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Gural: Use Slots Money for Testing, Marketing

The racetrack casino owner paid for a poll showing support in three states.

A proposal floated by Jeff Gural, who leases Meadowlands and operates two racetrack casinos in upstate New York, to use a percentage of gaming revenue for other pro-racing programs has support among United States Trotting Association members in three states.

In a statement released March 14, Gural said a poll of USTA members in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania—states with racetrack gaming that supports racing—shows 84% favor using gaming revenue for enhanced equine drug-testing, and 87% support using funds for the marketing of harness racing, particularly efforts to attract younger participants.

The effort comes as an increasing number of jurisdictions are either taking some of racing’s purse share from gaming for other government programs or calling for an end to racetrack gaming. In Ontario, there are reports at least three racetracks could lose slot machines currently operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.

According to reports, Fort Erie Racetrack & Casino, a Thoroughbred facililty, and two harness tracks--Hiawatha Horse Park and Windsor Raceway--could lose their province-regulated slots in what could be the start of a major culling of gaming operations.

The study was conducted by Plante and Moran with assistance from the USTA, but Gural paid for it.

The track operator and Standardbred breeder and owner had proposed using 5% of the $500 million harness racing receives in racetrack gaming jurisdictions for a high-powered drug-testing laboratory and a strategy to get more harness racing on television. He noted the Thoroughbred industry, through The Jockey Club—like the USTA a breed registry and rule-making body—is spending $10 million on programs geared toward industry growth.

“Without addressing these problems I am 100% certain that our sport has a life expectancy of no more than 10 to 15 years, at which point the vast majority of our customers, along with the breeders and the people who buy yearlings, will have either passed away or become too old to participate in the sport,” Gural said in a letter to USTA. “To continue to wait for track owners to reallocate money from the prime business of casino gambling is foolish.

“In truth, we make more money as a result of their focusing on marketing a casino since that is where the vast majority of purse money is generated.”

Gural called developments in gaming states a “wakeup call” the sport can heed or ignore. “But by ignoring it I think we will simply ensure our demise,” he said.

Gural said he has asked the directors of the USTA to address the issue when they meet in mid-March in Columbus, Ohio, and form a committee to look into the feasibility of the plan.