Comments from officials from the United States Trotting Association, the American Quarter Horse Association, and the Greyhound industries mirrored concerns facing the Thoroughbred industry during a panel discussion at the opening session of the Association of Racing Commissioners International convention.
The convention, which opened Wednesday, runs through Friday at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort near Albuquerque, N.M.
Speaking were Eric Sharbaugh, executive vice president and CEO of the USTA; Kip Keefer, executive secretary of the Birmingham (Greyhound) Racing Association; Trey Buck, senior director of racing for the AQHA; and Bruce Rimbo, president of Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.
All participants in the discussion touched on the growing importance of alternative gaming to the pari-mutuel industry. Sharbaugh noted that when alternative gaming comes to a state, there is an increase in state membership programs of 20-50%.
He also said Standardbred tracks fall into three basic categories. Those jurisdictions that have full gaming, and "these tracks are doing quite well," he said; those with some sort of purse supplement from gaming, "that are doing OK...but only for the time being." And then, there are those with no gaming. "Those are struggling from both a product and financial standpoint," he said.
"States with a tremendous heritage in racing such as Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Kentucky fall into that category," he said.
Keefer also noted the disparity between gaming and non-gaming tracks. He said gaming is the opportunity to modernize the sport. The delivery system of information must be changed to keep up with the technology.
His example was a track program he found from the 1930s and he compared it to a modern day program and found the information was relatively the same. "Nobody still delivers information the way they did 60 years ago. That's not the way the world works anymore," he said. "We need to move forward, not cling to the past."
Rimbo, who is also vice president of Zia Park, discussed the explosion of purse money and interest in the state breeding program once gaming came to New Mexico in the winter of 1999. Total purses in the state were $5 million according to Rimbo, and in 2006 they will be $50 million. Average purses will be in the range of $168,000 per day.
"One day, gaming won't be enough," he warned. "Now is the time to take time to look at things to help our product. Maybe it's new products...maybe it is the way we present our product."
He also noted the success of gaming and racing in the state may lead to more tracks being built in New Mexico.
Buck noted that in the Quarter Horse business, there has been an increase in partnerships and account wagering as "been huge for the growth of our industry."