the owner has a second tier horse.
So what does this have to do with workfare? While people have grown less compassionate these days drinking their tea, many are more tolerant in giving support to those who try to pick themselves up by their boot straps, doing what they can to improve their situation. Yet, here is horse racing acting like the Perils of Pauline going 'Woe is me. What shall I ever do?" The public is getting tired of horse racing having its hand out without trying to improve their own lot. The largesse of the public is being severely strained.
For racing's own good, it must revisit the way purses are allocated to reward yearling buyers by offering better purses for green horses so their purses are higher than the journeyman overnight horse, especially in the lower classes. It needs to offer a second tier breeder or sires stakes program (if not already offered). In an effort to become self-sufficient, racing needs to rethink its scheduling of race meets and be on the forefront of exchange wagering, not once again becoming a Johnny-Come-Lately.
There is a need. Is there a will?