In fifty or one hundred years what is currently happening in New Jersey gambling will probably be read about in business books at the University of Chicago, Wharton or Columbia. It is a painful, yet important period to watch and be a part of.
The New Jersey governor, faced with decreasing state revenues, a bloated bureaucracy and special interests up the wazoo, is making some very tough decisions; and one of them involves the sport that you and I participate in, bet and enjoy.
Yesterday an updated Hanson Report was released. In it, the recommendation was made to close the Meadowlands (save a small meet for the Hambo), and race some dates at Monmouth. In addition, there is a plan to open more off-track betting hubs, add exchange wagering as well as instant wagering. Doing this, the report authors believe, will help make racing a non-taxpayer subsidized business - one that can stand on its own four hooves.
On the surface this sounds logical to virtually everyone outside our sport, and quite honestly (if we look in the mirror) we knew this would be coming. We can not expect to run races in front of few people, with few people betting on them forever. We can not expect horse owners to race for $12,000 at the Meadowlands, while they can race for $22,000 at Chester either. For those mad at the governor for doing something based on ROI, well frankly, we are doing exactly the same thing as horse owners by entering at tracks with higher purses, and the sport be damned if no one is betting on them.
Having said that, I truly feel that the plan lacks a certain vision, simply because the Meadowlands is the harness track with the most brand power in the entire world. If you ask someone from Australia, or Sweden which track is the world's best, they will probably say the Meadowlands. If you run a 10 claimer race on a Saturday for $12,000 at Chester, or $6000 at the Meadowlands, the latter will have close to 10 times the handle and pay for itself. I would have loved to have seen a plan focused on the track and its brand power, rather than demolishing it and starting it all from scratch.
Regardless, the new world of Jersey racing is simple. It is dead without slots.
Slots have completely changed the horse racing world - they have killed handles, made vets, breeders and drivers pretty rich and in the process (most importantly in this case) have destroyed jurisdictions that don't have them.
Just how crazy is the horse racing slots world? Let's look at purses and handles. Alan over at View From the Racetrack Grandstand looked at Meadowlands handles versus purse distribution the other day.
November 12 Meadowlands Card (no slots, but a track people like to bet, which holds interest of fans of the harness racing game)
Purses Distributed: $94,900
November 13 Sudbury Downs Card (slots-fuelled track)
Purses Distributed: $87,800
The track with over $1.5M in handle on a Friday evening, which is the most brandable track in harness racing history, is on the verge of being shut down forever. A track with $7897 in handle hums right along.
It's a wild world out there. I think it is what happens when there is no one minding the store. And even when someone tries to make sure what is happening to the Meadowlands does not happen elsewhere (like the RDSP proposed by Standardbred Canada) only 740 people sign a petition.
We are our own worst enemy.
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