Integration of Racing and Gaming Debated by Panel

Can racing and gaming be integrated in one facility? Apparently so, but the final product won't look the same from racetrack to racetrack.

During the Racing & Gaming Summit held Dec. 10 in Tucson, Ariz., members of one panel suggested there are long-term benefits when racing and gaming are linked in some way in racinos. It could take some trial and error, however.

Bruce Wentworth, general manager of the Dubuque Racing Association, said slot machines and the horse racing operation were separated at first at the Iowa Greyhound track, but television monitors were kept in the casino area. The result was compliments from racing fans who would make advance wagers and then watch the races on television while they played slots.

He said the focus on racing has continued even though it generates only 5% of total revenue at the Dubuque track. He said billboards in the area still feature greyhounds during the live racing season.

"We're not going to get a return on investment, but we have to do it anyway," Wentworth said. "We've been a Greyhound track for 18 years. The cross-over is still not what we had hoped it would be, but it's something we're working on."

Louisiana Downs general manager Ray Tromba was a late scratch from the panel, but Mike Shagan, the moderator, related some of Tromba's comments. When Louisiana Downs first put in video poker machines, integration didn't work.

"The gaming machine customers didn't like it because they were too involved with the racing," Shagan said. "The racing people didn't like it because the machines were too noisy, and it was crowded."

Saverio Scheri III, managing director of White Sand Consulting, said integration is "clearly the best approach" because it gives racing an opportunity for growth that ultimately could lead to handle increases. "Here's a chance to change the trend and have it start to trend up," he said.

David Pye, vice president of corporate development for Scientific Games, showed the results of an experiment several years ago in which video lottery terminals had pari-mutuel capabilities. (The machines were in place at Tri-State Greyhound Park and Wheeling Downs in West Virginia.) With 700 to 1,000 machines in place at the time, 64% of handle on a slow business day might be generated through the VLTs because many of them were available.

Panelists also discussed measures that should be taken to draw interest in facilities with racing and gaming. They suggested upgraded food service and entertainment, which led to a comment from Ron Barbaro, chairman of the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corp., which oversees slot machines at racetracks in the province.

Barbaro, who earlier gave the keynote luncheon speech, said the three biggest rewards are cash, food, and entertainment. With strong words, he clearly offered his opinion that horse racing alone won't cut it.

"I spent eight hours watching the Breeders' Cup, and all I saw were trainers, owners, jockeys, and horses," Barbaro said. "There is no fun energy whatsoever. I understand racehorse people are very religious -- they worship each other. There is no fun energy. It annoys the hell out of me."

The inaugural summit was presented by GEM Communications in conjunction with the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program.