Tag Archives: Instant Racing

Campbell “indicates” sale of land parcel to Native American tribe

From the Michigan HBPA website

JERRY CAMPBELL SPEAKS TO HBPA BOARD: During agreement discussions, Jerry (Campbell, owner of Pinnacle Race Course) indicated to the members attending the meeting that he is involved in serious effort to offer Instant Racing (pari-mutuel wagering on old races).  In addition, he indicated that a portion of Pinnacle property south of the current structure has been sold to a Native American tribe that may build a “smoke shop” and potentially a casino. According to Jerry both endeavors are to offer millions to our purse pool. It is a an effort to save an industry whose “model is broken and must be addressed or the industry can not survive.”

No other information was immediately available, but if these “indications” are true, this could be a potential game changer. Instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with the tribal casinos, it appears Campbell has cut a deal with one of them. For those unfamiliar with the setup of Pinnacle Race Course, the track itself is built well off the road, leaving plenty of room for expansion on the property.

The tribe purchasing the land was not named in the HBPA’s release. However, it is worth noting that the Upper Peninsula-based Hannahville Indian Community applied last October to build a casino near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, about five miles away from Pinnacle. Clearly, this is only speculation on the writer’s part, but an agreement of this caliber would have clear benefits for both parties. Pinnacle would get its casino and the Hannahville tribe would have the extra bargaining chips of supporting the racing industry and building on a site that already hosts gambling. Or, the deal could have been made with a completely different tribe and this idea was a complete whiff. One would assume we will find out in the near future.

Another question that immediately comes to mind is how the potential casino money would be distributed. The HBPA’s release suggests the purse pool would be a benefactor, but horsemen’s programs including breeder’s awards are not addressed. Again, additional details are sure to come out as time goes on.

A move like this could explain Campbell’s relative silence in regards to the two casino petitions currently battling for a place on November’s ballot. If the deal with the Native American tribe goes as planned, the track would have no need for racino legislation. If it falls through, Campbell has a safety net in the ballot proposal.

Instant racing has been suggested in Michigan for several years, but its legality in the face of Proposal 04-1 has generated mixed results from attorneys and lawmakers. The poster child for instant racing is the state of Arkansas, whose Oaklawn Park was ready to offer Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated champion Zenyatta $5 million to square off before the former’s connections backed out.

For those with access to the print edition of Thoroughbred Times, senior writer Frank Angst wrote a feature in the April 17, 2010 issue that did a great job of explaining how instant racing works and how it has changed the culture at Oaklawn. Those seeking more information on the issue would be wise to seek out the story.

It will be interesting to see how these stories develop in the coming months.

In related news, the HBPA website also reports…

PINNACLE/HBPA: Both have reached an agreement to enable the 2010 season to get underway….backside to open May 15 and track for training Monday 17th…meet will consist of 44 race days thru Oct. 31, 2010. This agreement has been presented to the MGCB for their approval. Live racing to begin June 26th thru Oct. 31, 2010

An agreement has been executed by both parties.

However, an informal meeting was held Friday May 7 to discuss the possibility of changing the current agreement. The Michigan HBPA board will address the suggested changes ASAP.

Suggested changes include the possibility of moving opening day back to June 4 and terms of financial assistance to Pinnacle.

If any changes are made to Pinnacle’s schedule, they’ll be here as soon as they become public.

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Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

House committee shoots down expanded gaming research bill

From the Michigan HBPA website

COMMITTEE SAYS NO: House Appropriations Committee Chair, Representative Cushingberry on Tues. Oct. 13th did not get the support from the committee to move HB 5012 to the floor for a vote. HB 5012 approved a study of Pull Tabs and Instant Racing (archived races). There was opposition from Greek Town Casino and other groups. Representative Simpson of Jackson has taken on the challenge of Pull Tabs and Instant Racing, a plan is expected to separate the the two and attempt on an individual basis.

Not much else has been reported on the subject, but if anything comes out, you know where to find it.

