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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

As the Casino Lottery Turns

As we have seen with this week's announcement that Suffolk Downs will be closing since the decision of Massachusetts' gaming site selection committee to give the regions gaming license to a competitor, many tracks which don't have alternative gaming are holding on to the prospect of receiving a license to keep them open.  It also shows the commitment to horse racing in many cases is, well, zero.

Those tracks who have slots are not out of the woods either.  With New York State due to select casino sites within the next couple of months, it is conceivable the selection of a non-racetrack site could spell the eventual demise of several tracks as the competition potentially will take enough business away from the slot parlors to make these racinos collapse as a result of not being able to support their debt service and operating expenses.

Meanwhile, horsemen and racetracks elsewhere are enjoying the benefits of slots, looking behind their backs, wondering when the eventual assault to decouple racing from alternative gambling will begin.  They try not to think about it, but it's there in the back of their minds.  Other tracks in states without alternative gaming such as Illinois are praying their turn will come but realize the odds are long.

What do all these scenarios have in common?  A dependence on alternative gaming, be it hope or actuality.   This is not the way an industry should operate and one must wonder how racing got to this point.  The Boston Globe in an editorial says it best:

The track’s COO, Chip Tuttle, lashed out at the commission, blaming it for the closure. But the real culprit has been a long-term decline in the popularity of horse racing since its Depression heyday. The track hasn’t been profitable since 2006; other thoroughbred tracks across the United States have struggled to survive, too. Rather than reinvent their business to attract new customers, though, many tracks, including Suffolk Downs, have implored the government for a rescue, in the form of a casino license. 
Racetracks don’t have any more of a right to to a bailout than any other struggling business,...
It's easy to blame it on the state or track operators, but those rare times tracks have attempted to make changes, horsemen were the first ones to buck in opposition.  Be it odd distance races, in particular distance; adding additional horses via the second tier in harness racing, even the attempt in Maryland years ago not to announce post positions until after wagering closed (in an effort to increase odds), horsemen dug their heels into the ground refusing to enter those races.  Not every idea would have been a winner, but they were attempts.
So here we are, racetracks of all breeds playing the game, "As the Casino Lottery Turns".  We'll see who the next winners and losers are.

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