NTRA Issues Policy on Alternative Gaming at Tracks

In a follow-up to discussion at its board of directors teleconference meeting Feb. 6, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Feb. 22 released an official policy statement on alternative gaming at racetracks.

The NTRA will, in effect, act as a "clearinghouse" for related information. It will not employ its resources in any state without a super-majority vote of its board and a consensus of all "signficant" NTRA members in a given state. That would include racetracks, horsemen's groups, and breed associations.

"Overall, the board continues to feel particular legislative decisions related to wagering should be made on the state level," said Greg Avioli, deputy commissioner of the NTRA. "It's really a state issue."

The introduction to the policy states: "The NTRA's mission is to increase the popularity of horseracing and to improve economic conditions in the industry, including related businesses such as breeding. From the NTRA's perspective, therefore, the potential effects of alternative gaming at racetracks--for example, slot machines, (video lottery terminals), card rooms, or casinos--must be measured against this mission."

Slot machines and VLTs are in place at Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse, and Greyhound racetracks in Delaware, Iowa, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Many tracks in New York are expected to have the devices on line by the end of this year, while other states, such as Florida and Kentucky, have legislation pending or plan to introduce legislation.

Avioli said that, for example, the NTRA has not been asked to actively assist tracks and horsemen in Kentucky as they lobby for alternative gaming legislation. Most of the NTRA's activity in this regard would be tied to testifying at hearings, lining up experts, and perhaps providing some funding.

The NTRA stands by its belief that "no single development would be more beneficial to the industry's economic prospects than additional live wagering, especially by new or currently infrequent fans." But the policy recognizes the importance of alternative gaming to pari-mutuel facilities.

The NTRA said it would act as a "clearinghouse" for research, information, and "best practices" regarding alternative gaming at racetracks, something it says has led to higher revenues and purses, additional tax revenue and jobs, and increased attendance at facilities. But the NTRA also notes the following concerns:

--Overly broad expansion to non-racing outlets could negate the benefits of alternative gaming and perhaps reduce jobs in the racing and breeding industry;

--Benefits from gaming could put pressure on legislators to reduce or eliminate the benefits that go to the racing industry; and

--Alternative gaming revenue could distract the industry from the need to market horseracing and handicapping more effectively to potential fans and customers.

The NTRA has thus determined that:

--Alternative gaming policy should be determined state by state;

--Racetracks should be the preferred location for alternative gaming if it considered by any juridisction;

--The interests of live racing, including purses, should be protected on a permanent or long-term basis;

--Alternative gaming such as slot machines or VLTs should be designed and operated to complement and, where possible, enhance live racing; and

--With assistance from the NTRA and perhaps the National Council on Problem Gaming, member racetracks with alternative gaming should review, and where necessary increase, their commitments to problem wagering detection and assistance programs.