I recently attend the Global Symposium of Racing held in Tucson, AZ on 12 /6-7/2016. This is my report and observations. The main topics that were discussed had to to with racing's future, its past and the present and what is required for it to continue to be relevant and viable. In this regard, a panel of experts discussed what racing is. The first question was whether it a sport, entertainment, gambling or ? The panel concluded that it is all three but much more. It is the merging of the human athlete and the horse which creates an athletic event that is special for horse lovers, racing fans and bettors alike.
Probably the most important topic considered was "Racinos: Is the Marriage Headed for Divorce?" Lonnie Powell from the Florida TB Owners and Breeders presented the fact that in a number of jurisdictions racing is being marginalized and in some cases eliminated all together in favor of operating slots and other forms of gaming. The irony of this is that it was gaming laws that were enacted to provide a positive stimulus to the horseracing industry and not the other way around. His cautionary tale was that Horsemen need to be vigilant and prepared for such efforts by ractrack owners to emphasize the casino and to marginalize and abandon racing. His best advice was to hire a good lobbyist, lawyer up if necessary and have prepared in hand a current, objective, economic impact study to demonstrate the positive monetary impact of horseracing on the jurisdiction where racing takes place. His message was sobering but not unanticipated given the demise of racing at Calder and other racetracks in favor of slots and other forms of gambling. Easier to furnish a large room with slot machines than to stable race horses and all the other labor intesive work that goes with it.
Penn Gaming weighed in on this topic. It spoke of the diminished breeding of race horses in New Mexico and other jurisdictions which has lead to less horses available to run and a more difficult racing environment in wagering and fan support. This is something that we as Horsemen have heard for sometime now. The representative from Penn Gaming did little to explain what it was doing with regard efforts to bring back lost racing fans or other ideas to improve the sport.
My opinion as a Horseman is that the future is actually bright for racing.
This was confirmed by Woodbine's presentation. At Woodbine slots came in several years ago resulting in ever larger purses. A fiscal crisis in the province of Ontario where Woodbine is located led to take backs by the Government. Woodbine then did the right thing. It presented its positive economic impact to the Government (over 1 Billion Canadian $ per year) and in partnership with Horsemen successfully lobbied to regain much of what was lost. In turn it also came up with novel ways to appreciate both fans of gaming and racing. It successfully merged entertainment, the sport of racing and gaming into a viable partnership. A win win for all. The fans won, Woodbine won, the Horsemen won and the government of Ontario won.
With optimism tempered by good information, positive good will and action our sport will flourish as it should.
Horsemen produce a wonderful product and that must be showcased.