Smith: It's Time for Racing to Get Serious About Future

National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner Tim Smith continues to bang the drum for industry cooperation and aggregation, and again issued a call for the pooling of rights for major events such as the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships and Visa Triple Crown.

In comments made April 1 during the Joint Conference of Racing Regulators in New Orleans, Smith mixed humor with a little sarcasm to drive home his point as the NTRA prepares for its next five years. Clearly, 2005 will set the tone for industry growth from 2006 to 2010.

"It's nice to be around real commissioners," Smith told a group of mostly racing regulators. "I'm just one on TV. You all have more power, and I envy that from time to time."

Though he is the commissioner of the NTRA, the position doesn't wield the same power as would a similar job with another major league sport. Smith noted that the total value of non-wagering rights in Thoroughbred racing currently is $25 million a year, while the amount for the National Hockey League -- as the polls go a less popular sport -- is $150 million.

"We're more popular," Smith said of horse racing. "What's wrong with that picture?"

Smith said the aggregation of rights would push the figure from $25 million to $100 million. He called it a priority action item as the NTRA moves forward.

Smith lauded the Association of Racing Commissioners International and North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association for holding a joint convention for the first time, but he also said the "competition between regulators and their associations is crazy." RCI and NAPRA currently are looking at a unification plan that could be decided by April 3.

In follow-up comments, Frank Lamb, executive director of NAPRA, said: "It's evident this (joint conference) is a very successful format. But I want to dispel any thoughts that regulators are fragmented. There are some very important issues we're working on."

In other comments, Smith targeted account wagering, lagging technology, and internal strife as issues that must be addressed. They are tied to the industry's wagering infrastructure, which is widely believed to be outdated.

"Why is technology behind?" Smith asked. "Because it was nobody's day job to figure it out."

Smith said he receives complaints from players about the proliferation of account-wagering companies and the resulting need to open multiple accounts to play races at different tracks. He noted that pari-mutuel wagering is the only federally legal gambling activity on the Internet in the United States.

"It's another example of the fruits of disaggregation vs. collaboration," Smith said. "We're making it as difficult to play as we possibly could, and we have a federal advantage. This is a much bigger industry than it realizes itself. There are plenty of untapped opportunities out there ... We are big-time players in electronic commerce, and we need to act like it."

Smith recently signed on for another two years as commissioner, and has indicated in comments from time to time he believes the industry is a sleeping giant. Meanwhile, NTRA goals for 2004 include finding out why purses have dropped even though handle is reported to have increased, gaining another $4 million in sponsorships, and hammering out a strategic plan that would hinge on developments in 2005.