It was just a small item buried
in the middle of the Thoroughbred Times TODAY, last November 19, but it
aroused in me a deep sense of foreboding as an omen of a dark future for
“Mountaineer Race Track, the Chester, West Virginia, track officially has changed its name from Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort to Mountaineer Casino Resort and Racetrack."
“Spokeswoman Tamara Petit told the Associated Press that the change reflects the facility’s newfound diversity and will be used as part of a new marketing campaign. Mountaineer. . .opened 37 poker tables on October 19 and plans to add more tables plus another 50 games, such as blackjack and roulette, by January 1.”
That little announcement was followed by another in the December 29 Blood-Horse:
“Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack received approval for its master plan from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Dec. 18 and how has a permanent license to operate slot machines.”
So now, in less than a month, two racetracks have dropped the silly pretense that horses and horse racing are their raison d’etre and have openly acknowledged that the casino is now the primary emphasis of their operation.
While both announcements were undoubtedly greeted with exuberance from short-sighted horsemen who view slots as “the savior of our sport” because they do result in increased purses, they just sent me back to an article in U.S. News & World Report which I have been saving since March of 1994. The theme of the issue was “How Casinos Empty Your Wallet,” but I was particularly fascinated by one of the articles, “Tricks Of The Trade – The many modern ways casinos try to part bettors from their cash.” That article is important enough to warrant a complete column in and of itself—and it will be the subject of my next one—but the essence of this column is that, while slots, etc., may provide a temporary fix to racing’s major problem, they are not in any way a solution for racing and we who are concerned with the long-term future of our industry had better be looking at all these things as something to help us through a rough spot while we devise a more permanent solution to our problems, rather than as a solution in and of themselves.
While the majority of today’s racetrack operators apparently regard the average fan as a necessary evil to be barely tolerated, not welcomed, casino operators spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to develop new fans, to get the existing ones to come back more often, to bet more and to stay longer when they do.
“Casinos have become pop-psych laboratories,” the article notes and continues, “. . . sensitivity to customer comfort abounds.
“Over a year, a special promotion or interior-design element that somehow keeps gamblers at play for just five more minutes a night can add millions to a casino’s gross.”
The point here is that casino operators are businessmen and not sports fans. No matter how much we welcome them—and their money—if they haven’t done so already, it’s not going to take them long to figure out, as have Mountaineer and Philadelphia Park, that racing operations generate a very low percentage of their income and a very high percentage of their expenses.
Then, I suspect that we’re going to see a lot more name changes. . . and I’m afraid a lot of them will not just reverse the order of the priorities in their names; they may just drop the racing part entirely.