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.