Money lifeline? You bet
By Bill Ordine
There are very few horsemen who would choose to rely on slot machines or other alternate forms of wagering to preserve their industry and an agrarian-based culture that predates the Industrial Revolution.
However, the 21st century has imposed new realities on horse racing.
Throughout most of the past century, horse racing had the distinction of being one of the few ways to bet legally in most of the United States, and that advantage kept the Sport of Kings near the top of the heap on America's sports landscape. Damon Runyon wrote romantically of days at the races, and fictional rogues such as the Lemon Drop Kid were scoundrel folk heroes.
That was then, and today, more than three dozen states have casinos that siphon gambling dollars. Some of those states are adjacent to Maryland, and in those places, slots money props up the local racing industry by contributing substantially to purses. Just as important, slots cash supports bonus incentives for horses bred in those states, and that draws mares, stallions and even farm operations across state lines.
And until racing gets its act together to creatively cultivate a new fan base by polishing its live product and to effectively tap into remote gambling, it needs a financial lifeline.
Glitzy warehouses filled with one-armed bandits attached to racetracks might offend purists, but in Maryland's case, without more cash coming into the game, the exodus of quality racehorses and the relocation of horse farms is inevitable.
Frankly, there is no assurance of a healthy future for horse racing even with slots. But in the absence of money from some so-far unknown source, it's a sure bet that horse racing has no future without slots.
Slots are not saviors
By Kevin Van Valkenburg
It's always difficult to separate the issues of whether we need slots in Maryland and whether those slots might save the horse racing industry. But it's an important distinction.
After years of mulling it over, I've come to the conclusion that we do need slots, especially now that we're facing such an enormous budget crisis in Maryland.
But if we get them, we can't pretend slots are going to save the Sport of Kings. Because they won't.
They might keep the industry from circling the drain and might give pause to some of the top jockeys, owners and trainers who are migrating to Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but without some major changes, it isn't going to be the long-term savior it's made out to be. The small-time operations and horse farms are still going to be holding on by hooves and teeth.
Several studies have shown that people who come to the track to play slots simply don't wander over to the betting windows (at least very often) and wager on races.
Logically, they should. But logic doesn't follow reality. It's like trickle-down economics. Great in theory, poor in execution.
Horse racing is a wonderful sport with a rich tradition. Many of my sportswriting heroes cut their literary teeth at the track. But cast aside the romanticism, and the industry has to accept that it's now a niche sport that is going to have to figure out a way to support itself if it wants to truly survive, much less thrive.
Slots are just the tourniquet and not a long-term solution.