Monday, January 7, 2008

How Much Longer Do We Have With Slot Money?

In Iowa, Prairie Meadows lost $29.2M in 2006 that was solely attributed to horse racing.

Some quotes from a story in the Des Moines Register yesterday:

Two contrasting bills could hit the state legislature this month - one would guarantee the current number of races, while another could attempt to lower purse money and reduce racing days

Des Moines businessman Bill Knapp is seeking legislation to cut $10 million from racing to spend on other causes, with the possibility of trimming as many as 48 racing days from the season — which was 108 days in 2007.

"When you start seeing $30 million in losses attributed to horse racing, is that a good use of money, or does the legislature need to look at that issue? Would that money be better spent for charitable causes?"

“So, is horse racing worth it?”

The slots money poured in, but then went out the door for purses and other horse programs. Now the legislature there, and everyone else it seems are asking some tough questions. These are questions we will be hearing much more in Ontario, and New York and elsewhere, in my opinion. Namely: Is subsidizing horse racing worth it? Would it not be better to place slot money into education, or health care, after school programs, or give it to charity?

You know what? We don’t have an answer to that question in our fractured industry, in my opinion.

How about the “money placed into horses makes the economy grow because people buy feed, and hay for horses” argument? The professor in the article rightfully makes mince meat of that. He is totally correct. If we put $30M into an association of basket weavers, the economy would grow via raw materials for basket weaving.

I personally can’t think of another argument that makes sense.

Whenever a subsidy is given, it usually is given to an industry with a strong central organization. That organization then makes a plan. The plan is set in a 5 or 10 year business plan to show how the industry will grow. Milk farmers for example put money into commercials. Drink Milk. Pork farmers? Well we all know that pork is the other white meat. We seemed to have this mystical notion that if a breeding farm, or a driver, or a trainer or a vet makes more money, the sport of harness racing will grow. I can’t lay blame at that really. What I am annoyed at is…… that has not worked and it has not worked for ages. Yet again and again we do nothing. We have come up with no change to the status quo.

The news generated by harness racing the past several years has not been good. Medication violations of huge proportions, horseman strikes for increases of race dates during a revenue spiral, the opening of new tracks with no demand for them, ADW fights where horseman and tracks seem to have no idea how to distribute the signals, high prices and customers leaving in droves with no response to fight like hell for them. On and on it seems.

In the end, if we do nothing about it, we deserve nothing. That to me is the cold harsh reality.

Can anyone honestly say if slots are taken away from racing that we did not deserve it?

If we don’t wake up and do something, looking back we may all wonder why we killed the golden goose that could have saved the sport. Blame will be placed, no doubt. We live in a society that likes to blame others when something goes wrong. But to me, when assigning that blame, it won’t be tough to figure out where it should lie. All we have to do is look in the mirror - each and every one of us.


Anonymous said...

Its time Ontario stopped enriching horsemen via the current (unjustifiable) purses being paid. Hope the trend in Iowa sweeps the nation, and slot revenues get redirected toward needy social goals.

Why is racing being subsidized, anyway? If it's not viable on its own merits, let it disintegrate. The OHHA, via its insistence on as many race days as possible, has diluted the quality of racing thruout Southern Ontario to the extent that most harness cards at Woodbine resemble the harness cards run at the "B" tracks and sometime the "C" tracks.

I've been a player of some 30 years, and have now quit harness racing for poker/blackjack. My departure is irrelevant, but the number of people like me, may be relevant.

PS) Great blog and I must say, truly enjoy reading it.

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi A,

Thank you for the comment.

It seems the crux of your comment is becoming what is expected when this topic comes up. Looking at a few other chat boards, as well as reading the industry press, grumblings like yours are all too common now.

When some of these tough questions are asked here, whether it be this year, or in ten years I would hope the industry has an answer. As I said above, I don't.

There are some passionate people out there who want to address these issues. The Standardbred Horse Owners Panel has some distinguished industry people in it, with government contacts. They seem to want to start addressing concerns before they become too big a problem for the business. I hope they, and others, succeed. In the end, perhaps the business can improve and we can start to get some fans back. It'd be nice to see us grow the business again to show everyone we can stand on our own two feet in Ontario.

Thanks again for the comment.

Most Trafficked, Last 12 Months


Carryovers Provide Big Reach and an Immediate Return

Sinking marketing money directly into the horseplayer by seeding pools is effective, in both theory and practice In Ontario and elsewher...