The proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube.
The number of states seeing their purses skyrocket from slot machines and other casino gaming is growing with each passing year.
Just as many racetracks, if not more, are going online for new sources of handle, offering advance deposit wagering for those of us who like to play the races but fear natural sunlight.
With so much competition for the gambling dollar from casinos, lotteries, neighborhood poker games and elsewhere, it appears the days of racing being able to thrive on its own product alone are becoming numbered.
Even Kentucky, the Thoroughbred capital of the world, is working toward legislation to implement slots into the state’s racetracks.
The implementation of alternative wagering is also widening the gap between functional racing facilities and ones that struggle to keep the lights on.
Michigan, for example, has no alternative wagering options outside of simulcast and is suffering because of it.
In 2004, a ballot proposal, largely funded by the state’s Native American tribes and three casinos in Detroit, was convincingly approved forcing the state’s racetracks to jump through a ridiculous and costly number of hoops to even get a chance to install slots or table games. In the same proposal, the tribes and Detroit casinos included a clause making themselves immune to the restrictions and free to expand their gaming operations in any manner they wish. To put the final nail in the coffin, the proposal was retroactive, killing a Video Lottery Terminal bill that was making its way through State Congress when the proposal was written.
The proposal was marketed as a way to empower the people of Michigan, allowing them to control where new gaming could and could not go. As any good Snake Oil salesman will attest, the first step in manipulating the masses is giving them a false sense of empowerment. Despite what a federal judge said earlier this year, a fast one of epic proportions was pulled on the people of Michigan in 2004.
Online wagering on Michigan tracks is also prohibited to its populace. Michigan residents are allowed to set up accounts and send their money to tracks across the globe, but can not wager on the ones in their own state. A person who lives on the other side of the Ohio border just a few miles from Pinnacle Race Course can fire up their Xpressbet account and play the races in his or her underwear. Meanwhile, the Michigan racing fan living in the state’s upper peninsula, a good eight-to-ten-hour drive from New Boston, is out of luck. There is something backward about outlawing something to the group that could benefit from it the most.
Through all of this, the number of tribal casinos in Michigan has swelled to 17, with at least two more in development. This does not include The Great Lakes Downs property recently purchased by the Little River Tribe of Ottawa Indians in 2008, which currently sits in administrative purgatory while the Tribe attempts to get a gaming license on non-tribal land.
The Michigan Lottery has also expanded quite freely, and since its inception in 1972 has ballooned to over 20 different drawings, Club Keno, Pull Tabs and countless instant ticket games; all of which are allowed to expand their presence into gas stations, bars, restaurants and elsewhere. The Michigan racing industry is literally being regulated by its competition.
Racing in the state of Michigan can not be expected to survive it is not allowed the same rights of expansion as other gaming outlets in the state and other racetracks in neighboring states.
Because of the state’s unwillingness to provide its racing industry with the tools it needs to compete on a level playing field, Michigan’s horsemen are leaving in droves. With Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs and two recently slots-enriched tracks in Indiana so nearby, many horsemen are sending their mares to foal in those states to take advantage of their generous breeder’s incentive programs. Others are simply pulling up the stakes and moving their entire operations to states with alternative wagering.
It is sad to see them go, but when a $7,500 claimer can run for double the purse elsewhere, one can hardly blame Michigan’s horsemen for going where the money is. If Kentucky approves slots, it will only give them another place to race for lots more money than they could here. The effects the massive loss of horsemen in this state could have is staggering.
I will now step down from my soapbox and allow you to step up onto yours for the next poll question: Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?
Though I use Michigan as an example, the question applies to the sport as a whole.
Slots make the purses nice and big, but is it just a bubble that will eventually burst? Account wagering allows players to wager from anywhere, but could it someday render live handle obsolete? Is there something out there no one has considered?
Personally, I think Michigan could use whatever it can get.