States of Confusion - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the February 6, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)      

The road to the Triple Crown trail has begun, and in less than three months, all eyes will be focused on Louisville, Ky., May 1…then Baltimore, Md., May 14, and Elmont, N.Y., June 5.

The eyes of owners and breeders, however, have been focused on Kentucky, Maryland, and New York for years now, and their vision is blurred by the lunacy known as politics.

It was announced last week that Gov. David Paterson and leaders of the New York legislature have chosen Aqueduct Entertainment Group to operate the video lottery casino at Aqueduct.

It took lawmakers in New York nearly 10 years to make a decision. Well, it only took seven years (1920-1927) to build the Holland Tunnel, which runs underneath the Hudson River and connects Manhattan with New Jersey.

More important is the statistic that the state of New York has been losing an estimated $1 million a day by not having slots at Aqueduct. You can do the math to figure out what the contribution to the state coffers would have amounted to had the politicians taken “only” five years to make a decision rather than 10. Every day that has passed, not only has the state not profited, but horsemen, breeders, and the racetracks in New York have struggled while competing states have benefited from slots-rich purses and breed incentive funds.

There are still contingencies that must be met by members of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, and it must obtain legislative approval before the contract may be awarded, which means that based on the past 10 years of legal wrangling, we are still a long way from someone actually playing slots in Queens.

We may be happy that after 10 years a decision has been made, but we will hold off on the actual celebration until horsemen actually reap any benefits.

The picture in Kentucky, painted poignantly by news editor Tom LaMarra (see page 542 of the February 6, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse), is dire, and as in New York, getting more so by the day. As an editor, when someone asks for a deadline, the stock answer is “yesterday.” Well, whether you like alternative gaming or not, Kentucky needed it yesterday.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, not so much a proponent of alternative gaming as a supporter of the breeding and racing industries, has included revenue from video lottery terminals in his new budget. The move is a clever ploy by the governor, who can point to the fact more programs will have to be cut if members of the legislature do not approve an alternative gaming measure during the current session.

Slots in Kentucky have been debated for 15 years, yet the state’s signature industry continues to suffer because of the inaction by its elected officials. Only in Kentucky could the politicians make the 10 years it has taken New York to make a decision seem like a short time.

Lawsuits, foreclosures, layoffs, and bankruptcies are happening, and while it may be easy to blame the economy, the blame really lies with the Republican-led Senate in Kentucky.

Maryland’s breeding industry has been in a steady state of decline as well, and its racing product has suffered mightily, with horsemen understandably preferring to run in nearby states with larger pots infused with slots money (Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia).

In December the Anne Arundel County Council approved a zoning measure allowing slot machines at the Arundel Mills Mall, but it also passed a measure that allows slots at Laurel Park.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel and Pimlico, opposes the plan for slots at the mall, and is in support of a proposal to let voters decide if the mall is what they had in mind in 2008 when they approved slots to support the Thoroughbred industry.

We anxiously await spring and the running of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes (all gr. I). But owners, breeders, horsemen, and racetracks in Kentucky, Maryland, and New York need more than the Triple Crown races to survive. They need immediate legislative help.


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All true Dan.  The only good news is that Racing is at least in the conversation in New York, Maryland and Kentucky.  A real doomsday scenario would have alternative gaming initiated without industry players at the table.  You can already see in more forward-thinking states quietly expressing the sentiment of “tell me again why is it we needed those guy?”.   Until racing can demonstrate growth potential instead of just being the guys with their hand out, it’ll be an uphill fight to get decent splits.  Not very pretty.

02 Feb 2010 3:55 PM

Good to note that killing horse racing in New York which is controlled by the Dems and Kentucky which is controlled by the Reps is a buy-partisan effort. I still cannot figure out why any person or political group has a say in how a legal business should be operated other than those who actually have their own money at risk. Other than assuring the public that the racing and gambling is legit, gum'mint should just butt out.

02 Feb 2010 4:05 PM

It's a good thing they aren't in Pennsylvania, where the jockeys decide who can train and who can't.

Why don't they do pre-race inspections there instead?  If a horse is lame they get scratched. That way the trainers don't get ruined in the jocks room.!!!

02 Feb 2010 4:10 PM

You can add New Jersey to that list.  It was reported that the NJSEA, a government agency which runs Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands Racetrack, lost 22 mil last year.  Monmouth Park could see it's racing days cut to 50 while The Big M, the premier Standardbred track, could seize operation altogether.  The Big M sits adjacent to the new Jets/Giants stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex and could be sold to developers. The Atlantic City big-wigs would block any effort to bring slots to the Big M.  Moral to this story: it's the politicos who are ruining our game as well as everything else.

