Betting against horse industry

May 16, 2007|By Kevin George

Recently, the Maryland State Lottery introduced Racetrax, a new video game, at some 1,500 restaurants, bars, convenience stores and other easy-to-find places where gamers can bet on computer-animated horse races. The lottery's Web site claims Racetrax "offers the thrill of being at the track with the payout and prizes similar to live horse betting."

Wonderful.

Standardbred and thoroughbred owners and trainers are already handicapped because tracks in surrounding states are able to use slot machines.

Now a trip to the track itself is being painted as unnecessary.

Revenue from slots would naturally make this state's racetracks more competitive with those of border states like Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that permit the devices. Slots would benefit not just purses but also the physical upkeep of the track facilities.

A favorite argument foes of slots cling to is that introducing an element of gambling would attract an "unsavory" element to the districts where slot machines would become available.

Another point they enjoy bringing up is that slots would unfairly target low-income families who cannot really afford to participate in high-risk, low-return activities.

So, what do these people have to say about the state lottery, which appears to introduce a new scratch-off ticket every other week that can be easily obtained at any corner liquor store?

And now we have Racetrax.

This isn't the first time the lottery has seemingly thumbed its nose at a smarting horse industry since the slot controversy heated up shortly after the election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002.

As the debate grabbed more and more headlines, the Maryland State Lottery took advantage of the new public awareness and created several new slot-machine-themed scratch-offs.

It's a shame so many livelihoods were held hostage by the political football game when a Democrat-heavy legislature refused to allow the first Republican governor elected in Maryland in 40 years to claim victory on slots - one of his more popular campaign issues.

Now, Racetrax offers horse-racing enthusiasts (slot machines aren't even in the argument here) the option of not even needing to travel to a real track with real horses running on real dirt.

State tracks are already losing untold amounts of money. Just visit the parking lots of slot-supported facilities in Delaware and West Virginia and soak in the sight of all the Maryland license plates.

This Saturday is the 132nd running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. For several years, we have read and heard about the woeful and deteriorating shape of Pimlico Race Course and how the wonderful tradition of the Preakness may be moving from Maryland to another state where the industry is supported better.

One Saturday in mid-May just isn't enough to supplement a whole year of racing in Maryland. Hopefully, it won't take the loss of the Preakness for lawmakers to finally understand how deeply this industry is in crisis.

Kevin George is editor of the Delmarva Farmer, where this article originally appeared. His e-mail is editorial@americanfarm.com.

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