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Executive order dissolves Office of Racing Commissioner

The Michigan News reports Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an executive order yesterday, combining several existing state departments into the new Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

In the same order, Granholm abolished Michigan’s Office of Racing Commissioner, and consolidated horse racing activities into the Michigan Gaming Control Board. The board’s executive director, Richard S. Kalm, will “perform the functions of Racing Commissioner.”

In other news out of Lansing, WXYZ – Channel 7 in Detroit reports the state’s House Appropriations Committee may soon vote to spend $20,000 to study expanded gaming options at Michigan’s racetracks to increase revenues. The two options under consideration are instant racing and electronic pull tab machines. The report notes any adopted plan will likely be met with lawsuits.

Right now, I am on a complementary one-hour wi-fi connection in a Lexington, KY McDonald’s, so this post has to be short and sweet. Expect more information as it becomes available and my connection improves.

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Filed under Politics

The Alternative Scene: Part Two – ADW, Card Rooms, etc.

The question of what forms of alternative wagering fall under the restrictions of Proposal 04-1 continues to plague Michigan racing as it looks to expand its product. Tizzy's Prospector is led to the Pinnacle winner's circle with Alex Estrada aboard.

The question of what forms of alternative wagering fall under the restrictions of Proposal 04-1 continues to plague Michigan racing as it looks to expand its product. Tizzy's Prospector is led to the Pinnacle winner's circle with Alex Estrada aboard.

Though slot machines got the winner’s share of my recent poll, they are by no means the only method racetracks are trying to expand their product.

Many tracks are taking their game online with advance deposit wagering, while others are expanding on the casino concept with card rooms or instant racing machines.

Though all three (and throw slots in there, too) are completely different ways to get action, Michigan appears to be stonewalled in terms of implementing any of them by Proposal 04-1.

The brilliantly written (by tribal/casino interests) proposal requires any interest outside of the tribal and Detroit-based casinos to pass local and statewide referendums before getting the go-ahead to install video lottery terminals. Though it was sold to the public in the 2004 election as a way for them to control gambling in the state, the ballot issue instead gave the casinos free reign to expand while handcuffing their competition – the racetracks.

But, like Mark McGwire, I’m not here to talk about the past. What I am here to talk about is how the proposal’s vague language affects the present and future of racing in Michigan. 

Because of the ballot’s less than specific wording, it could, and has, been argued that any of the aforementioned forms of alternative wagering fall under Prop 1’s umbrella. The amount of money and labor required to get such an issue on two ballots has hindered efforts to get any kind of expanded gaming off the ground in Michigan. 

Obviously, this takes millions of hypothetical dollars out of the pockets of the Michigan racing industry. However, according to Michigan HBPA Executive Director Gary Tinkle, it is holding back tens of millions of actual dollars as well.

In an email exchange with Tinkle, he said over $50 million was wagered by Michigan residents through ADW services in 2008 despite their illegality in this state. While some online wagering services allow users to play Pinnacle or Hazel Park, Michiganders are not legally allowed to bet on races in their home state (or anywhere else, for that matter) unless it is at the track itself or by simulcast. Tinkle said because these wagers are not  legally recognized, Michigan’s tracks, the state, and the horsemen do not get a cut from the monies wagered as they would from a simulcast bet.

The situation is further complicated by the actual location of the wagers. Though the person placing an online wager may reside in Michigan, the hub in which the bets are actually placed is in a state where online wagering is allowed (I keep hearing about this hub in Oregon. Must do good business). This brings about the dilemma of where the bet actually originated.

Is the stay-at-home Michigan handicapper in the wrong if he plays a race out-of-state and his money never has to enter his own state limits? Apparently yes, but there are so many gray areas to Michigan’s ADW laws that the definition of what is and isn’t kosher might depend on who you ask. Either way, things would be much less complicated (and I would be more likely to actually know what I was talking about) if Michigan were just allowed to legalize ADW already.

