SEARCHING FOR A RAINBOW

Today’s VRC meeting was marked with what Greg Scoggins of MEC/Xpress Bet called a “Virginia venting session.” After Colonial CEO Ian Stewart explained the negative impact of the TrackNet Media/Twin Spires/Xpress Bet/related racetracks and subsidiaries and YouBet boycott of the Colonial Downs signal, a spontaneous forum erupted and all the various parties in the room had a chance to speak their peace.

Two words: Nice mess.

We won’t rehash why each of the parties thinks their position is the right one, but suffice it to say that it’s going to take a while to sort out the ever growing ADW puzzle in Virginia.

Why is this important? It’s important because most folks in the room believe the future of horse racing in Virginia is ADW – not slot machines, but computer and telephone wagering that should eventually allow us to take the pari-mutuel product to all 7.5 million Virginians.

To that end, for a brief period following the VRC meeting, a group now called the Virginia Breeding and Racing Improvement Group (or Virginia Racing and Breeding Improvement Group, we’re not sure which just yet) spent a few moments talking about their efforts to form a five year plan to preserve, and maybe even grow (with a little luck) horse racing and breeding here in the Commonwealth. This group is a gathering of stakeholders that is similar to the Virginia Racing Task Force which redesigned horse racing in Virginia some years ago. It will start with the stakeholders’ group representatives and the VRC folks and eventually invite owners, breeders, trainers, fans, bettors, and…yes…even the ADW companies to the table to seek their input on how to move the industry forward.

One thing we know for sure: The status quo ain’t working. Wagering, which has been down all year, nosedived in June. There may be some folks out there who think that this is all economy related, but there are larger forces at work here – social, cultural, financial forces that we need to figure out.

We talk each year about expanding the number of live racing days, but in today’s economic environment (wagering down 16% on Thoroughbred racing) who can advocate that with a straight face? Until we figure out how to create additional handle through new wagering opportunities, we are going to have a tough time preserving what we now have.

Now, it’s not all bad news. Here in Virginia we have a tradition of getting all the stakeholders together and setting aside differences long enough to figure out what is mutually beneficial. That is exactly what the Improvement Group is looking to do while drawing a road map for the future of racing in Virginia.

The next organizational meeting is in late August and we will keep you posted. At some point in the process, we will be seeking input from everyone with an idea…