The title of this entry could just as easily been 'Simulcasting Says it All - Mia Culpa' for in my last blog entry, it would appear I lay the whole decline on wagering in harness racing on integrity issues. This would be totally wrong and doesn't represent my true feelings.
Don't get me wrong, the integrity scandals of my youth have certainly hurt the game. When I first got interested in harness racing, I heard criticism as to how can I be interested in the trotters as it is all fixed? The fact is thoroughbred racing has had its own share of cheating so there must be more to the decline in harness racing handle besides integrity issues.
It boils down to the quality of the product. Gamblers realize harness racing is not a quality game when compared to the runners. Sure it may be easier to learn but at what benefit? When you are trying to beat a 18% rake and you run up against a constant parade of low prices, what is the risk/reward ratio?
Newer equipment may have improved speeds in horses but in this case, speed kills the game. How many races are decided in the opening first half with the front runner taking a tuck and retake with no one willing to be the one to play hardball? The innovation of the passing lane, which made sense when first implemented is one of the worst things to have happened as it discourages movement in a race.
Thoroughbreds race at varying distances and surfaces while 99% of harness racing is conducted at the mile distance. The varied distances and changing surfaces allows for a level of intrigue which helps boost prices. Harness racing for all practical purposes is missionary racing, plain and bland. A boring game with relatively low prices is not a gaming product attracting gambling dollars.
For harness racing to grow its wagering handle it needs to change the game, accept innovation which makes handicapping challenging and interesting with larger mutuel prices, or stay vanilla and watch wagering continue to decline. Slots or no slots, handle matters with regards to maintaining casino subsidies.
The sport has approached a crossroad, which way it goes remains to be seen.