Friday, April 12, 2013

B.C. horse racing future remains muddy

An April 12-published report says the uncertain future of aging Hastings Racecourse and the public’s perception of the potential danger to racehorses are among the biggest risks to the sport of kings in British Columbia.
Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver: "a stunning physical setting"


Published on the eve of Hastings’ 69-day, 2013 live season, the Horse Racing Industry Management Committee’s draft report was originally expected last summer. A final report will be released at an unspecified date after more consultation by the committee, which was struck in November 2009. 

The report expects the two-year Great Canadian Gaming Corporation lease extension at civic-owned Hastings to be followed by a long-term pact after 2014, but “the Hastings facility in particular is in need of upgrading, requiring significant capital expenditures. The business plan must reflect this need.”
Great Canadian promised upgrades when it was granted a casino licence in 2004, but balked at renovating the barns or building a parkade. 

Safety of the sport is also a concern. 

“A number of media outlets across North America have reported about thoroughbred horse injuries, deaths and drugging,” the report said. “The public perception regarding horse health has the potential to have a serious impact on any industry rejuvenation. The B.C. industry must continue to do all it can to make B.C. tracks as safe as possible and communicate effectively on this issue.”

Twenty horses died at Hastings from January 2010 to September 2011, according to figures released in December 2011. 

The report recommended thoroughbred and standardbred racing be decoupled and the breed associations and track operators form corresponding management groups. 

“The funding model should reflect this decoupling so that benefits derived from the execution of independent strategies flow to reward the breeds’ actions,” the report said. “A financial transparency program should be put in place to promote trust and understanding between industry partners.”

The report recommended a so-called “governance triangle,” whereby the thoroughbred and standardbred management groups report to the industry management committee and the financial working group. It also said B.C. Lottery Corporation should have a bigger hand in marketing the Teletheatre B.C. off-track betting parlors.

The report said the province’s 2004 support for slot machine installation at Hastings Racecourse and Fraser Downs flopped. A percentage of royalties was earmarked for the sport, including purses. 

“Unfortunately, revenues from the racetrack slot machines were, and continue to be, lower than anticipated.”

Live racing wagering was up 7.6% in 2012 at the tracks, but the amount wagered on simulcast at the tracks and via teletheatres continued to fall. Fraser Downs’ handle fell 9.8% and Hastings fell 7.9%. Teletheatre BC fell 1.9%. Overall, a 4.4% drop.  

"In the past 15 years consumer preferences have changed. Horse racing is no longer the only legal form of gambling in the province, and it is far from the only option British Columbians have for a fun afternoon or evening out. Horse racing is now in a much tougher entertainment environment.”

The province topped-up the combined $6 million slot machine revenues with $4 million extra in 2011 and 2012. Last December, the provincial government replaced the top-up grants by increasing the industry’s share of net slot machine revenue to 25% from 15.5%. The net effect is funding will remain at $10 million a year.  

The report said the industry has to become less reliant on government. It also noted Hastings’ competitive advantages, such as a hyper-social sporting event with free-flowing movement of people; a stunning physical setting with the view of the North Shore mountains; and “celebrity ambassador” 
Mario Gutierrez, the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winning jockey aboard I’ll Have 
Another. Mexican import Gutierrez honed his skills at Hastings and returned to race on several occasions after his Cinderella springtime. 

The 23-page draft report was released at 5 p.m. on April 12, the last Friday before the provincial election’s formal April 16 start. Industry stakeholders were given a preview earlier in the day. The government did not respond to a request for media access. 

Click here to listen to a 2012 documentary on the past, present and uncertain future of horse racing in British Columbia, from The Investigators on CKNW AM 980

1 comment:

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