Saratoga Springs, NY, December 8, 2009--On it’s face, the wagering numbers for the final month of 2008 would give the abysmal retail figures a run for its money. Double digits are one thing; over 20 percent are quite another.

Looking inside the numbers provided by Equibase on the chart below, however, the findings are less grim. With the number of fewer races approaching 10 percent, double-digit losses for the month of December, the decline is mitigated somewhat.

We’ve made the point before and it’s worth repeating. If betting handle is the measure, the racing industry is not doing badly compared to many major industries throughout the United States.

Recall that Chrysler corporation’s revenues were down an astounding 53 percent in the final month of 2008.

The question becomes, however, what does this mean for 2009? A story in USA Today Thursday indicated that the American economy will shrink 200 percent this year.

It was enlightening, very surprising and somewhat scary to learn the lessons of 2008 reducing a time honored belief to the status of mythology: Gambling no longer is recession proof.

And, so, what measures can be taken to reverse downward spiraling handle in the immediate future? The evidence seems to indicate one inexorable truth: Nothing will be done.

What I’d like to know is why racing doesn’t go to Washington D. C.? Not for a hand out but for a hand up.

Then I remembered. The racing industry is not only in denial but remains rudderless. No one person or organization can go to the nation’s capital and provide legislators with a history lesson:

That last year alone, with a blended takeout rate of 20 percent, over $2.7 billion came right off the top of betting handle on U.S. races, dollars the federal government didn’t need to provide those states in which parimutuel horse race wagering is conducted.

According to the results of an impact study commissioned by racing organizations, data released in 2005 indicated that the horse industry had a total impact on the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $101.5 billion.

Not to mention how the horse agribusiness helps preserve green space, green being the environmental and economic buzzword of the day.

Congress has bigger fish to throw into the current economic frying pan. But keeping the horse industry vibrant is in the country’s best interests. And the country’s preservation of the horse industry is in its own best economic interests.

But are legislators from non-major racing jurisdictions even aware of how the horse industry can play a meaningful role in America’s recovery? Indeed, do they even know, in a big picture context, that racing even exists?

Of course not. Who’s to tell them? Only in the name of political expediency did Congress last June hold hearings on racing.

Only because of the Eight Belles tragedy, only because she was a filly running in the only race America truly cares about, and only because the use of steroids is such a lightning rod did they take an interest.

And only because the thoroughbred industry feared federal intervention did they act so quickly to keep the legislative wolves out of the equine hen house, seizing an opportunity to jump on the steroid bandwagon which, in so many respects, is the least of racing’s problems.

Cortisone abuse is the more immediate problem.

But who’s to speak on the game’s behalf? The NTRA, whose president addressed racing’s failing fourth-quarter numbers, pointed to the “worldwide economic slowdown and other internal factors.”

Internal factors?

“There were bright spots, including many spectacular performances on the racetrack and progress on the equine safety and integrity front.”

Equine safety? Like more synthetic surfaces? Check out Santa Anita and Turfway lately? Integrity? Industry leaders should be required to wager. Late odds drops are still with us.

Simplistically, if windows were locked at post time, before horses are loaded into the gate so that bettors would know the odds before the actual start, would be an improvement.

Halting wagering after the first horse is loaded was tried and discontinued at Churchill Downs. It didn’t, and won’t, stop late-odds drops from big, last-minute bettors. Only technology can. But at least it wouldn’t send a bad past-posting message.

“The new year brings renewed hope… we must continue to vigorously promote our game… remain focused on retaining and growing our fan base… [racing] remains one of the great values in all of sports.”

Hope is what you sell. Only action gets results. Promotion is needed to illustrate racing as an exciting entertainment alternative and interesting gambling vehicle.

Racetracks can help themselves and the industry. They don’t need federal regulation to initiate their own stimulus packages.

Lower the takeout. Every time that‘s been done handle goes up. You can look it up.

Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators For December 2008
 
December 2008 vs. December 2007
Indicator
December 2008
December 2007
% Change
Wagering on U.S. Races* $820,358,357 $1,029,358,904 -20.30%
U.S. Purses $60,123,263 $69,451,825 -13.43%
U.S. Race Days 330 365 -9.59
 
Annual 2008 vs. Annual 2007
Indicator
Annual 2008
Annual 2007
% Change
Wagering on U.S. Races* $13,670,196,938 $14,723,993,055 -7.16%
U.S. Purses $1,160,313,672 $1,175,924,289 -1.33%
U.S. Race Days 6,095 6,168 -1.18%
 
* Includes worldwide commingled wagering on U.S. races and separate pool wagering in Canada on U.S. races.