Slot tracks and accountability – an ongoing racing problem

by Dean Towers

The profit motive is not necessarily a pro-racing motive, and it shows.

I was on the social media machine on Sunday evening, perusing what topics people were discussing. Most, of course (hey, it was Sunday), were speaking about the NFL. But at about 8 p.m. I noticed a few harness fans mentioning they just stumbled upon the fact that the Pompano Park meet was opening in just minutes.

The replies were, well, interesting.

“Pompano Park is opening? I had not heard.”

“I think this is fake news.”

“I like Pompano and I would’ve played tonight if I knew they were opening!”

Thinking people must be mistaken, I put on my detective cap. I popped over to the Pompano Park Twitter Feed but saw their account had not been active for over a month. I searched Google News for press releases and found nothing. I queried twitter for “Pompano Park” and saw that the casino has a new guaranteed hold ‘em tournament starting up, a Pompano surgeon is rated the best in the area for breast augmentation, and trees were down in the county due to Hurricane Irma. But I saw nothing about Sunday’s so-called “opener”.

Then, this modern day Matlock decided to check Gabe Prewitt’s twitter feed. Gabe would be saying something about the meet because he’s Director of Racing at Pompano, and he’s always promoting the place (hell, I think I wagered $10k last season because Gabe would inevitably pop up on my feeds telling me to “send it in”). There, however, I found nothing once again; other than the fact that Gabe doesn’t list Pompano as a current employer.

Finally, I logged into my betting website, and sure enough, right in front of me showing 10 minutes to post was Pompano Park. After navigating this maze I was happy I uncovered the truth – that yes, Pompano Park’s fall 2017 opener was indeed right now — but I was disappointed I didn’t earn a piece of cheese.

It appears I was more of an exception than the rule, because last year’s opener had a decent sized $6,000 pick 5 pool and a nice $6,000 pick 4 pool. This year those numbers were much smaller.

Let me say that I have no idea who is running Pompano Park and I also completely understand that mistakes are made; that things are forgotten or glossed over; that every “i” is sometimes not dotted, every “t” is not always crossed. We are all human, and we’re all not perfect, in life or at work. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus.

But my question is simple: why does this always seem to be the pattern?

Why is it that when a new bank of slot machines open — or there’s a new promo at a poker table — do we have to be living under a rock not to know about it, but if the race part of the racino opens we have to become Sherlock Holmes?

Why is it that when there’s a power outage and the track lighting goes down everyone is sent home, but if there’s a similar power outage in the casino portion (who are we kidding, there’s never one of those) it’s like Kim Jung Un just released a missile and we have to scramble the Black Sheep Squadron?

Why do we hear about slots takeout lowered to 7 per cent to help customers play more (and have a better experience) being good business, but if you ask the same people to lower takeout on the other side of the racino from 30 per cent to 25 per cent (to do exactly the same thing) you’re considered crazy?

Time and time again, month after month, year after year, if something goes wrong, it tends to goes wrong on the racing side of the business. The data is far too plentiful to chalk up to randomness.

In my view, the immutable truth is that the casino side of the horse racing business is owned (for the most part) by a corporation. That corporation is owned by shareholders, and shareholders fund capital projects because they want a rate of return. Because corporations make little or no money on the racing side of the business, only minimal resources are placed into the racing side of the business. Such is life, and unless you’re Bernie Madoff, such is an income statement.

However, this is not the way it should be. The casino portion of the business is only there – for that company and that set of shareholders – precisely because it is a part of a racetrack, and when these deals were written they needed to be more in-tune with that truism. Yes, some deals mandate a portion of revenue to fund capital projects and the like (and of course money goes directly into purses), but these agreements were broad, extremely weak, and easy to get around.

It’s not like this at all racinos – Centaur Gaming at Hoosier Park comes to mind as a company who does more than they’re mandated to do – but for many others, it’s just the way they do business.

In the coming years there’s a chance slot revenue will be a thing of the past, but there’s also a strong possibility that these agreements will be extended and reworked. If the latter happens, racing should be very cognizant to write deals that hold the racino managers explicitly accountable. If that’s accomplished, I think the sport will be a whole lot better off.