07/27/2009 11:00PM

Gambling seeks its new age


TUCSON, Ariz. - The bowling lanes on the lower level of the new $350 million racino at The Meadows harness track near Pittsburgh, and the upscale pharmacy in the M Resort casino in Nevada herald a new era in gambling: the racino and casino as mega-mall.

The Meadows's bowling complex, complete with exclusive VIP lanes, is designed to bring new faces to the track's spacious racino.

The pharmacy and a gas station operated by the casino in Nevada both accept points awarded for slot pay as payment for co-pays for medication or a tank of gasoline.

Ashley Powers, writing about all this in a feature in the the Los Angeles Times titled "Hometown U.S.A: Henderson, Nev." called the new offerings "insta-cities," and noted other facilities have installed movie theaters, child-care centers and other conveniences normally found on Main Street. She says that although "surprising Nevadans is a near-impossible task, where their casinos cage lions and gas stations house slot machines," the M Resort has succeeded doing so with its pharmacy, "where white-suited technicians work in a drug store with marble counters and dark-wood paneling."

In the south, a proposed horse track on parking space at the Miami airport (God forbid) may not get far, but the very thought of more congestion at that travel horror center curdles one's blood.

There are other clear signs that these developments, real or proposed, indicate these are not your grandfather's tracks.

Churchill Downs certainly must consider night racing after the wild success of its three Friday-night experiments. There already is talk of installing lights at seaside Monmouth Park, the East's closest version of Del Mar, which recently was described as "Disneyland for adults," and now has been saved from the hammer of the auctioneer's gavel that was scheduled earlier by California's Terminator governor.

On the other side of the breeding aisle, the Meadowlands and venerable, 103-year-old Rockingham Park have presented turf racing for trotters in recent nights and days. Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio, draws 10,000 annually with the state's championship cross-country meet.

This event has become so well established that its manager, Terry Oehrtman, says it has become synonymous with Scioto Downs. "When you talk to coaches," he says, "they don't refer to the state meet as the state meet. They don't say, 'We hope to make it to state.' They say, 'Our goal is to make it to Scioto Downs.' "

The prospect of slots coming soon to Scioto Downs has so frightened the Ohio High School Athletic Association that it is studying the impact of slots on the purity of its championship event, and one coach and teacher has started a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Ted Strickland urging him to ask that all tracks refrain from operating their slots until after 5 p.m. on the day of the track meet.

No matter how far you run, you can't outrun fear.

All of the experiments mentioned cover both sides of the age divide.

The Nevada innovation was designed, in part, to attract what reporter Powers gently described as the "white-haired" crowd, which she said constitutes the overwhelming majority of daytime players at the M Resort, which is located a short drive from Sun City Anthem, a retirement community of some 7,000 homes in Henderson.

Powers says that Anthony Marnell III, the CEO of the M Resort, has plans, as soon as the Economic Recovery Act takes hold, for developing 1.1 million square feet of his 100-acre resort property into retail shops and attractions like movie theaters and a food market.

All of these refinements are taking place nationally. In New York, however, where progress is slow, civility in racing has been tossed out the window.

The New York Racing Association, properly angered that Nassau Regional OTB continued streaming NYRA signals for 2 1/2 months after being notified of the violation, accused Nassau of piracy, and cut off its signal, depriving Nassau county residents from viewing NYRA racing, first at Aqueduct, then at Belmont, and this week at Saratoga. Nassau OTB's president, one Dino Amoroso, denied with a straight face that Nassau knew it still was streaming, saying that Las Vegas-based Roberts Communications Network handled that detail, which it does for Nassau and most tracks that simulcast signals.

Amoroso then went overboard, reportedly calling NYRA's president and CEO, Charles Hayward, "a liar and a thief."

When we were in fourth grade, that kind of talk led to duking it out behind the old red schoolhouse. By fifth grade we were taught to cut it out, either by parental mandate or a broken nose.

It's time for this scrap to end, and for New York's racing and wagering board to help end it.