Day At The Track

Tracks are betting on bills to help industry

10:30 PM 02 Jun 2016 NZST
Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print
Hazel Park Raceway
The 2016 opening day at Hazel Park Raceway on Friday, May 27, 2016, in Hazel Park, MI.
Salwan Georges Photo, Detroit Free Press

As the ponies hit the tracks for this season’s weekend contests, Michigan’s shrinking horse-racing industry is facing growing pressures to figure out ways to survive.

Even before Detroit’s three casinos opened in 1999 and 2000, the tracks were facing competitive pressures from Native American tribal casinos that began popping up in Michigan in 1993.

From a high of nine tracks in the state, only two remain — Northville Downs and Hazel Park Raceway. And staying in business has been a challenge. In 1999, horse racing generated $13.2 million in revenues for the state on wagers of $416 million. By 2015, according to the state’s annual horse-racing report, those revenues had shrunk to $3.5 million on wagers of $106 million.

The number of people involved in horse racing also has shrunk dramatically. In 2002, 8,594 licenses for everything from jockeys to trainers and horse owners were issued by the state. In 2015, the number declined to 1,424.

• Related: Failed Wayne Co. horse track tied to new casino plan

“It’s a more competitive market out there, and we have to open up the door to some new revenue sources,” said Dan Adkins, vice president of Hazel Park Raceway, where Thoroughbred racing began for the season on Friday.

Mike Carlo, operations manager at Northville Downs, just shook his head in dismay at how much business the casinos have sucked away from his harness-racing track, which has been operating since 1944 and started the live racing season in March.

The Legislature has tried to lend a hand over the years, but it’s been more than 20 years since significant legislation passed that helped the industry stay alive. In 1995, the Legislature allowed the tracks to begin simulcasting races so locals could bet on both the live races happening at the track and the televised races being shown on screens inside the raceways. So while live racing happens on Fridays and Saturdays from May through September or October, simulcast wagering happens nearly every day of the year.

That still wasn’t enough for the industry and from 1998 to 2014, seven tracks closed. Advocates tried again and again to push a plan to put slot machines at the racetracks, creating “racinos,” but that would require a statewide vote because it’s considered an expansion of gambling in the state. The plans went nowhere.

As long as we can keep the industry up and running, we have to do it. It’s an important industry in this state supporting a lot of family farms,” said state Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo. “And let’s keep as much of those dollars in Michigan as well.”

Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print

Read More News About...

Stallion Name

Next article: