April 21, 2014

Elyria
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Horse racing: Slots simply a bandage for a wounded sport?

The arguments for or against allowing video lottery terminals, or VLTs, or high-tech slot machines, at racetracks in Ohio has usually boiled down to this:
Those opposed — “gambling is a sin.” (But I hear no calls to outlaw horse racing, the state lottery or bingo).
Those in favor — “it’s my money and you don’t tell me how to spend it.” (Good point, but I’m glad I’m not married to you).
A lead story in the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard on Aug. 6 should be required reading for Ohio voters. It presents a stark portrait of what racing would look like if our state had the video slots at the tracks.
On the one hand, the VLTs at the New York tracks (now called “racinos”) are a rousing success for the horse racing industry. There are eight racinos in the Empire State. Six of them are the harness-racing only tracks, one (Finger Lakes) is thoroughbreds. One (Saratoga) has both.
The tracks are awash in revenue. Purses for horse races are way up, benefiting the owners, breeders, trainers and riders as well as the tracks themselves (and public education, which gets half of all VLT earnings).
The parking lots at these racinos are always full. Not so, however, are the grandstands. Betting on races is way down. That’s right — purses are higher, handles are lower. It doesn’t make sense, right? It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize the patrons are coming to play the VLTs and not the ponies.
The story quotes one racetrack operator as saying the four upstate harness tracks — Buffalo, Batavia, Vernon and Tioga — wouldn’t be in business today without the VLTs.
The touch-screen one-armed bandits are propping up a dying sport. Of course, one reason it’s in its death throes is the presence of the slots. Were they not around, there would be a few more folks at the track actually betting on the races. But the VLTs, the story said, are more attractive because, unlike wagering on a sporting event, playing the video slots requires no thinking.
So there’s a side of the debate that’s relevant and leaves emotion out of the equation. Do we in the Buckeye State want the popularity of one form of gaming used to make a not-so-popular form of gaming survive when it otherwise would go belly up? Is that right, either morally or from a business standpoint? Do we believe it’s necessary?
Maybe the source who said wagering on horses requires thinking is giving horse players a little more credit than they deserve. Sure, to wager the right way requires thinking, and perhaps a bit of research.
Yet the story is accompanied by a photograph of a bride, still in her wedding gown, at the rail at Vernon Downs celebrating her horse’s victory. She bet on No. 5 because “five is my lucky number.”
So much for deep thoughts.

Get the party started

Northfield Park’s golden anniversary celebration starts Monday night with 50-cent hot dogs, soft drinks and programs. Cleveland Cavaliers players Daniel Gibson and Donyell Marshall come to the track Wednesday for an autograph session. Friday is Ohio Lottery Access to Fun Night. Saturday is the drawing for the Pontiac G6 giveaway.
“Northfield Park — Images In Sports,” a book documenting the track’s first 50 years, will be on sale next week for $14.99, which is $5 off the regular price.

Kindergarten upset

Perfectly Played scored an upset victory in last Friday’s $50,000 Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes at Thistledown. The gelding paid $23 on a $2 wager.
Perfectly Played, a Jeff Radosevich-trained gelding, beat Buzz Bunny by 2½ lengths. Take Ahike Mike, the favorite, finished sixth.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.