Be Careful What You Wish For

by Ed Meyer

posted on February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments >>

Racing is in a transitional phase. That is a kind way of saying we have been given a warning. Just as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dickens classic, we would see what awaits if we do not change our ways.

Slots, Instant Racing, VLT’s, or full-blown casinos. That has been the chosen course of many states, and depending upon the legislative body. The addition of any of these, would allow Thoroughbred racing to breath again on our own.

We have read where many states have racino operations in place and they are still having financial troubles. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And if you doubt those words, take a look at Indiana. They received the “nod” for racino action in the state, and now they have gone back and are asking lawmakers to allow the state’s two racino’s in Anderson and Shelbyville to introduce live tables. Now gaming is still big business in the Hoosier state, but increased competition has sent them back to the table once again.

Right next door in Ohio, the only game in town used to be Thoroughbreds, harness racing, and the lottery. There will be seven locations in Ohio that will offer up casino action. Add in the racino’s popping up at race tracks, and Ohio will be ranked 26th out of 46 states in number of casinos.

My first reaction is strong. Hope for the economy, jobs, and tax revenue. But be careful what we wish for. Racing as we know it could change right before our very eyes. My fear is that the sport which we have come to love will be a side attraction to one-arm-bandits, and computerized dice. I made a recent visit to a new casino in Cincinnati. It has the glitz and glam of everything $400 million dollars can create. It has the feel of Las Vegas minutes away from my home, and that night my first ghost paid me a visit.

What if this palace squashes horse racing all together? When tracks are granted a license, or given the ability to have alternative gaming action. Be sure to have provisions for a complete and adequate backside operation. This is where the game survives until it is time to race. Also, it keeps horses in state, and does not allow them to be easily attracted to more lucrative states. There have been family training operations passed down for generations, and they would enjoy the opportunity to continue to ply their trade for years to come.

As I tried to close my eyes and drift off to sleep. My second ghost paid me a haunting visit. “What about the players?” If you are going to allow any gaming to exist, there must be a plan in place to make their surroundings more than just an after-thought. It is they who have kept the lights on for the past years, and by investing in rewards programs, creature comforts, and targeted marketing. We can reward the loyal and attract the next generation of fans.

I was sure my nightmare visions had all but disappeared, when there came my third and final ghost. “If racing is to exist, and racino’s may be a short term answer, how long will it be before they all ask for full-blown gambling?”  Tracks have been the only game in town for decades, and it is not fair to make them fight with hands tied behind their backs. I think New Jersey had a great idea. Once upon a time there were supplements to bolster purses. It would allow casinos to flourish without added competition next door, and racing could establish itself in the gaming market. The tracks could have forms of alternative gaming, and with the two in place. It seems as if all would survive.

I know there is no easy answer or it would have already hit the table. But as gaming continues to grow, I feel it is important that we do not lose a long term business to allow a new one to try their hand. Racing has long been a part of many states, and with the addition of new business. There must be a plan in place not to destroy the old guard. I feel we can all survive as we vie for the entertainment dollar, but only if we are willing to keep all options open.