12/21/2014 11:05PM

Bergman: Horsemen need to take the reins

Suffolk OTB along with Nassau OTB in Long Island are both getting up to 1,000 VLTs.

It is somewhat perplexing to hear reaction to the awarding of three casinos in New York this past week and understand where the sport of harness racing stands on the subject, or for that matter why the state’s racetracks supported any amendment to the Constitution to legalize them.

More purposely, the arrival of the new casinos should help galvanize the racing industry to understand that getting awarded a new casino license is no more a sure thing than any 1-9 shot a $2 bettor wagers on.

Clearly more competition is on the horizon, especially in the metropolitan New York area where Nassau and Suffolk County OTBs will be offering 1,000 slot machines each in the very near future. With New York City OTB now defunct and the powers that be on Long Island steering whatever little attention they already had towards the racing product away to an easier and more lucrative business, trouble looms.

[DRF HARNESS: Sign Up for the FREE newly designed DRF Harness Newsletter!]

Perhaps the time has come for local horsemen both Standardbred and Thoroughbred to truly consider sponsoring tele-theaters of their own to lure and hopefully expand gambling on the racing product. With no legitimate allies in the region and a strong daily racing product, there has to be concern as a large audience shifts away from racing.

Any kind of new marketing scheme devised by the racing industry has to entertain connecting with a new audience. While OTBs in many ways were not friendly towards a new and younger fan base, racing needs to find a younger demographic. Allowing others with varied interests to do the bidding of the horsemen puts all future generations at peril. The metropolitan New York area is now wide open for development of a few locations designed to attract horseplayers and sports fans.

Competition has increased in every state. If we’re getting what we wished for in the form of expanded casino or slot facilities, we are also cutting into our own market of gamblers. Failure to contend for the gambling dollar in the future will prove to be a huge mistake on the part of the racing game.

There are no sure things.

I didn’t get to look at the full list of companies vying for the four available New York State casino licenses. However, the fact that only three locations were chosen would seem to indicate that despite what looks to be a “sure thing” to increase revenue to the state and provide jobs, the committee itself wasn’t willing to gamble on a fourth location.

The laws of diminishing returns suggest that there is in fact a saturation point where there are simply not enough gamblers to go around. Clearly competition for the gaming dollar has increased in all neighboring states and those in the Empire State accept that the three Upstate casinos are not likely to draw that much interest from outside the region.

But if we’re betting on our future and not that of casinos, it’s time to become more engaged in the daily events that exclusively impact horsemen and those racing horses.

We need horsemen to get angry when large amounts of their own money is spent on marketing our sport and they don’t get the desired results.

First we must find the money and a workable marketing strategy.

Variety makes things interesting

The voting for Horse of the Year took an interesting turn in 2014, but in the end a deserving horse named J K She’salady was awarded the title.

Along the way the voting got so tight that there were surprisingly three horses named to title positions, as Sweet Lou garnered Pacer of the Year but lost out in mixed voting for Horse of the Year.

In a democracy everyone has a right to an opinion. In today’s society social media has expounded on the premise and given rise to a wide-range of experts whether knowledgeable or not. Speech is freer today than ever in our country and that’s a positive.

To the surprise of many, J K She’salady was not a unanimous choice for two-year-old pacing filly honors despite going undefeated in a spectacular season. This brought rise to some in the field to suggest that the lone voter should be banned from future participation in this contest.

Having some historical context in the voting for Horse of the Year through my age if not my experience, I can recall countless elections more than 30 years ago where the voting took unexpected turns that failed dramatically to resemble what actually took place on the racetrack.

For one, many of the voters then and perhaps now don’t spend that much of their time focused on all of the divisional races. The U.S. Harness Writers tried more than 20 years ago to correct that problem by offering “cheat sheets” in the way of statistics to all voters. In other words, the Writers themselves recognized that voters were ill informed and figured some statistics would help them make a theoretically educated decision.

Still, no matter how educated the voters become, it’s truly impossible to remove all bias from any election. Whether it’s voting for a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, bias runs strong throughout our society. Many people truly do not have their own opinion but they strongly share what they learn through other mediums as their personal belief.

So when an individual is so far off the track of what we consider normal thinking, the normal ones want to exclude the radicals.

That’s where I feel we all must draw the line. As we’ve learned through this year’s voting and many other ballots in the past, drawing perfect conclusions where everyone agrees is not an easy thing to accomplish. It is also not necessarily that important.

From a gambling point of view it’s always vital that we have bettors with varied points of view, specifically when looking at a race. Actually it’s what makes gambling on horse racing unique. So let’s all applaud those with different perspectives, life would be more boring without them.