It was only fitting that a blustery storm drenched fans on opening night at Hollywood Park April 20, because the Inglewood, Calif., racetrack has handled its share of adverse conditions.
On opening day nine years ago, the track was forced to close its gates because of the Rodney King riots that crippled Los Angeles for months. Now, as Hollywood Park begins its 62nd spring-summer meet, a new threat looms on the horizon: the state's energy crisis.
Faced with the possibility of the lights going dark this summer, management planned ahead and purchased four back-up generators to ensure rolling blackouts don't affect operations. But the energy crisis has already come at a cost.
Hollywood spent about $500,000 for the set of generators, which will not only be used for emergencies but also during peak usage hours.
"It's a costly situation for us," Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker said. "There is no way we can break even on this purchase."
The power crisis also prompted Hollywood to bump up its start time on Fridays from 7:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Running lights at night would be too costly considering electricity prices will be increased up to 46% by this summer. The move could result in a drop in on-track attendance.
"We expect to be down in attendance but we plan to equal or better our handle last year," said Baedeker, who noted total daily handle for last year's meet was more than $10 million.
At least Hollywood management has a good sense of humor, considering the lower projections. More than 23,000 bettors who turned out April 20 were given a small flashlight in case their homes go dark this summer. The promotion was dreamed up by media relations director Mike Mooney.
Despite the pounding rain, opening night on-track attendance and handle figures were up slightly from last year. The numbers were encouraging, Baedeker said, especially in an industry where a little luck can only help. At least the power didn't go out.