Gural: Make Stakes Payments, Horsepeople Should Stash 5%

Published: February 8, 2011 03:04 pm EST

In an open letter to the industry, track owner Jeff Gural, who is in the process of trying to work out a long-term lease of the Meadowlands Racetrack, has encouraged horse owners to make the February 15 stakes payments. He has also encouraged horsepeople participating in slots-fuelled states to put aside five per cent for marketing


The contents of Gural's open letter appear below.

Meadowlands Update

I know firsthand that this is the week that we all have to make stakes payments on our champion two-year-olds and those three-year-olds who would have been champions last year except for minor issues. Obviously, with the uncertainty at the Meadowlands, my advice would be to make the February payments because if we are not able to find a way to keep it open those payments will all be returned.

If there are other stakes at the same time as the Meadowlands stakes it might be a good idea to double-stake your horse if the payments are not too great, as there is certainly no guarantee that we are going to be able to work out a long-term lease. I think the governor has made it clear that he will allow a six-day meet in August to ensure that the Hambletonian and Oaks are raced per the contract with the Hambletonian Society, and my guess is there will be several other stakes races during that same period depending on the availability of purse money.

The biggest problem, as I see it, is how you finance a racetrack that does not have slots when it is obvious that wagering on horseracing continues to decline as our older customers either die or become too old to come to the tracks. It is very discouraging to see that wagering on the Meadowlands signal so far this year is off 20 per cent. Some of which can be blamed on the weather, some of which can be blamed on the closing of NYC OTB and the loss of the OTB TV channel in New York City and the outer boroughs which showed harness racing from the Meadowlands, Yonkers, Northfield and often Woodbine live. That channel has now been taken over by NYRA and they only show thoroughbred racing and go off the air at 8:00 p.m.

While I think I could get people to come to a new Meadowlands we also rely on customers at other tracks to wager on our product and if those tracks are not marketing the product there is very little that I can do to change that dynamic.

One suggestion, if we are truly interested in the long-term future of our sport, would be for the horsemen at the tracks that have slots to take five per cent of the slot money and use it to market the product with particular emphasis on bringing new and younger people to view the product. I think this is a small sacrifice to make in order to ensure that the young people who work in our business have a future and do not find themselves without a career in 10 or 15 years. I know four of the five people that work on my two farms are in their early 30s and Jason is also in his early 30s and these people deserve at least a chance to make a career out of our great sport.

I would hope to have a better idea of whether or not we can make a deal to lease the Meadowlands before the March 15 payments are due and I continue to work quite hard in order to accomplish our goal which is to keep the Meadowlands open not only this year but for the long-term with a new grandstand, as well as opening several OTW facilities.

I hope this information is helpful as in all honesty this is a unique situation. Stakes payments are hard enough without this uncertainty but it is what it is.

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Mr Robinski makes very good points, which I happen to agree with. I have to wonder how it is that those in racing can't see it.

Mr. Davino: You and virtualy every owner/trainer/driver etc have stated that many times. However if others said why doesn't someone subsidize my golf game or bowling or baseball game since after all others earn income from my "hobby" you and almost every participant in the racing industry would laugh. Somehow however you and your cohorts can't or refuse to see it!!

Who are the owners who are getting rich? Have you ever paid a $4,000.00 training bill per horse per month? Have you ever paid $10,0000.00 for a yearling at the sale and it turned out it could not even make the races? Or claimed a horse for $50,000.00 and he broke down in its first race. Well i guess not. We as owners take big risks. There should be some reward because all of that happens all the time.

So do not say all the owners are getting rich on these big purses - most of us do this for the sport and love of the horses not the money. Most goes back in the horses and to the people working with the horses, the farms that are growing the food and to all the other jobs that go along with racing. It is not just racing for money - it is a way of life thousands of people have chose, so now you just want to put more people out of work.

I agree with Mr. Gural in that surrounding states including NY are making billions of additional revenue by having casinos or VLT's/slots at their horsetracks. NYS has made over $1 billion at Empire City and just received $340 million up front to run Aquduct. Note that having gambling at the tracks does expose some people to horse racing at the same time who might not have seen it otherwise. For more info and links to some great articles, please check out our Facebook site and remember to press "Like":!/pages/Save-New-Jersey-Horse-Racing-A…

Mr. Gural mentions everything but the real problems and solutions which thousands of others have countless times,get the takeout down to 5% to compete with other sport betting propositions. Also "clean up the game" as Mr.Riga aludes to and thousands of others have countless times!!

"One suggestion, if we are truly interested in the long-term future of our sport, would be for the horsemen at the tracks that have slots to take five per cent of the slot money and use it to market the product with particular emphasis on bringing new and younger people to view the product. I think this is a small sacrifice to make in order to ensure that the young people who work in our business have a future and do not find themselves without a career in 10 or 15 years"

Spoken directly to Associations that claim to advocate for the career minded horsepeople they represent.

