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September 6, 2012

Harness racing showing resurgence in Ohio

DAYTON, Ohio — The Ohio harness racing industry is showing signs of resurgence three months after the opening of the state’s first racetrack with video lottery terminals, according to some in the racing industry.

Attendance at harness racing events is up, fans are betting more and the number of Ohio-bred mares is expected to rise, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Tracks in Ohio slipped in attendance after Pennsylvania and Indiana approved video lottery gambling at racetracks in 2006, said Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. But many in the industry think the addition of video lottery terminals in Ohio will help draw more people to Ohio’s tracks and increase those tracks’ purses.

Scioto Downs in Columbus was the first to get terminals this year, and purses are up there from a range of $2,000 to $4,000 per race in 2011 to $4,000 to $15,000 this year. Betting on live races also is up about 35 percent over last year, said Stacy Cahill, Scioto Downs’ general manager.

“People who have never seen a race are going down to the track to see what’s going on,” Cahill said.

The Ohio Lottery Commission is reviewing five additional applications from racetrack owners to become video lottery terminal sales agents. The applications include one for Lebanon Raceway from the Miami Valley Gaming and Racing LLC., a joint venture of Delaware North Companies Gaming and Entertainment and Churchill Downs Inc.

“We’ve all been waiting for so many years for slots to save racing in Ohio,” Vickie McNabb, director of the Lebanon Raceway track for the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, said.

Penn National Gaming Inc. also has applied for the video lottery terminals for its proposed Hollywood Slots at Dayton Raceway.

“I think everybody involved in the industry believes that allowing the video lottery terminals will draw people, who will also watch and bet on the races,” Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said Wednesday.

The American Horse Council has estimated that Ohio horse racing was once a $900 million agricultural-based industry that supported 25,000 jobs directly, involving more than 250,000 Ohioans. But the number of industry jobs fell to 15,000 during the past decade, Knappenberger said.

Pennsylvania and Indiana racetracks have used video lottery revenue to increase the purse money paid out to owners of winning horses and to increase the number of horses bred in those states. States with expanded gambling have seen increases in horse training and breeding operations, and in investments in farming and livestock and in the need for veterinary services to handle foal production, according to the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Associaton.

The number of standardbred mares bred in Ohio to produce foals for harness racing is already increasing after falling from more than 2,591 in 2003 to 687 in 2010, Knappenberger said. He said breeders estimate the number of mares that will be bred in Ohio this year to produce foals for harness racing could be as high as 1,400, with the anticipation of video lottery terminal revenue increasing purses.

Robert Schmitz, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, warns that it’s too soon to predict the full impact of the lottery terminals on the racing industry, but says he is encouraged.

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