Archive for slots

Monmouth Park Strives Toward Success Without Slots

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Finley of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Don’t ever count Monmouth Park out

They put on their game faces at the the annual press conference they held Tuesday to kick off the 2014 meet at Monmouth Park. Ask any track executive and they will tell you they are optimistic about the meet that begins Saturday, about the future and that these are exciting times for the classy racetrack on the Jersey Shore. It’s not that they’re lying; it’s that they’re conveniently skipping over the messy parts.

These are in fact difficult times for one of the sport’s crown jewels. To be in one of the few states up and down the east coast without revenues from alternative gaming has put Monmouth at a huge disadvantage. Bettors want to bet on full fields and classy horses. The way you get big fields and good horses is to offer fat purses. For slots tracks, that’s easy. For Monmouth, it’s a huge challenge, and one they haven’t always overcome.

The track loses money and the only way it can put out a decent racing product is to limit its season to 57 days at Monmouth plus 14 days of turf racing at the Meadowlands. It’s far from a perfect situation, but it allows Monmouth to survive and hope for better days.

“We’ll do what we have to do to survive,” said Dennis Drazin, an advisor to the management group that runs the track, a group that includes the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “Monmouth Park will never close under my watch.”

Don’t doubt him for a minute. Drazin is among the more driven and creative executives in the industry and he absolutely loves Monmouth Park. Teaming up with long-time track general manager Bob Kulina, they realized there were plenty of areas of the track that sat empty and could be put to use. Starting slowly, they put in a mini-golf course. Next year, they will add a concert amphitheater that holds 7,500 fans, an upscale restaurant and a boardwalk. These ancillary businesses will create revenue that will go toward operating costs and purses.

“These other businesses benefit racing to the extent that, first of all, you have to make a profit and cover your expenses,” Drazin said. “The money will first and foremost help with our operational costs because we need to have money for operations to survive, but a sliver also goes to purses. There is a formula that basically takes 20 percent out of these extra things that we’re doing and sliding it over to the purse structure. ”

So if you blow $20 on the ring toss on the Monmouth boardwalk a small part of that will go toward purses.

Drazin and his right-hand man Bob Kulina project that the revenue from the new on-track businesses can make operating the track a break-even proposition. But they are hoping for much better than that.

Like everyone else that doesn’t have slot machines they want slot machines. New Jersey racing doesn’t have them because political forces friendly to the Atlantic City casino industry won’t allow in-state competition. But the conventional wisdom is that with business so bad in Atlantic City sooner or later the state government will have no choice but to expand gaming.

Drazin has also been fighting hard to have sports betting legalized at the state’s racetracks and casinos. If that ever happened, it might be a gold mine for the sport. The first few rounds in court have been lost and the case has now been presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to decide before the end of June whether or not it will take the case.

They may or may not get sports betting. They may or may not get slots. But what is certain is they won’t give up when many others would have long ago.

Monmouth is different. It is run by people who love horse racing and can’t bear to see a racetrack with so much history and charm be bulldozed over, replaced by a condo development.

“For those of us at Monmouth it’s all about the love of the game,” Drazin said.

Too many racing managements are driven by nothing more than the bottom line and/or their devotion to their beloved casinos, and that’s not good for the sport.

You can’t root hard enough for these guys.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Politics and Racing Collide in Toronto and Woodbine Loses

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Mike Veitch of The Saratogian…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Woodbine Racetrack’s slots and racing coming to an end

What is the Ontario government thinking?

Injured by a bitter political dispute, the model program of slots and racing at Woodbine in Toronto is coming to an end next month.

Widely viewed as the most successful marriage of its kind, the Woodbine example produced the highest gross purses in North America, and attracted leading owners from the United States to participate in quality racing at a marvelous facility.

Since the institution of track slots in 2000, Woodbine has paid out, on average, some $500,000 per day during the racing season of early April to early December.

The partnership ends on Mar. 31, and Woodbine reacted by eliminating more than 100 jobs on Thursday.

Woodbine has also reduced the number of days it is racing in 2013, resulting in lower gross purses for the season.

You can expect the stakes program to take a hit, although major events like the Queen’s Plate, Woodbine Mile Day, and Canadian International Day will remain this year.

“This is our problem,” said leading Woodbine horseman Reade Baker, a Sovereign Award winner as his nation’s leading conditioner and the trainer of Canadian Horses of the Year Biofuel and Fatal Bullet.

Baker was not only referring to Woodbine, but to all of racing, which is under attack from hostile politicians and activists who do not understand the game.

I fear the Woodbine move is only the beginning, for as the racing purses decline, owners and trainers are going to follow with layoffs of their own.

“This really hurts and it is extremely unfortunate,” said Baker. “I’ve known some of these people for 30 years and from where I stand they are good employees. This is a heartbreaking situation.”

One insider at Woodbine described the situation to me as “chaos,” and was clearly jolted by the job cuts, even though that sword has been hanging for the last several months.

Baker noted that racing still fights an age-old perception that is is controlled by wealthy people, when in fact most owners lose money.

And it is the dedication of those owners that supports jobs on the backstretch, where the life of thoroughbred training takes place and where these majestic athletes receive wonderful care.

Not that I’m expecting government officials to grasp that fact anytime soon.

But I do expect government officials to not use words like “subsidy” to describe the slots program at Woodbine.

When the Province of Ontario wanted to expand gambling in the 1990’s, Woodbine, under the leadership of David Willmot, stepped forward and urged the government to use the track as the socially responsible thing to do.

Further, the government would not have to find space and pay rent, but rather have a ready facility at Woodbine for slot machines.

To that end, Woodbine invested $400 million at the track for the slots component, money that the government did not have to spend.

Does that sound like a government subsidy?

As part of the deal, purses at Woodbine increased, creating a better racing product that in turn produced more pari-mutuel revenue to the government.

In their argument about ending the program, politicians pitted racing against education and health care, conveniently overlooking the benefits to both from the partnership.

Since the Woodbine slots program got underway, the provincial government has realized $17 billion and the participating tracks $4 billion.

Does that sound like a government subsidy?

What it sounds like to me is that the provincial government is going to wreck a program that is working, one that has provided employment, and one that has returned much more to Ontario than the $4 billion that the tracks have received.

The aforementioned owners from this side of the border will be making fewer trips to Toronto, meaning less revenue to hotels and restaurants.

As purses decline, they will gradually reduce their presence on the daily racing programs at Woodbine.

This is a very serious hit to thoroughbred racing, reflective of how the game continues to fall in the public arena.

Woodbine’s owners and trainers are our neighbors, and they support Saratoga racing.

Roger Attfield, Kinghaven Farm, Sam-Son Farm, Mark Frostad, Brian Lynch, Debbie England, Josie Carroll, Ralph Biamonte, and Baker come to mind immediately.

And there is a historic relationship between New York and Canadian racing, especially when it comes to Saratoga Race Course.

When legislation shut down New York racing during 1911-1912, many Saratoga owners raced at Canadian tracks such as Fort Erie, Hamilton, Blue Bonnets, and Windsor.

Racing immortals Man o’ War and Secretariat, both winners of the Hopeful Stakes, made their final career starts in Canada.

Do not think for one moment that we who love racing can ignore what is happening at Woodbine.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?