08/27/2010 6:03PM

Letters to the Editor Aug 29


Takeout increase a misguided way to boost the sport

I read the Aug. 25 article "California bill would up takeout on exotic bets" and couldn't help think that this is just another step in the process of the racing industry bleeding itself to death.

First, parimutuel takeout isn't like income tax. People don't quit their jobs when income taxes go up, but people do quit betting on racing when it becomes an unattractive wagering proposition.

Second, the proposed takeout increase is meant to generate funds to raise purses. But think about this: We can't generate enough funds to offer necessary purses, so the answer is to raise taxes? I call on the industry, rather, to run fewer races in the realization that there is more than enough wagering nationally to fund purses. One recent Saturday this summer, I counted 32 Thoroughbred tracks running in North America. That is roughly 320 races to service the wagering public. If you intelligently analyzed the issue, you probably need about 90-100 races on a weekend to service the public and can get away with 80-85 on a weekday.

What needs to happen for the industry to save itself is stop running so many races. If all tracks would reduce their dates, so that the best brands run on the weekends and smaller, lesser-known brands ran during the week, field sizes would increase, favorably affecting handle, and purses would skyrocket. The environment at tracks and simulcast facilities could become much more patron-friendly and less intimidating to new/occasional customers and help make racing a more attractive wagering option.

The one piece of the puzzle missing is leadership. All it would take is for tracks to form an association on national simulcasting to dole out who runs when to keep a balanced schedule. I firmly believe that with some tracks being simulcast on a regional basis, there are enough slots in the racing schedule for all tracks that now run to continue to have meets, albeit told by a ruling body as to days of the week they race and maybe limiting their weekend dates so that only the industry's very best racing is offered on weekends.

I don't know who would have the will or the talent to do this, but I volunteer my services.

Dave Cullather - Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

Round Table talk missed key points

The Aug. 22 article "A discussion of racing's woes," as well as the Aug. 25 "Speakers stick to the positive news," summed up Thoroughbred horse racing's problems in North America: the blind leading the blind.
Steven Duncker of the New York Racing Association and Nick Eaves of Toronto's Woodbine Entertainment Group, two speakers at the Jockey Club's annual Round Table Conference, represent a new breed of racetrack administrators and marketers whose appointments have been based upon non-racing backgrounds and who supposedly bring new ideas to the table.

Eaves's tenure has been entirely influenced by slot machines and other non-racing projects involving, supposedly, entertainment. In his speech he talked about a "high-end lounge format" for offtrack betting parlors, which is downright nonsense, as so many of these so-called posh establishments have closed over the past 10 years or so, due to lack of interest, and the Turf Lounge in downtown Toronto, which really is a splendid place, is closed on Sundays because of a lack of business. E.P. Taylor, Woodbine's founder and the man who put Canadian racing on the international stage would roll over in his grave if he knew what was becoming of his legacy.

As for Duncker, he obviously he hasn't been reading about how slots are not the answer, evidenced by the fact that so few major players wanted to manage the New York Racing Association's casino contract. Slots elsewhere did generate considerable revenue at the outset, but interest and net returns look to be waning. The most concerning aspect is that those who profited (Woodbine Entertainment, for example) have done little else than boost purses, pay off debt, and improve capital assets, for the benefit of a few elite insiders, rather than fulfill their mandate: improving the profile of a declining sport.

Today there isn't a top stallion standing in Canada, next to no new owners have appeared on the scene, even with huge prize money, and the sport in general has less presence than ever, with a handle that is sustained only by remote betting via the likes of TVG  . . . a very unrewarding long-term prospect.

Unfortunately the sport is in the hands of dreamers who, in a King Canute-like delusion, honestly think that casinos and virtual racing will bring back the glory days.

Horse racing is real racing. It's a no-brainer, and should be promoted as such.

Robin Dawson - Toronto

Optimism leads down unwise path

I do not buy the enthusiasm of the industry figures quoted in "Speakers stick to the positive news" (Aug 25).

First of all, the selection of an operator for a casino at Aqueduct may not necessarily be a done deal, as the New York Daily News recently reported that the proposed operator may have organized criminal ties in China.

Second, with handle declining, more and more state governments will balk at subsidizing racing with slot-machine revenue. Delaware Park was one of the first to get the slot revenue, and now its racing is struggling to survive because of slot money at Philadelphia Park and Penn National.

Lastly, anyone who believes the rhetoric of Keeneland's president about increasing handle via high-definition is being foolish.
Racing in America needs to follow the model in England. Less is better.

Russell Burghard - Melville, N.Y.