The Gambler’s Journey

Handicappers from all walks have a differing story on how it all began, but there are plenty of the same elements involved. As we sit at our computer monitor, we are sipping coffee in our slippers and playing the card at sunny Gulfstream Park. But we are missing the journey. There was nothing like getting bundled up and leaving early to make the double. Long before the glitzy climate controlled casino, there was a large mammoth building where the parking lot was full, and the seating would go faster than a summer break as a kid. Think of missing the early days like arriving to the movie half way into your flick. It’s still is pretty interesting, but you have missed some of the best parts.

Parking

You had to get to the track early enough to walk 10 minutes to the door. If you found yourself there for the feature race, you started thinking about beating the traffic by leaving 15-20 minutes early. For the many road trips filled with handicappers arguing their points. We have replaced this with screens of “talking heads,” and our twice a year visit to the track. The sights and smells were like the United Nations melting pot. The swirl of cheap cigars, and the mutuel lines where handicappers would be jammed tight studying. There was something about the track. You could travel the galaxy and never see another place like this. For all of the complaining over the years, I look back on my early trips with fond memories. There was nine races, one daily-double, and a few exactas. Simulcast was a far off idea, and the closest thing was the OTB system in New York. Well, something like that…

Food

When we went to the track, we always made sure we ate first. Long before sports bar fare and one-of-a-kind buffets. There was the ultra expensive hamburger that had been sitting there two hours before post. It was cheaper to make a $5 quinella than get a hot dog and a soda, and punters have their rules… If we hit a nice score, there could be a stop at White Castles for a couple of sliders for dad and myself for the ride home.  It wasn’t just about the greasy burgers that made it great, it was sharing the stories and the time spent together.

Is All Change For the Good?

There are no more lines, and with the exception of a few marquee days. The track is barren. With the latest news of Suffolk getting ready to close the doors forever. I stand in awe that another viable business that created jobs, provided a tax base, and gave the state a gaming identity is being forced out. I know, I had Econ 101, and there is no other business in the world which would have to fund the lacking partner. But, long before there was talk of a lottery in most states, you could always go to the track. Betting was legal, and you could rub shoulders with kings and paupers on the way to the windows. The experience was one-of-a kind, and now it is going the way of the dinosaur. Why didn’t the state protect a revenue producer and employer? How do we reward the many years of hard work and entertainment? We allow them to die on the vine, and face extinction as its quicker to pull the lever. Could racing have survived long enough to expand in the gaming arena? For every non-track that sought a gaming license, there should be a 20% tax paid to tracks for five years. This would allow them to lobby for alternative gaming, or restructure their product. The state would monitor the subsidy program, and the tracks would still generate tax revenue and create jobs. After five years, if the track was unable to compete. The casinos would open their arms to a crop of new employees who would be seeking employment. If change is good, how come this one tastes a little bitter?

Take a Hard Look at the Sport

I began my journey down memory lane with stories of long lines and cramped accommodations. Gamblers just won’t have that anymore. I am one of them, and I find myself playing more from home. Racing has been slow to change, and lip service has been disguised as customer service. Racing can learn a great deal from the casino approach, and vice-versa. Yep, you heard it right here. Casino’s can learn from the tracks that have been a fixture in the gaming environment for decades. I am lucky enough to be a part of the “racino” invention, and I feel there is not enough cross-promotion. Remember, it may have been a tough row to hoe without having gambling in many states. What’s better than to create new racing fans from slot players, and the flip side for the handicappers? Handicappers like to gamble, they know to bring money, and all they are lacking is education and lucrative bounce-back offers. I was sitting in the “bad-ass sports bar” enjoying some wings after work. My server asked if he could get me anything else, and I said ” yeah, they could have roving clerks as I would have caught the last winner at Belmont.”  “Sir, we don’t want to turn this place into a “bookie” joint and have gambling where people are drinking, dining, and watching the big games on TV.” I know he was young, uninformed, and gaming wasn’t his area; but that is just the environment we want to create.

What’s Next ?

Add in Suffolk, Beulah Park, and Hollywood Park. The names are starting to stack up, and we just act as if nothing is wrong. I know the game is hurting, and it can use a major facelift. With states having more gaming licenses granted, and you’re within driving distance from 24-hour gaming. When I hear any track crumbling at the base, I know it is only a matter of time before we address an oval closer to home. The game has short fields, purse reductions, and shorter racing seasons. Take Governor Chris Christie’s directive to allow casinos and tracks to allow sports betting. According to the American Gaming Association, there was $3.5 billion wagered in Nevada’s legal sports books in 2012. There is no such thing as a sure bet, but this one looks pretty darn close. If you’re going to open the doors, allow all entities the same opportunity to attract wagers. Let’s have a heavily regulated state gaming board that oversees the wave of cash that will come rolling into the state’s coffers. I see education getting the biggest chunk, and universities in every state offer a degree in Gaming Management. If its going to take place, let the state have their cut, create jobs, and attract tourism. I don’t see a downside yet, and if any gaming business is unable to hold their own. They will only have themselves to blame as this will level the field. My grandpa would have loved the simulcast explosion, and the 100 tracks per day to bet. But, if he would have stumbled into a racino with the neon lights and slot machine jackpot sounds. I think he would have spent more time fishing. But, this isn’t your grandpa’s game anymore, and if we’re going to open the flood gates. Let it roll, baby. Let it roll…

 

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