Over at the den of our fellow racing blogger, Pull the Pocket, is a new post on the revenue from slots concessions and what racing administrators have and have not done with the revenue they have gained from that resource.
The analysis is not a happy one because the sport has traded off some of its exclusivity as a gambling game and has not invested much in making racing more attractive than its new competitors.
PTP’s assessment and responses to his post moved me to comment thus:
The reason that the racetracks have no requirements to “earn their slot money” is rooted in both the history of the development of the tracks and in the way that slots have filtered into the fabric of American legal gaming.
It all started just a bit more than a century ago when the holier than thou set managed to outlaw gambling. Period. After a few years that nearly bankrupted everyone associated, a handful of genuine leaders (Joseph Widener, William Woodward, et al.) put together a coalition that promoted legislation that let states have a stream of “voluntary taxation” through the pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing. This also gave horse racing a monopoly on legal gambling almost nation-wide, and as a result, racetracks did not have to compete for gambling dollars or even think of themselves as businesses.
That model flourished for half a century, until different media and communications began to make gaming accessible in a lot of markets and to millions more people. In the years following this change of access, racing has diminished, and racing’s ownership and “leadership” has not thoughtfully assessed the situation either to defend or to improve their sport (the old crowd being long dead).
So, when states wanted another line of voluntary taxation and looked to lotteries, racing got nothing in the deal. The tracks were somewhat savvier when it came to slots, getting a toe in the door, but as PTP points out here most cogently, they have done little so far to suggest they are using the money wisely and effectively to make racing stronger and more exciting or even more playable than its competition (which they have just been paid for allowing to take part of their turf).
The short-term conclusions from this predicament are not sunny. Tracks are going to close. The long-term issues can still be dealt with constructively if people take arms and make it happen.
We can make racing better. You and I and the fellows down the street all need a handful of genuine leaders with deep pockets, solid goals, a love of racing, and the determination to use their influence for the good of all like the Wideners, Woodwards, and others did nearly a century ago.