Another alternative wagering option that has found its way into some racetracks are card rooms. With the World Series of Poker and movies like “21” bringing card games into mainstream consciousness, tracks like Canterbury Park in Minnesota are capitalizing on the popularity.

Though Proposal 1 explicitly outlaws “table games” at the racetracks, Great Lakes Downs played host to poker games for two or three years before it shut its doors in 2007. The defunct Muskegon track apparently found a loophole by hosting charity poker games with the proceeds going to some worthy cause instead of the purse pools. To my knowledge, the only money the track got out of the deal was a fee for renting the space – a far cry from the money brought in from established card rooms.

The one flaw that hurts the viability of card rooms is it’s the only alternative wagering option that can be done just as well without having to go to a casino or racetrack. Though some games are dependent on dealers, such as blackjack, the current big-ticket game, poker, is played for real money in garages, basements and game rooms around the world. One can grab a beer, go to the weekly poker night in his buddy’s basement and lose 20 bucks just as easily as he can go to the local racetrack’s card room, and he doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about his personal conduct.

An interesting option gaining steam both nationally and in Michigan is instant racing. The machines allow users to wager on stripped-down versions of previously run races on a device resembling a self-service terminal. Oaklawn Park in Arkansas was the early adopter of the new form of wagering and saw its purses and field sizes rise. An interesting piece on instant racing can be found on The Thoroughbred Brief, written by guest poster John M. Lockwood, Esq. outlines some facts and issues surrounding the games.

The challenge facing instant racing machines is state Supreme Courts don’t seem to know what to make of them. As Lockwood’s editorial notes, some states have ruled them as pari-mutuel wagering the same as the actual live races and gave them the go-ahead. A recent push to get instant racing legalized in Michigan banked on rulings like this, but so far, little has come from it. Other states have labeled them a closer relative of  the slot machine and treated them as such.

Of the three alternative wagering options discussed in this post, instant racing would appear to have the least immediate drawing power. People know what poker is and most can wrap their minds around online wagering. Not much explanation needed. Putting a sign out front that reads “Instant Racing”, however is not quite the slam dunk. Some advertising or other form of public education would probably be needed to get the person on the street both aware and interest in what instant racing has to offer. The risk seemed to work in Arkansas, other racetracks might not be so lucky.

Like slot machines, there is still a sense of trial and error associated with these forms of alternative wagering. In most cases, the results appear promising, but the permanent effects of expanded gaming on the racing industry remain to be seen. When a track can perfect the balance between the races and the alternative wagering without making one of them a sideshow, that operation stands to make a good deal of money.

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Filed under Commentary, Great Lakes Downs, Polls

The Alternative Scene: Part One – Slot Machines/Racinos

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering.

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering like slot machines, but can the good times last?

In a poll that went about three and a half months longer than planned, the readers of this blog voted convincingly that slot machines are the most important form of alternative wagering for the long-term health of the racing industry. 

The voting was neck-and-neck between slots and advance deposit wagering in the poll’s early goings. As time wore on, slots pulled away to an insurmountable lead. 

Let’s have a look at the results…

Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?

Slot Machines – 58% (123 votes)
Advance Deposit Wagering – 22% (46 votes)
We don’t need no stinking alternative wagering – 8% (18 votes)
Instant Racing – 6% (13 votes)
Card Rooms – 3% (6 votes)
Other – 3% (7 votes)

Total votes: 213

“Other” answers (some of the answers could be placed in one of the categories above, but because they were placed in “other,” I am keeping them here):
– “table games, that’s what they want, only slots is not the answer”
– “telephone/Internet wagering”
– “All of the above”
– “exchange betting”
– “Simulacast”
– “Racino”
– “nothing we’re dooooooooomed”

There is no question slots have had an impact on the racing industry, and will continue to do so. Just look at the career path of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. 

The classic winner started his career at Woodbine, enjoying slots-enriched purses on his way to nabbing the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top juvenile. His earnings in Canada alone were enough to secure him an invitation to the big dance at Churchill Downs, which removed the pressure from taking the road to Louisville going through New Mexico.

