A good indicator of the racing industry’s health in a given state is the number of mares it sends to the breeding shed.
This is a factor I try to illustrate whenever I explain Michigan’s situation to those unfamiliar with the industry. Because I am a strong believer in visual aids when giving a presentation, I decided to put together a chart to describe the breeding industry in the state of Michigan, compare it to other states in the region and explain the impact of alternative wagering on everyone involved.
It is no secret that horsemen are flocking to states with casino gaming at its racetracks. The fact will inevitably be brought up in any discussion about alternative wagering in a state that lacks it. However, the point is driven home when the figures are in clear sight.
Let’s have a look at the chart…
Thoroughbred Mares Bred in the Great Lakes Region by State, 1998-2009
So what can we learn from these figures?
First and foremost, breeders are taking their mares where their foals can make the most money. The top three states listed in this sample are “racino states” (Because of its clear breeding advantage in the region, Kentucky was not included in the sample). The increased purse structure that comes with expanded gaming not only gives the horses themselves the best chance to earn a good living, it trickles down to the breeders in the form of incentive programs.
Also worthy of note is that in 1998, two of the three leading states (Indiana and West Virginia) actually bred fewer mares than Michigan. Today, both states breed several hundred more.
The clear exception to this rule is West Virginia, whose figures have actually decreased since installing full-blown slots in 2006. Two factors may be responsible for this. First, West Virginia installed slots at the same time as neighboring Pennsylvania. The 2007 debut of Presque Isle Downs, about 135 miles away from Mountaineer, also helped draw horses out of West Virginia. Second, the breeder’s incentive program in Pennsylvania is quite lucrative. Boosting the purses only made it that much juicier. Here, have a look for yourself…
However, West Virginia enjoyed a major boost throughout the first half of the decade. It was the first state in the region to adopt expanded gaming in 1999 when it installed coin-operated video lottery terminals. With the help of the VLTs, West Virginia pulled itself up from the dregs of the racing world to the point where the state actually led the region in mares bred in 2004. Despite the recent dropoff, West Virginia remains well ahead of the game from where it began.
Another conclusion that can be drawn from the data is racino states are drawing mares away from non-racino states. The poster child for this observation is Ohio, a state flanked by one armed bandits in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. Eleven years ago, the Buckeye State accounted for a comparable number of mares bred to Pennsylvania and was well ahead any of its other neighbors (excluding Kentucky).
As more and more states allowed its tracks to install casino-style gaming, the breeding totals in Ohio began to plummet. In 2009, the state is in danger of breeding fewer than 200 mares, a figure that would have seemed unheard of less than a decade ago.
Other states in the region without any forms of alternative wagering, Illinois and Michigan, have also seen significant drops as their neighbors reaped the benefits.
Once the cornerstone of the Great Lakes region, Illinois has seen its breeding totals cut in half over the last decade. Michigan’s drop off has been just as drastic, with a decrease of over 40 percent in the last year alone.
As these figures demonstrate, the benefits of installing alternative wagering are quite apparent on the breeding industry of that state. The increased purses and breeder’s incentives make them attractive places for horses to send their mares, which in turn improves the reputation of that state’s racing industry. At the same time, neighboring states without expanded gaming will be adversely affected as its horsemen migrate to states where they can make the most money.
Racinos have the ability to shift the balance of power in a region. It is time for the state of Michigan to decide which side of the scale it wants to sit.