02 Feb 2010 4:51 PM

Why should racetracks get slots?If the public is sick of drugged up horses, questionable rides and horses "bouncing"and don't want to gamble on horses why should tracks get welfare.Philly Park has slots,do you think they lowered their 30%takeout on exotics? Of course not,but they have 5 claimers racing for 20 grand.

02 Feb 2010 5:25 PM

You should add Ohio to that list in your story .If you want to see politics at it's finest check these cats out !! Ohio is going on mabe 17 years with the slots issue .

02 Feb 2010 7:59 PM
Stan in NYC

With horse racing being in a complete state of anarchy, it won't be long before I start my nights handicapping the next days races at Royal Ascot, Goodwood, Longchamps, and Australasia. Yep, the powers that be here in the states  have really done a number on this game called horse-racing, and just can't seem to find a starting point to turn this thing around! To all you horseman/woman and politicians etc, thanks for nothing!

02 Feb 2010 8:38 PM

The idea that you can legislate morality is a sad joke. Kentucky horsemen are paying the price for this. The criminal act is where the politicans control people's lives. Kentucky is HORSES, obviously the Senate Majority leader has made his money some other way and now thinks he can control people's lives with his power. Make no mistake this is about power and control. He doesn't care who in the state gets hurt. The Governor is right, it is time for changes in the State House,time to elect people who actually care about the whole of Kentucky.

02 Feb 2010 9:32 PM

Synthetic surfaces, jockeys stepping up, N.J., Md., N.Y., Ky., etc. When will racing figure out they need a national commissioner ?

The states want their own rules and jurisdiction. So how is that working out ? It's time !!!!

02 Feb 2010 10:59 PM

I agree with Gail above, since when is it the governments job to tell me how to spend my money! Whether its moral or not I earned it and I'll spend it the way I want. Who cares if Tom, Dick and Harry spend their last dime in a slot machine its with in their right to do so. Its not our fault that they are penniless, there are lot of responsible gamblers out there also.  It is all about power and who stands to benefit from the profits. Anyone who thinks these governments care about what best for horseracing and or the public is dreaming.  

03 Feb 2010 4:08 AM

I say look to Tampa Bay Downs, a small but very respected track by horsemen and players alike. It seems to have avoided the slots issue altogether  (they do have a poker room).

Their racing surfaces are top notch. They sell out their stalls.   They no longer charge for admission during the week, parking is free and their purses increase on a regular basis.

 They seem to be doing everything right without the need for slots revenue.  

03 Feb 2010 10:29 AM
Bill Daly

The situation in NY gets more bizarre by the day.  For a good laugh [or cry] open this link:  Don't hold your breath for the Empire State to resolve this mess any time soon.

03 Feb 2010 10:43 AM
Bill Fossett

One man in Md., Speaker of the House Michael Bush is the one most responsibile for the demise of racing because he refused to bring up the slots bill for a vote and the other politicians in Md. let him get away with it.  Md will never catch up with Pa.and Md had a 200 year head start.

03 Feb 2010 1:34 PM

Slots and Casinos not needed. &10.00 minimum WPS wagers with a 10% take. $5.00 double wagers with the same. No pick six,no trifecta and limited exacta. The 2.00 window is the only thing that kills racing and the takeout. Compete with a casino game take and racing wins. 2.00 on a 2-1 shot back in the three stooges days paid for the day. Food,program,entry etc. A 10.00 2-1 shot today might do the same. First High stakes track that gets the legislature to approve wins. Full fields, big pools and limited take and racing is reborn.  

03 Feb 2010 1:47 PM

NJ Trotter, its cease, not sieze

03 Feb 2010 2:09 PM

New Orleans Times Picayune this week reported that at the Fairgrounds Racetrack and Slots the horse racing business is down 30% off last year, which was also a bad year.  Has anyone bothered to do a study about how the slots have done nothing for the horse racing business from a marketing standpoint.  

Fort Erie racetrack and slots has closed.  The horse racing business at Remington racetrack and slots is down abysmally.

Expect the states with racinos to in the near future to just cancel their horse racing business and exclusively run the "not as profitable as they used to be" slots.

03 Feb 2010 3:15 PM

The Preakness is May 15th not the 14th.

20 Feb 2010 11:58 AM

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