Below is an article on the ESPN website today which speaks about horseracing and slots. I have always maintained that slots never were and never will be the solution to horse racings woes. The solution CAN ONLY Be to bring back the old customers who have been disillusioned by the sport, and new customers who have never seen it. In other words racing needs to sustain itself.

I personally believe that when racing provides a product that has integrity and gives the bettor a fair shake NOTHING BEATS IT FOR EXCITEMENT.It is the best game in the world in my opinion.

Therefore I strongly enclourage all involved in racing, if you truly want to save the sport you need to change course. DO NOT CONTINUE TO DEPEND ON SLOTS AS BEING THE SOLUTION.YOU NEED TO INCREASE YOUR HANDLES AND THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO DO THAT.

It will not take much for an Ontario government to pull the slot revenues away from racing. Then what????

Fix it now while you still have time.

Say goodbye to slots gravy train?
By Bill Finley
Special to

The sport has had a nice run with slot machines, those gizmos that have fattened purses, made a lot of owners a lot of money and kept a dozen or so racetracks from closing. But the good times are about to end, and a lot sooner than you might have thought.

A system -- broke state governments allowing tens of millions in slots revenue to go to horse racing -- that could never last is starting to crumble. The first few weeks of 2011 have included some very ominous news for the slots-racing relationship and the future of horse racing.

It started in Indiana, where Governor Mitch Daniels blindsided the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries last month when issuing a budget proposal that called for 43 percent of the slots money that was going to racing to instead go to the state's general fund. The budget must still go through several channels before being enacted and it can be changed after other state lawmakers are heard from, but industry sources said they were not confident there would be major changes forthcoming when it came to racing. With the vast majority of purse monies in Indiana coming from slots, Daniels' proposal could devastate the industry in the Hoosier State.

Indiana has long been the envy of other states, particularly slots-free Kentucky. Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs grew from minor-league racetracks to places offering top purses and stakes races that could attract the likes of Thoroughbred champion Lookin at Lucky. Once Daniels' axe is wielded, Indiana racing will likely be back to where it started and people who invested heavily in farms and breeding operations there will take a huge financial hit.

In Iowa, the target is dog racing. The casino company Harrah's, which owns a kennel club in Council Bluffs, is leading the fight to end dog racing in the state. In order to do so, it is offering what amounts to a bribe to the state, offering to pay it $10 million a year to let them pull the plug on the dogs.

"Dog racing is simply dead," Harrah's lobbyist Jim Carney told Iowa politicians. "I mean, that's a fact."

Prairie Meadwows, the lone horse track in the state, looks OK, at least for now. But should dog racing go in Iowa that is sure to embolden others to try the same trick in other states and with horse racing. Harrah's owns three horse tracks, Thistledown, Louisiana Downs and Chester and is a part owner of Turfway Park. Might some of those tracks be next in line when it comes to Harrah's scheme to pay states to let them close racetracks? And what about other gaming companies that own racetracks? There's no doubt they are carefully monitoring the Iowa situation and plotting plans of their own to pay to close some tracks.

You can be sure that Penn National is paying attention to what is going on in Iowa and Indiana. Penn National is the largest racetrack operator in the U.S., but has never been shy about its corporate attitude. They love slot machines. They don't love horse racing.

Penn National President and CEO Peter Carlino drove that point home last week when, during a teleconference on fourth-quarter and year-end earnings, he said his company is going to find ways to lessen the financial drain that is horse racing.

"Racetracks tend to end up with slots-that's our long-term play," Carlino said. "Operating tracks at a loss is not in our long-term plan. We will continue to ratchet down costs. We'll be tough and brutal about that. We're not running a public charity."

If governments would let them, Penn National wouldn't hesitate to cease racing at some of the tracks it owns, and who could blame them? Carlino isn't paid to worry about racing or its future or the trainer with three bad horses in his barn, but to make money for his company and its shareholders. He's right. He shouldn't be running a "public charity."

And in many places, where the grandstands are empty and racing has lost whatever relevance it once had, that is what the sport has become. Smart businessmen like Carlino and the people who run Harrah's want that to end. So do Governors like Daniels. They are far more concerned with budget deficits and providing the children of their constituents with a decent education than they are with whether or not $5,000 claimers should be running for $20,000.

Meanwhile, racing has done nothing to help itself, particularly when it comes to getting the dynamics of supply and demand to work again. Greatly reduce the total number of racing dates out there and the sport's financial outlook wouldn't look quite so bleak. But no one seems to want to do that, not when it's so easy to run bad horses for good money at Racinos.

And shouldn't some of the slots money have been used for something other than purses? Why not huge marketing campaigns or massive reductions in takeout? Have any Racinos invested in capital improvements for the racetracks and not just the slots parlors?

And now things are starting to change. Where will the sport be when the slots money starts to go away? Whatever the answer is, it's not a good one.