The horsemen's group at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort has signed off on a plan to reduce racing days and the number of races at the West Virginia track later this year.
Mountaineer management May 20 asked the West Virginia Racing Commission for permission to drop 11 days in December and cut back to nine races a night instead of 10 in October and November. The WVRC will act on the request in June.
Mountaineer was approved for 210 racing days from March 1-Dec. 20. The reduction would mean the one-time year-round racetrack would operate for nine months in 2014.
John Baird, president of the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said it wasn't an easy decision for the board of directors, but he indicated there is a growing understanding among horsemen that changes are necessary in light of declines in field size and purse money, not only at Mountaineer.
"We don't have enough purse money," Baird said May 23. "We can't fill 10 races a day–no one does anymore. If we don't cut these days, we would have to cut purses by 20% at the end of the year."
Purses at Mountaineer are heavily supported by revenue from video lottery terminals and table games. But there was a time when West Virginia racetrack casinos had little competition, and therefore much more money went to purses and the companies that own the tracks.
In 2005 Mountaineer paid $32.75 million in purses for an average of $151,642 per program over 216 days, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. The track, which runs a maximum of 10 horses in non-stakes, averaged 8.81 horses per race that year.
In 2013, according to TJCIS, Mountaineer paid $26.46 million in purses for an average of $126,022 per race day over 210 days. Field size averaged 8.11 horses per race, but so far this year it has fallen to 7.27. The field size figures are similar, if not lower, at other tracks in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
Mountaineer this fall will compete with the new Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course near Youngstown, Ohio, which is Mountaineer's primary casino market. The facility, which will take over dates formerly raced at Beulah Park, will have almost 1,000 stalls for Thoroughbreds.