It is such a crucial point that it bears repeating again and again and again: Without the corporate welfare euphemistically referred to as racino gaming, much of horseracing in the United States – including practically all of harness racing – would have vanished by now. One needs to look no further than Suffolk Downs, which after not receiving the Boston casino license, is done – shuttered, hopefully, for good.
In Illinois, a similar life and death struggle is playing out. A recent Craine’s Chicago Business article starts thus: “Chicago’s horse-racing circuit may be heading into its final furlong. Once hosts to one of the most popular sports in America, the area’s two thoroughbred tracks, Arlington International Racecourse and Hawthorne Race Course, today face a bleak future showcasing a niche product with a dwindling fan base.” Says Arlington’s chairman, [Illinois racing] “is just about ready to collapse.”
The article goes on to note that horse-betting in Illinois is down 42% over the past decade (and 33% nationally); the Illinois Board has already cut 15% of the tracks’ 2015 dates. The reason: Horseracing can no longer compete with 21st Century gambling – casinos and lotteries. Besides, they’ve already been subsidized – to no avail:
“Both tracks have been propped up for the past three years by an impact fee that redistributed nearly $75 million from Illinois casinos to be used on purses and track improvements. But that money has been exhausted, leaving the tracks to fund purses with only what people are betting.” Imagine that.
Finally: “…the tracks are struggling to compete with venues in Florida, Louisiana, New York, Ohio and other states that allow ‘racinos’ – tracks that include casino gambling, which allows them to bolster purse sizes and attract better horses. That keeps them far healthier than Illinois tracks, even though slots make up most of their business, essentially turning them into casinos that happen to offer live racing. Complicating Arlington’s situation: Churchill Downs [Arlington’s parent company] gradually has been getting out of the horse-racing business and focusing on its more lucrative casino properties.”
“Essentially turning them into casinos that happen to offer live racing.” Exactly. As for Churchill Downs wanting out of the racing business, what more needs to be said? Illinois politicians, don’t fall for the pity party, let racing go the way of every other obsolete industry in our nation’s history. Enough. Let it fail. Let it fail.