Once upon a time there was the big three: Racing, Baseball, and Boxing. They captured our attention, and one could keep up with the action in the newspaper. How did we go wrong from there? Was there a warning sign we ignored? Most of all, while The Sport of Kings’ is an afterthought in the states. It continues to flourish in other areas of the world on a grand scale. Is it too late too late to pay heed to the successful models?
I read an interesting article from sportsvice.com, and it spoke of an entertainment destination that is truly one-of-a-kind. – Happy Valley Race Course is located in Hong Kong, and it offers something for everyone. The Hong Kong Jockey Club first came about in 1884, and was founded to promote horse racing. The organization is the largest taxpayer in Hong Kong, as well as the largest private donor of charity funds, contributing an average of over HK$1 billion (approximately US$130 million) annually over the past ten years. The HKJC holds over 700 races each year, and reports in early 2002 the HKJC licensed 1,144 horse owners, 24 trainers and 35 jockeys and had 1,435 horses in training.
“The average handle for one race card in Hong Kong typically exceeds the handle for every other race card in the U.S. other than the Kentucky Derby. The handle for the 2014 13-race Derby card at Churchill was $180.5 million; the handle for the 13-race card at Belmont for the 2014 Belmont Stakes last year, in which a Triple Crown was on the line, was $150.3 million, a record that was nearly $40 million higher than any other Belmont card in history,” – according to sportsvice.com
On July 6, at Hong Kong’s other track, Sha Tin, the turnover was $229 million, biggest take of the year, even it wasn’t the largest in-house audience. The biggest 2014 gate came on Chinese New Year, when 92,000 packed Sha Tin, a bigger crowd than the one that witnessed this year’s Super Bowl in person. Tracks in the states used to have standing room only and not only did you have to pay for parking, you were nailed a $5 charge before getting to wager. The lines were long, bathrooms packed and dirty, and the food wasn’t worth the arm and leg you paid. Wait. I may have an idea why we started on the path of decline.
The per cap wagering for Hong Kong is $500 versus the average $396 per player in the United States. – “The entire racing industry is controlled top-to-bottom by the non-profit HKJC, which owns and operates the two racetracks and the province’s betting distribution system (account wagering, OTBs, video production). It limits the number of horses that are allowed into the province, and is responsible for all regulation of racing, including the enforcement of its rules and its drug-testing program. It’s highly structured, resulting in a company that can operate in an environment where it sets all the rules and prices. It helps that all those revenues in Hong Kong allow the Jockey Club to reinvest in its product and consistently adopt cutting-edge technologies,” according to sportsvice.com.
Here is your dose of “what needs to happen according to Ed.” Racing has gambling. Now, let them have it all. They housed gaming since the beginning of our first settlement. If you allow tracks to have: horse racing, lottery, slot machines, table games, and the ultra-lucrative sports betting. One authority, one set of rules, taxed and regulated, and a big provider of jobs. What the hell is wrong with this idea? No more tracks going under, and asking for permission to go to the little boy’s room. Racing is gambling, not gaming. Gaming is what my son does when he plugs in a cartridge and rules the world of flying monkeys. When I plunk down money, I’ve never remembered saying “it doesn’t matter if I win or lose.” The powers that be put powdered sugar on horse ca-ca and called it road apple surprise. We just bought it and took it home for dessert.
There have been a few cornering the racing market. Now, don’t play silly. We all watched as Churchill grew into a giant size bully. Would you have ever believed CDI would come out and publicly say that “racing is not their biggest revenue producer?” They used racing like an “escort” to the dance. Happy Valley is a destination place. You want big drink specials, come on Wednesday. You like a little music with the ponies, be here on Saturday. Why isn’t racing savable?
Tracks should have great food, ample free seating, and the ability to sell all wagers. Why would we destroy an industry by turning our backs on it? I guess it’s easier to build a new fan base than invest in your current environment. It used to be easy when it was the only game in town (legal for the most part). We live in the times where malls are white elephants, and going to the races is politically incorrect. We have grown complacent wanting to pull a slot lever versus studying the next race. Speed has replaced pageantry, and how many people can tell me who won the Slot Machine Derby in 1875? I can. Nobody, because there is no such thing as Santa, the Tooth Fairy and a history book detailing the connections of the winning slot tournament. – Why did we give up so easily?