Chewing the Slots Issue, Again

UPDATE 4:22: Billy Reed covered the Forum and has a great take on it at BillyReedSays.

Today’s Louisville Forum will generate more discussion, none of it productive, about the failed slots legislation in Kentucky. Things aren’t going to change anytime soon in Frankfort, so it looks like the industry had better start looking for ways to make it without slots.

Still, Bob Evans of Churchill Downs is on the panel, along with a couple of other industry pros, that will be hosted by the C-J’s Jennie Rees. No one who opposes slots is on the panel. Expect Evans to do a lot of whining about state government.

The group might be better off watching video of John Boel’s series on the horse industry. In it, Boel found that purses are still healthier here than other states, that attendance at Churchill and Keeneland are up, breeding numbers in Kentucky are healthy. Churchill’s revenue numbers are way up. Which is not to say that trainers aren’t leaving the state, and that the horse industry doesn’t need some help from government.

The potential closing of Ellis and Turfway parks would be a serious blow to the Kentucky racing circuit.  But Boel’s report doesn’t support the assumption that all the horses are leaving Kentucky for other states, or that the reason horsemen have abandoned Churchill this spring has to do with purse size.

The industry’s problems might just be a marketing challenge. Amping up the marketing and turning on the lights sure made for a better party atmosphere at Churchill Downs this spring. Maybe the industry should consult with the Louisville Bats for promotional ideas.  Jake the Diamond Dog could sure bring in a few more fans to the track, even if they don’t bet a lot of cash. There’s no reason they couldn’t hire Bob Dylan to play a show after the card.

It’s not that we’re not in favor of slots. We’d like to see what would happen at Churchill if one-armed bandits invaded the facility. It’s a free market issue, and we don’t care if the not-so-smart members of our community throw their money into slot machines, lottery terminals or bingo. State laws that favor one type of gambling over another seem kind of silly.

But the numbers in Boel’s reports suggest that the racing industry’s problems, and its rationale for slots, chronicled so well in local media, aren’t supported by the numbers.