Bad week for horse racing

March 25, 2012

Almost immediately after Beyer’s column, this feature, highlighting equine and jockey injuries, and a host of other problems, shows up in the New York Times.

You heard it here first . . .

March 21, 2012

It looks as if some jurisdictions that have propped racing up with VLT or slot revenues are having second thoughts, especially given racing’s poor record in taking advantage of the opportunities for recovery those cash infusions provided.  The spate of equine fatalities on Aqueduct’s inner dirt track this winter — possibly caused in part by horsemen running unsound stock to chase inflated purses — did not help.  A perceptive column by Andrew Beyer in the Daily Racing Form gives the latest details from around the country.  Some of the readers’ comments also are spot-on, though I did not see any addressing what I believe is one of the biggest drags on racing in New York – the New York Bred program, which subsidizes inferior stock racing for inflated prices.  Some of the NYB program is funded off the bettors via increased takeout, and some by the VLT patrons, via a tax of 1% on gross VLT revenues.  Here in my view are the top reforms necessary to give racing a chance at viability:

Shorter seasons at fewer tracks — quality and scarcity, which has worked (to an extent) at Saratoga, Del Mar, Monmouth, Gulfstream, etc.

Lower takeout (and elimination of breakage for wagering account bettors) — to the extent VLT revenue continues, some should be dedicated to that purpose; NYB program should be reduced to awarding NYB horses bonuses for placing in open races, eliminating the NYB only races at ridiculously inflated purses for the quality of entrants, and no part of it should be funded out of the parimutuel takeout

Promotions designed to incentivize potential bettors, not those who snap up freebies and run away before racing starts to sell them on e-Bay

Free parking, free admission, free past performance info, free grandstand seating and comps for larger bettors, as in Las Vegas

Outreach to potential fans, targeted toward the young, people who gamble in other venues, fans of other sports

Coordination of starting times for OTB and simulcast patrons, who would bet on more races if starting times were more evenly spaced out

Whether racing can compete on its own merits against other forms of sporting competition and gambling is an open question, but it does not have a chance without better management willing to introduce bold new policies.

Wendover, NV

March 19, 2012

I recently visited friends in the Salt Lake City, UT area for some skiing and other recreation. I took two trips to Wendover, NV, a small town on the border about 115 miles west of SLC. Its primary attraction seems to be as a gambling destination for citizens of Utah, where no gambling of any kind is allowed.

Wendover appears to have about five casinos, the three largest of which are owned by the Peppermill company. I found lots of low-limit single deck blackjack paying 3:2 for a snapper, and lots of 9/6 jacks or better video poker, including a great $1 progressive machine that registered over $5,000 on the meter for a royal flush (at $4800 for the royal, a 9/6 jacks machine turns “positive,” giving the player an expectation of over 100% return). Unfortunately, the machines were gone by our second trip.

Wendover is similar to other Nevada towns I’ve seen at borders with other states, such as Primm and Mesquite. Capital OTB has outposts based on the same principle near the borders of Canada and Massachusetts. However, with the proliferation of gambling, these outposts may not much longer be necessary, which could deal a blow to their local economies.

On our second trip, my friend and I took a bus. It afforded nice views of the Great Salt Lake and the salt flats, but I was surprised at how much drinking went on (though strictly prohibited). I guess Utah’s strict liquor laws don’t work all that well.

Smoking – sacred cows

March 4, 2012

Regular readers know that I occasionally like to visit casinos to partake in blackjack, video poker and other games of chance.  For me, one of the worst things about visiting these establishments is the smoke. Maybe because they can’t smoke indoors anywhere else, smokers in casinos seem to go at it with a vengeance.  The accommodations for non-smokers in most casinos are wholly inadequate.

Why should those who patronize and work in casinos have to put up with an annoyance and something that has been proven to endanger their health, and that government has seen fit to ban in virtually all other public indoor spaces?

In Atlantic City a few years ago, a casino smoking ban was introduced but soon thereafter rescinded on the ground that it hurt business.  I find this hard to believe and, even if true, an appalling disregard by the government for the health of its citizens.  The same goes for the majority of gambling jurisdictions that haven’t even had the guts to try a smoking ban.

I’ve read that the casinos to be built in Massachusetts under recently-passed legislation all will be required to be smoke free.  If that turns out to be true, it will be a very strong reason for me to consider switching from the places at which I now regularly gamble to those in the Bay State.


March 4, 2012

Charities have a tough time raising money in this economy. Many are becoming more aggressive in terms of the frequency of mail solicitations and in using professional fund-raising firms to conduct telephone solicitations.

I have had some success in cutting down on mailings when I’ve returned a note with a contribution stating: “I am pleased to make the enclosed contribution, but it will be the only one I can make this year. Please do not send additional mailings, as I will not be able to respond to them. Also, please do not send me “gifts,” such as address labels, note pads and the like.” A few charities even have thanked me for asking to be put on a “reduced mailing list” and have kept their solicitations to a minimum.

Thanks to caller ID, you don’t have to answer the phone if you don’t know who’s calling (or if you know it’s someone you don’t want to talk to). You can also try telling the caller you do not respond to phone solicitations, and request that the calls stop.

While I can understand charities competing harder for the limited amounts available, I wish they would be more respectful of the public — especially those who have given in the past — by limiting the number and intrusiveness of their requests for donations.