I have many friends who work in racing, and most are dear and cherished pals. After the races one evening, I stopped by an old track hangout to have a beer and catchup with some friendly faces. After I finished one brew, I couldn’t believe how much they had changed. Or, maybe it was me…
These folks have been ticket sellers, track crew workers, and horse trainers most of their lives. Some are second generation track employees, and as we always say, “once it gets in your blood, you’re there for life.” That was the old saying, and it may have changed over the past few years.
It’s no secret that Kentucky has wanted alternative gaming. The sought after gaming would be “VLT’s,” or slot machines. The tracks wanted to generate money for purses, track improvements, and hopefully allow racing to stay afloat and compete with the mega-casinos that dot the border of the state. It looks like General Custer completely circled by his enemies. Well, it may not be that dramatic, but the state is hurting in big way. That’s where I walked in and ordered a beer.
As I pulled up a chair, they continued the talk. It seemed like going in an endless circle. One gent looked at me and asked me to chime in my two-cents. I practically begged out, and being away from Turfway for so long; what I had to say wouldn’t fit. I knew this was bull, and so did they. I was asked again, and what would I do if I were in their shoes. I swallowed a big gulp, and found myself talking from my head instead of my heart as they wanted.
I could see they were scared and wanted to hear something good. But this story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. ” You all want gaming, and you’ll have a better chance at hitting the lottery than getting it passed across the board in Kentucky. – There are some that are trying to stay afloat, and others are hissing air like flat tire. Keeneland makes their fortune on world-class Thoroughbred sales, and two months of perfect racing. Churchill has bought and sold more tracks in the country than anyone, and they still fight the good fight with lobbyists rolling up their sleeves and staying in the game. They make their money on the Oaks and Derby week. Kentucky Downs has taken the bull by the horns and put the machines to work, and they’ve had an incredible boutique racing meet, and show a profits from hard work. Ellis park continues to make the best from what they have, and after reading how they sent machines to Kentucky Downs because they weren’t making the money projected. It sounds as if they all weren’t the magic elixirs as first thought. But EP is going to continue working hard and using a new strategy to maximize handle.” I thought that would be enough talk, and finished half a can on one drink.” But what about Turfway, Ed??” – “I knew this was where they were heading, and they didn’t want to hear about the others issues. They were worried, and wanted to know there was no monster in the closet. I would have liked to have told my friends that sound you hear in the closet is just the house settling, but we all know that isn’t true.”
The talk began again and some folks were getting hot under the collar. “Bullshit, Ed. We know about the other tracks, but what about us?” I was starting to think I made a poor decision about stopping off for a beer.
OK, you want to talk about the place we call home? Well here are my thoughts… I just hope they’re all completely wrong, and everything will be good. But that is just not the truth. The track has too many other options for gamblers. They can go to five casinos/racinos in an hour drive, and more in about 90 minutes. We have watched the track try everything from promotions, patron programs, and the installation of a mega-dollar Poly Track. The track was sold by Jerry Carroll to a trio-ownership of solid players in the gambling world after he failed to convince the legislature to help the industry. We have watched two track presidents go on to greener pastures after beating their heads into the wall trying to convince the state to allow racing to compete on a level playing field. (Can you blame them??) Now, you have casino operations that own the track. Why would they purchase the oval if they thought there was no hope for the future? Casinos make a profit by employing their proven methods in gaming. They have more bank, expertise, and ideas to streamline operations until they can be profitable. – What more could you want? You are sitting here talking about the old days, and you wonder why the new owners didn’t consult anyone about what works… First, they don’t need to ask, and the old days make good stories. They are here to fix things, and make some changes that may not be comfortable for everyone. You wanted the “big save” from a gambling professional, and they are here. It’s just not what you wanted to happen, and with all changes, there can be some casualties in the building.”
I think my old friends looked at me with three-heads. They couldn’t believe that I bought into the new corporate way of thinking. It wasn’t my views, it was their stale thoughts about change. “Everything changes, even the Mona Lisa is starting to change.” – They wanted to keep bitching and keep the conversation going in circles until it was time to go home. “OK Mr. Big. What should we do? How can we help the cause?” Simple. – Listen to what your owners and leaders want you to do. If you refuse to buy into the new ideas, maybe you should keep your fond memories and look into finding another occupation. They won’t allow small talk and na-sayers to stop their goals. It is not your managers, as they have just as much as you to lose if this fails. You need to step in line and embrace change. It won’t go away, and if it does, everything will as well.” I don’t think I’ll be invited to sit at the table with some of my old pals anytime soon. I think I’ll find another watering hole, or just go home hand have a few in my man cave.