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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Meet?

The possibility of Vernon Downs being in the midst of their last season has become more real as the track is slated to close for good on November 11, at the conclusion of the current meet as the New York legislature remains deadlocked over granting Vernon Downs tax relief with regards to slot revenue.  While the Senate has approved relief for the upstate track, the Assembly seems to be bogged down with respect to the bill.  Track majority owner Jeff Gural claims the end of the current legislative session, June 21 is the drop dead date.

Harness racing, while a money loser at Vernon is not the issue here, it's taxation rates for slot revenue as the casino has been losing money since upstate casinos have begun operating, poaching customers from Vernon.  Being restricted to video gaming only doesn't allow the track to compete against the casinos and when you consider the VLTs are taxed at a higher rate than the nearby casinos, the chance to come out in the black is virtually impossible.

Will the Assembly come through within the next week?  Is June 21, the drop dead date or is it more likely to be September 10, the date the casino is slated to close?  All I know is it is a perilous time.

Is the harness racing revival in Massachusetts coming to an end?  Call me paranoid but with legislators in the Bay State reassessing their commitment to slot revenue going to racing, I can't wonder if harness racing is going to get shafted.   The problem comes primarily from slot revenue being earmarked for racing and the pool getting bigger and bigger as the thoroughbred industry has basically left the state.  Suffolk Downs races a few days this year and with it being sold, 2018 may be the last year the track races at all.  Massachusetts bred races have been contested at Finger Lakes (NY).  Try as they may, regulators can't find enough ways to spend the thoroughbred portion of the fund due to the industry virtually dying off.  Meanwhile, the standardbreds keep humming along, doing well.

However, the legislature is wondering if the industry is worth saving at all when they have pressing social issues which could use the influx of funds.  While the legislature can scrap the part of the enabling legislation regarding thoroughbred breeding and racing funding, they can just as easily lump the standardbreds with the runners and decide to gut the whole funding mechanism or cut it to the bone.  Time will tell but people should be getting nervous.  Very nervous.

WEG has announced their intention to move harness racing to Mohawk (or should we say Woodbine at Mohawk Park) starting in 2018 year round, investing $10 million to winterize the facility.  Is this good for the sport or bad?  Some worry about the sport moving out of Toronto to Milton (approximately 31 miles) full time as well as the additional cost in shipping to Mohawk year round.  No doubt this is a problem for some, but being located at a dedicated facility (with a casino) rather than being the stepchild at a track where thoroughbreds are a priority should outweigh the negatives.

Another issue is would the horseplayers get fatigue with racing at one facility twelve months a year?  No more than they get fatigued with racing on the Woodbine-Mohawk circuit already.  If racing was worried about fatigue, it would shut down for the winter months.  Fans may get fatigued but the hard core players have no problem with racing year round


Marv said...

Moving the GTA racing out of Woodbine to Mohawk is a mistake. Mohawk is significantly out of town whereas Woodbine is not far from Pearson Airport. Harness used to race at Greenwood Raceway (aka Old Woodbine) which was downtown on Lake Ontario. Look at harness racing in California. It went from THE place in the fall to race at Hollywood Park in the 1970s to a winter Los Alamitos meet featuring stakes for $100k-250k and now to Sacramento where a top weekly open goes for about $6500. CalX attendance is small and always has been.
People drive handle which drives purses. Slots nearly went away in Ontario a few years ago. When the slots stop supporting the handle, a track 30+ miles out of town is no way to develop new patrons and bettors. Of course, I don't think anyone is trying to develop new fans anymore which means all this is a slippery slope to the bottom with an industry that does nothing to stop the slide.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Vernon WILL close, and then be followed by several other smaller venues that exist only because of slot revenue. While a few horsemen MAY be inconvenienced (having to ship a little further to race every week), the overall health of the racing industry is at stake; unless we finally see some contraction, the cycle of falling handles will continue, and likely worsen (ultimately leading to the complete demise of the game, once the state governments gradually end the slot subsidies)