Continuing on our discussion on how the various parties involved in harness racing have changed over the last seven years, we resume talking about racing commissions. Part 1 of this entry was posted yesterday.
Like many governmental agencies, the racing commissions tend to be friends of industry participants, seemingly considering the wagering public as an afterthought. When proposals are made by the general public, the road to consideration of rule adoption is a circuitous route to travel, typically defeated if tracks and/or horsemen oppose it regardless of the validity of the proposal. However, if a proposal comes forth from the tracks, they tend to travel at high-speeds to adoption.
Love the Canadian fair-start rule? You better stick to Canadian tracks because such a rule in the United States will not happen, racetracks and horsemen groups will not allow such a proposal to get adopted. Oh sure, they will go through all the motions required of them but with no representation by the wagering public on the commission board, it is a foregone conclusion it will be defeated despite the fact it would be beneficial to all in the long run. As long as the composition of racing commissions is limited to racing insiders, nothing will change.
With regards to the racing public, the industry continues to fail the majority of the public. Sure, there may be a few changes in the game, but typically, the moment tracks attempt to put a horse in the second tier or have added distance racing, you will see drivers squawk and trainers reluctant to enter their horses in those races (an exception being Yonkers when their races being sent to Europe for simulcasting) despite the fact these races offer more wagering value to horseplayers. Rather than having a trailer or two in a stakes race, we offer the public two or three elimination races of of five horses or less for their wagering consideration.
Exchange wagering, only in New Jersey despite the fact it is legal in California. Tracks fear new forms of wagering to the point of embargoing exchange wagering despite the fact it may pay horsemen and track operators twice what they get now.
Horseplayers want large payoffs so the tracks give them new wagers which offer high rewards to whales but otherwise sucks the money out of the gamblers' hands which kills churn and speeds the eventual departure of most players. Yet, while tracks offer these jackpot wagers, there is no attempt to offer new wagering propositions which would allow horseplayers to make more money and recycle those wagering dollars through the wagering pools.
It's no secret racing is not the fastest game around with the breaks between races so what does the industry do? It drags the races out even longer with post crawl that only those with the patience of Job are able to watch a single racing program.
Is racing on its deathbed?
As I said seven years ago, harness racing is hurting but not on its deathbed. Tracks have closed during these seven plus years but for the most part, it is business as usual for racing operations. There will continue to be some downsizing and the sport will go through some heaves, but when all is said and done it will remain albeit changed and smaller in size. So what will racing look like? Let's take a look at some items through my futurist hat:
National Regulation - The feds will mandate a national effort to regulate drug testing and the industry will comply. Cheating via medication violations will be treated seriously with nationwide bans for those cheating multiple times. As for the rules of racing, cost savings for the states will give rise to a national regulatory agency to establish and enforce the rules of racing which may eliminate the presence of individuals in one state after they have been banned in others.
Animal Welfare - It may take some kicking and screaming but eventually animal welfare will become the rule. Whipping if not banned will be restricted more than ever. Feet will remain in the footholds on sulkys and the industry will be forced to deal with the unwanted horse problem, far more than it does now. This effort will make racing more palatable to the American public.
Wagering Changes - Exchange wagering, now restricted to New Jersey will be expanded into other states. Don't be surprised to see fixed-odds and other new wagering options to come to North America's shores as wagering will be outsourced to TAB organizations. Eventually you will see sports wagering in the United States expanded and with gambling becoming more acceptable, tote companies will be cutting takeout rates to compete.
Less Racing - Depending on TAB for wagering, racing dates will be cut. With fewer races, purses will be more lucrative and meets will become more boutique instead of run of the mill. Becoming events, attendance will recover (though the large crowd of yesteryear will never be seen again) while handle will increase as wagering will be focused on fewer tracks at any given time.
International Racing - Racing will be imported into and exported from North America to maximize the infrastructure of TABs. Domestic racing will need to change to conform to the tastes of foreign markets to maximize revenue. This means races of variable distances and more horses per race meaning second tiers.
These are scary times for horse racing, but the future will be exciting for those willign to conform to the changed environment.