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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

That's Entertainment?

- "That's entertainment." So said one of the early customers at opening day of the racino at Pennsylvania's Pocono Downs as he pissed away 20 bucks in a Double Powerball machine. If that's entertainment, I guess racing must be considered to be hard work. And who wants to spend hours poring over a Racing Form, when they can get all of their action with a push of the button?

The crowd awaiting the opening was described as being in the hundreds, rather than the thousands; but racino officials were described as being ready to turn people away. With the harness meet over, the total capacity of the facility was said to be around 5,000. With only 1,100 machines on hand thus far, the competition figures to be stiff. The township commissioner, noting that there's only one left-turn lane for northbound traffic on the main route to the facility, said “I’m not sure that’s enough."

But apparently, mere ownership of a racino does not guarantee big profits, at least to Empire Gaming, the owner/operator of upstate NY's Monticello Raceway (no relation to Empire Racing Associates). They merely broke even, according to their third quarter earnings release. But no worry, Empire has bigger things on their plate, namely a full-blown Indian casino adjacent to the raceway for which they are awaiting favorable results of an environmental study. Unlike a racino, this casino would not require horse racing to be conducted, and horsemen at the Mighty M, as it was referred to during its heyday in the 70's when yours truly made many a Sunday afternoon trip there, are understandably concerned.

"If casino gambling comes here, it's going to be the end of racing in Monticello," says Alan Schwartz, a member of the Harness Horsemen's Association board. "Everyone has their homes here. Their kids are in the schools. We're a part of the community."

Management at the track says the casino will only change things for the better, and harness racing will go on.

"It's exactly the right prescription for the harness-racing industry," says Charles Degliomini, vice president of Empire Resorts, which owns the raceway and the video-gaming-machine racino there. "You couldn't ask for a better formula than bringing 6 million people into close proximity to the industry." [Record Online]
Of course, only time will tell what the company's intentions are, but it's worth considering this: Revenue from racing and simulcasting thus far this year are around $4.3 million, while racino revenue stands at $23.2 million, with 1500 machines. The proposed casino would encompass some 29 acres, and is expected initially to attract 6 million visitors a year to its 3,500 slot machines and 125 table games. You tell me what kind of priority the little harness track will be if and when the casino is built.

- A fan who attended the Breeders Cup wrote to the Courier-Journal: "Concession lines were impossible (thought I was in N.Y.), so I didn't eat all day." I suppose he hasn't been to a New York track lately, where the only lines I've seen of late are the ones for the parking lot buses at Aqueduct, where the only remaining parking areas are on the side of the track whose entrance has been shuttered. We reported recently on the unfortunate vendors at the Big A's flea market who are being shut out on weekends leading up to Xmas due to NYRA's contention that they need the space for track patrons. If any of them took a peek on Saturday, they would not have been at all happy. With only around 4,500 patrons on hand on a perfect autumn day, the vast majority of the space where the flea markets are held were totally devoid of cars.