Still Swinging for the Fences

Horse racing was the only game in town. There was no lottery long ago, and you had to travel to Vegas if you wanted legal games of chance. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. – Racing, Baseball, and Boxing were the big three in the country as far as sports to watch. But times have changed a bit. – It’s no secret that tracks have been coming up with everything under the sun to stay afloat. Thoroughbred racing is kind of like the squirrel who played all summer while others stocked away food for the winter.

I’ve been a part of many types of “bandage” ideas as tracks have fought to keep the game alive. – I can only wonder what past management was thinking. Were they just caught up in the good times and they thought summer would never end? – I’m not certain, but one thing is for sure. There was no long-range planning in place.

Dueling Grounds was on the border of Kentucky and Tennesee and had NO competition. It had been shuttered due to poor management and closed under a cloud of controversy. – That was until Turfway Park and partners decided to purchase the undulating turf facility and revive it. There was nothing but dust and locked doors when we arrived, and the place was still incredible. It has the look of a southern mansion and inside was a restaurant and simulcast parlor. – Pretty good spot for a place that had no competition. – The only thing that was going on as far as gaming was charitable gaming bingo. In that part of the state bingo is still a hot game.

Dueling Grounds needed a little boost. – I made my way to the Chase law library and spent about 6 hours doing research on getting charitable gaming bingo revived. It was a labor of love as I wanted to see the facility come back to life. – After two days, I put together a report for our management to fill-out and sign. – About three weeks later we had the first session, and bingo helped jump-start the facility to the doors and go full speed. – A few sales later, it became Kentucky Downs and is a first class operation relished by racing fans around the country.

Turfway Park saw the progress from Dueling Grounds and tried to follow suit. – But they wanted to try charitable poker tournaments as well. It never really took off since there were three casinos in a 40-minute drive. – Turfway was a juggernaut for a long time, but the intense competition just squeezed it into a much smaller operation. They still operate full time and offer year-round simulcast wagering with a winter date live racing meet. – The competition has only grown and has three new racinos and the largest casino is only ten miles away. New ownership from the JACK casino and Turfway is still swinging at the plate. It’s been in operation since 1959 and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Turfway is a survivor. They are trying to install Instant Racing machines and the area is going to take part in a test. – EquiLottery and Penn National Gaming Inc. have reached an agreement to offer Penn National racetrack content for EquiLottery’s “Win Place Show” pilot program through the Kentucky Lottery, a lottery game based on the results of live horse racing. The pilot begins March 24, 2019, and will span 90 days. This program will be offered through 45 exclusive test retailers across Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky.

For the longest time, the old adage of “less is more” has been given to horse racing. – Maybe it’s the fans being over-saturated in markets, and having fewer racing dates have been the topic of discussion. What say you? – You’re the consumer and what would you want. Would you rather see fewer dates with a little better purse structure, or have a longer meet?  – I can see the point of both and neither is without drawbacks. The fewer dates affect jobs in the facility and are harder to keep quality people for a short meet. On the other hand, if there are some better purses it may attract horsemen to ship in and take down the cash the smaller outfits used to count on to stay in business. – Choose a direction. Neither will be easy, and whichever you choose will not please the other.