Mine That Bird worked his way through the Derby preps at Sunland Park, which would have been a laughable strategy only ten years ago, and is unorthodox at best today. With the help of alternative wagering (mainly casino-style gaming) in 2009, the Sunland Derby offered a purse of $900,000, among the biggest prizes offered to three-year-olds in the country.

The race was not graded, and Mine That Bird finished off the board, but his eventual win in the Kentucky Derby put New Mexico in a position to become a legitimate path on the Derby trail. The little Birdstone gelding that could’s success has spearheaded the campaign to get the Sunland Derby designated a graded stakes race, officially making it more than a cash-grab race for Derby wannabes.

Simply put, without casino-style gaming, Mine That Bird is clunking around the California allowance ranks, Calvin Borel doesn’t tearfully celebrate his biggest upset on national television, Sunland Park still runs cheap Quarter Horses, West Side Bernie wins the Kentucky Derby and nobody goes home happy.

The story doesn’t end there. Just recently, the connections of Mine That Bird spurned the Haskell Invitational, and a rematch with Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, to challenge the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. If Mountaineer were still in the slums of the racing hierarchy, as it was before the implementation of slots, a trip through the hills of West Virginia wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of team Mine That Bird (even if the gamble did blow up in their faces, leaving with a third-place finish).

Alternative wagering, slots in particular, does not only give gamblers more options at the racetrack. It also leads to horsemen having the option to try their charges in spots previously considered no-man’s land for horses with any class. Mountaineer landed a Kentucky Derby winner. Charles Town landed Commentator for the Charles Town Classic. Last year, Hoosier Park enticed Pyro, once considered one of his crop’s heavyweights, to enter the Indiana Derby. There is a $1 million race in the middle of Pennsylvania for crying out loud.

Even if for a brief moment, racinos can draw the big horses to come to your local track and thrust it into the national spotlight. If a few curious onlookers become serious followers of the sport, the track will be ahead for the day – and all thanks to a room full of retirees mindlessly hitting the “spin again” button.

However, the honeymoon between racing and slots may soon be coming to an end.

Many racino tracks are still struggling to find an identity for themselves, especially when the quality of racing has yet to catch up with the caliber of purses being offered.

Despite becoming a beacon for horsemen from non-racino states (just take a look at all the Michigan-based connections racing at Presque Isle Downs), Pennsylvania still faces issues with keeping the balance between the racetrack and the casino. Further complicating the situation is the radical discrepancy between the money the live handle kicks into the purse structure versus the purse money generated by the slots (as high as 20-to-1 at Presque Isle). According to the article linked to in this paragraph, Pennsylvania racing’s heavy reliance on the slot machine dollar paired with its difficulty generating its own funds could be seen as a sign of blood in the water by other groups looking to profit from gambling monies.

Though it has been confirmed at Prairie Meadows, an Iowa racino, that live racing actually boosts the slots revenue, the track plans to restructure its schedule for next year, with plans to jettison standardbred racing and ask for fewer Thoroughbred dates. While purses have steadily risen, live handle has steadily dipped despite being one of the first racetracks to adopt casino-style gaming.

The racetracks of today are the lab rats in the study of the miracle cure known as slot machines. Tracks with slots get the medicine – tracks without get the placebo. Early returns appear positive, but the side effects are still being discovered. Little is known about the long-term effects slot machines will have on the racing industry because they have only been around for the short-term. Proponents say slots will bring racing to an even playing field with competitors and will encourage the breeding of better competitors, while others worry the bottom line will eventually drive the “Rac” in “Racino” to become a full-blown “Cas”.

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but as it stands right now, there is only one way to find out.

A poll running this long deserves a post just as lengthy. To help preserve your eyes and attention spans, I am splitting it up into two separate entries. The next post, examining some of the poll’s runner-ups, will be up whenever I get around to writing it. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Filed under Commentary, Polls