Racinos on the increase

May 16, 2006 3:04 AM

On the surface, "racinos" would not seem relative to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry based in Nevada, but the future of thoroughbred racing and thus pari-mutuel betting could very well hinge on these smaller gaming operations.

"Racing has an opportunity for a new look and feel," said Don Dissinger, senior vice president for Ewing Cole Architects and moderator for the seminar on racino design during the two-day G2E Institute at Red Rock Casino Resort in Summerlin.

"There are two types of racino designs in existence today," Dissinger said. "There are those designed and built from the ground up and those converted from existing racetrack structures. Racinos are the future for regional entertainment destinations, the evolution of gaming and entertainment."

Bruce Rimbo, president of Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino in New Mexico, spoke of a successful racino venture at Zia Downs, located in a sparsely populated area of eastern New Mexico near Hobbs.

"The Hobbs area was lacking entertainment," Rimbo said. "We felt turning Zia Park into a racino was the best way to raise money to put back into improving our horse racing purses and product. A successful racino is all about finding an efficient site. We couldn’t make Zia Park another Riodoso Downs. But by being operationally efficient, we turned Zia Park completely around as a place to bring your family for great entertainment."

Bruce said that racinos were the way to go for the rest of the country, citing poker as an example of an idea the gaming industry had extreme doubts about national success.

"I recall not long ago when casinos were cutting poker rooms out of their operations," he said. "Now they’re adding them. Poker has become a multi-million dollar industry with enormous popularity brought on through the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour. I feel horse racing can achieve similar results through racinos, if done right. Every state is heading for them, but it’s a hard road to go."

Bill Dimondi, president of the Delaware State Fair, said he experienced such problems with racinos at Harrington Raceway.

"We were hit from several fronts," he said. "There was the pressure of competition from neighboring Pennsylvania and Maryland. "Then there was our site itself, which had to contend with the Delaware State Fair, located on the Raceway grounds. The fairgrounds separated the racetrack from other venues, making our plan for adding slots a daunting task."

David Yount, executive director for racing operations at Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino, said the most difficult part of racino design is making things comfortable for both race and slot players.

"The needs of race and slot players are so different," he said. "Sometimes in order to make a successful racino, it’s necessary to do a total overhaul. That can be an expensive proposition."

Racinos are not just a U.S. phenomenon. Canada is very much involved, particularly the province of Alberta.

"We now sport a $1.4 million retail operation," said Ralph Miller, founding officer at Calgary Racetrack and Entertainment Centre. "We had to find a way of attracting people when we went dark for racing, which is quite often with the winter conditions in Calgary. Racinos introduced a whole new population to our race fans. It kept us going."