After a fabulous financial year of racing, The Meadows Racetrack & Casino is facing a threat to its on-track prosperity.
Starting Friday, racing purses will decrease 10 percent. The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association – representing owners, trainers and drivers of standardbred horses at the North Strabane Township facility – made the announcement Tuesday.
The reduction was instituted to make up for a 4.6 percent decrease ($6.36 million) in funds from the state’s slots handle over the first half of the fiscal year (July 1 through Dec. 31, 2012), and for the state budget-mandated diversion of $5 million from the Race Horse Development Fund to finance the Pennsylvania Farm Show and county fairs.
A purse, according to horse-smart.com, is “the total prize money awarded in a race.” Lower purses are less attractive to some bettors, which could result in reduced attendance and lower handle – the total amount of money wagered on a day of racing.
And The Meadows had a handle on consistently high handles in 2012. It experienced a 15 percent spike in all-sources handle, averaging $501,550 per race day, a $65,000-plus increase from 2011.
That half-million-dollar figure is well above the $365,886 race-day average at all U.S. harness tracks last year, according to the United States Trotting Association.
“This ($501,550 handle) is the high point since simulcasting (televising races to other tracks around the country) started here in the mid-1990s,” Mike Jeannot, president of Meadows Racing, said when the handle figures were announced in early January.
Also, the average win payoff at The Meadows last year was $12.78, up from $12.66 in 2011. That figure could drop in 2013, as could the odds. Last year, winning horses went out at odds greater than 5-1, another favorable figure in the harness industry.
In a prepared statement following the announcement of the purse reductions, MSOA President Rich Gillock said:
“This is disappointing news for our horsemen, naturally. However, we are hopeful that the MSOA and the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition will be successful in getting all or a portion of the money back that was removed from the Race Horse Development Fund three years ago as part of a budget adjustment. We took a 17 percent reduction at that time. We will continue working toward that goal.”
Pete Peterson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said in a statement:
“When purse revenues decrease, it creates a ripple effect throughout the industry. Veterinarians, blacksmiths, trainers, drivers, grooms and jockeys all earn less. Owners also are forced to reduce their expenses, which includes feed provided by Pennsylvania farmers and riding equipment provided by local small businesses.”