The Brock Talk

Friday, July 16, 2010

Surviving Hard Times Has Been Racing's Strength.

The Thoroughbred Bloggers’ Alliance Hot Topic of the Week is the State Of Racing. Will the current hard economic times and state ineptitude lead to a brighter racing future? Will failures in any big racing state like California, Kentucky, or New York lead to a brighter future?

It is indeed a very wide open, complicated and certainly an emotional topic and I’m not sure it can be completely addressed in one blog post. But there are specifics that can be addressed.

History tells us that difficult economic times can adversely affect the horse racing industry. Horse racing experienced it’s greatest popularity during the Great Depression when Gallant Fox, Equipoise and Discovery, donned the headlines of major sports pages and were the feature of many historical radio broadcasts at that time. In fact, 40 million people, nearly one-third of nation’s population, sat next to their radios to listen to the 1938 match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit.

The racing industry also experienced perhaps their greatest expansion into previous non pari-mutuel states during and after the recession of the early 1980s. During that decade wagering on horse racing was legalized and tracks were built in Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas and Minnesota to name a few. It was also during that decade when inter-track wagering was introduced throughout North America, eventually evolving into the different technological wagering opportunities we have today including account wagering and an almost endless simulcast menu at nearly every track.

It can also be argued that the collapse of the California real estate market has had a positive effect on the racing industry. As Hollywood Park closes their 2010 summer season this week, one has to again wonder if that will be the last race to be run at the Track of Lakes and Flowers. When Churchill Downs, Inc. sold Hollywood Park to Bay Meadows Land Company for $260 million in cash in July of 2005, the new owner was to continue thoroughbred racing at Hollywood Park for at least three years under the terms of the agreement. According to Bay Meadows officials, the continuation of Hollywood Park as a racing venue now depends on California allowing more gambling, like slot machines, to the track. But the down economy has made financing difficult for the development of the Hollywood Park property and the track continues to run – meet after meet.

In other states, legislatures are again faced with budget deficits, but it remains to be seen if horse racing will benefit. While there is no doubt that state budget cuts are having an effect on regulation in California where racing official positions are being eliminated; and New York, where the state’s bankrupt OTB facilities nearly took Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga with them; racing in other states may get a positive push from the down economy.

The most logical to benefit would be the state legislators and racing industry of Texas where slot legislation will be addressed while lawmakers face budget deficits during the next legislative session in 2011. The state’s conservatives – many of whom are still reeling from dancing being allowed at Baylor - will have to now face the possible economic impact of ignoring the potential benefits of horse racing. The state’s equine culture will also take at hit as well as which will surely bei’ts tracks are relegated further into the minor leagues of the sport if they survive at all if slot legislation is not passed.

However, it looks like horse racing in Kentucky will have to suffer some before their politicians wake up. Last year a Kentucky State Senate committee killed legislation that would have allowed slot machines at the state’s seven race tracks.

Eventually however, as history has proven before, horse racing will somehow survive the hard times. The real question will be what it may look like and what tracks survive. The best way for the industry to have any control over that is to move before the economic prey pounces upon them.

The subject of this post was suggested by the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (link), and other posts like it will be found at the TBA homepage.

1 comment:

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