The horse racing industry has been struggling. With casinos popping up seemingly on every corner, the thrill of gambling doesn’t require a trip to the track like it used to.
This is certainly the case in Pennsylvania. The 2017 Racetrack Casino Benchmark Report reports attendance at horse tracks declined seven percent in 2017 compared to the previous year. On the other hand, the amount bet on races rose three percent for its first increase in four years.
What this tells us is people are betting on the simulcasts of Pennsylvania races, but not necessarily making the trek to the track.
Pete Peterson, the spokesman for the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, says there is a plan to change that. The coalition will embark on a marketing campaign designed to encourage more people to experience horse racing. Money from the state’s Race Horse Development Trust Fund will pay for the new initiative.
Is marketing the answer to the decline in horse racing attendance?
The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition is a state organization the works on behalf of race-horse owners, breeders, and trainers. Peterson recognizes that part of the group’s job is to attract a broader audience and make the state’s six horse tracks desired destinations.
Peterson said to Trib Live,
Millennials are more interested in experiences, and what is going to the track but an experience?
Look no further than the Kentucky Derby for a premium horse racing experience. For a short time every year, horse racing’s Triple Crown puts the spotlight on the horse racing industry.
Peterson is looking for ways to extend that level excitement all year long. He believes there is an “intimidation factor” to placing that first bet at a track. The marketing campaign will help ease the fear and make attending and betting at horse tracks more attractive.
Pennsylvania committed to protecting horse racing
Horse tracks feared the legalization of PA casino slots would take customers away. Pennsylvania lawmakers allocated a portion of slot-machine revenue to the Race Horse Development Trust Fund to support the industry.
Most of the fund, about 80 percent, is used to create more substantial prizes for winners. Last year, the purses increased to $174.4 million.
The rest of the fund pays for:
- Healthcare and pensions for racing-industry personnel
- Race incentives for Pennsylvania-born thoroughbreds and standardbred horses
- The promotion of horse racing in the state
The fund was not protected until the passage of the gaming expansion law in the fall of 2017. Before then, the state often raided the fund which made it difficult to guarantee the large prizes needed to attract quality horses.
Peterson applauds the new commitment to the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania.
When you invest in a racehorse, that’s a major investment. … You want to know there will be purses to pay for your annual costs. Farmers are getting more money for their products; jockeys and drivers are getting paid more; staff, trainers, and vets can earn more money for their services.
How does sports betting affect horse racing?
The gambling expansion law also allows for legalized sports betting, both on-site and online.
Peterson acknowledges that illegal online sports betting sites have impacted racing revenues. With sports betting potentially launching this year, there is a hope that some of that illegal activity will move to legal sites.
It is still unknown how sports betting and the new mini casinos will impact horse racing revenues. The fund will likely continue to grow thanks to an increase in slot revenue, but gamblers may choose to head to a sports book or casino.
Horse tracks used to be the only gamble in town. Now, the next big winning ticket is potentially on every corner and with a click of your mouse at your kitchen table.
It might take more than a fancy new marketing campaign to reverse a declining trend, but it is certainly an excellent place to start.
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