Thu | Jun 17, 2021

A slot-style bailout?

Published:Tuesday | March 27, 2012 | 12:00 AM

by Gordon Robinson

Despite the dire warning contained in Proverbs 26:11, I once again return to my favourite industry/sport, horse racing.

For the past decade, the government-owned racing promoter, Caymanas Track Limited (CTL), has been blighted by a series of boards, apparently graduated from the Ray Charles School of foresight, who act like entrants to an incompetence competition.

The most recent example of this mindless leadership has touted, for years, that racing's salvation lies in combining horse racing with slot machines. Equally short-sighted newspaper scribes have contributed to a cacophony of calls for CTL to introduce slots to the racetrack and its off-track betting parlours (OTBs), creating the sort of brutish babble not heard since open voting won Barabbas an election.

It's all talk so far as, despite annual promises, not one CTL-controlled slot machine has graced the racetrack or a single OTB.

"You talk too much;

you worry me to death.

You talk too much;

you even worry my pet. You just talk, talk, talk ...

You talk too much."

Everybody wants pie in the sky. Nobody wants to work to produce a viable horse-racing product. So, we've noted the success of slots at some United States racetracks and, absent necessary critical analysis, we're trying to import that formula. But, will we?

"You talk about people

that you don't know.

You talk about people

wherever you go.

You just talk, talk, talk ...

You talk too much."

US racetracks like Parx Racing, Charles Town, Presque Isle Downs and Zia Park experienced economic booms when slots were installed. This because:

1. US legislation makes racetracks the exclusive location for legalised slot machine gambling in the state. This forces slot aficionados to attend the racetrack to bet. In Jamaica, no slot machine player will be attracted to a filthy, antiquated Caymanas Park or hole-in-the-wall OTBs instead of Acropolis, Jamaica Grande, or Coral Cliff, where their favourite pastime is professionally presented.

2. US state legislation earmarks a percentage of the tax revenues from slots for purses and breeders' bonuses. No such luck here. Here, know-it-all CTL directors who've never run a slot operation in their academically oriented lives have invited tenders from experienced slot operators to partner with CTL by installing slots at the track/OTBs. CTL's cut will be a minority share of the operator's 'drop' (the slot operator's winnings; in the US, slot operators are regulated to retain no more than seven per cent of stakes).

Our Government will still collect all slot taxes paid and the minute sums expected from CTL's share of the drop isn't legally earmarked for anything so can be spent at CTL's discretion.

3. None of the US tracks is state-owned. In Jamaica, Government divested an essential service (Jamaica Public Service Company) but retained ownership of a racetrack.

Ultra-selfish approach

In the US, questions have arisen regarding the propriety of racetracks benefiting exclusively from slot operations to the detriment of the tax-paying public. Horsemen have fuelled these protests by their standard ultra-selfish approach of earmarking slot taxes exclusively to purses instead of at least partially to health or senior citizens' benefits. Taxpayers are pressuring governors to revamp these slot licences and to redirect the taxes elsewhere. Meanwhile, lazy racetrack directors have simply pocketed the cash in the windfall years and done nothing to improve the racing product or infrastructure (Canada's Woodbine is a notable exception) so, if the plug is pulled, they'll be back to a bankrupt square one.

The uncomfortable truth is horse racing's development isn't possible without a fundamental restructuring of its finances to make it (including the tote and bookmakers) more attractive. As currently structured, local horse racing will neither flourish nor grow. Lord, have mercy!

Fundamentally, Government has no place in horse racing promotion, which must be divested. Divesting the property would be counterproductive, so divestment should proceed along the lines of licensing investors willing to construct a new racetrack. When that new track is up and running, Caymanas Park can be used by Government for low-cost housing for public servants or whatever.

Strict racing regulation will force private promoters to produce a competitive tote with a takeout akin to the worldwide norm, and to modernise operations so that punters can subscribe to secure websites through which they can obtain the form; place bets; and watch races live. Bookmakers oughtn't to be licensed except they make their own book and they could negotiate innovative cooperative arrangements with the new promoters. Bonuses and incentives to occupational licence holders should be reduced from today's world highs and be paid to winners only. There's more, but no space ... .

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.