When Ted Arneault, president and CEO of MTR Gaming Inc. (MNTG), applied for a slots license for Erie, Penn., he said he had every intention of building a thoroughbred track for racing.
He fulfilled that promise on Labor Day weekend by staging the first of 25 days of racing at the brand new facility.
And the fans turned out in droves.
In fact, the announced attendance of 15,737 completely swamped the facility. Slots customers had been advised that on opening day they would be welcomed with free admission.
The turnout was quite a bit different from the few people who were attracted to Erie’s other racetrack, old Commodore Downs. Back in the middle 70’s, the horse population was limited and of poor quality. After all, a full day of racing would be conducted for a total of less than $14,000 in purses.
This year, the Erie track will be offering purses approaching $500,000 per day.
That’s because of the slots revenue. A share of the slots money is set aside for race purses. Since there will only be 25 racing days this calendar year, the purses will likely challenge those at Saratoga, Del Mar, Churchill Downs and other famous racetracks.
That purse schedule has not gone unnoticed by the industry. Showing up for racing were such well-known horsemen as Steve Asmussen and Scott Lake. Actually, the first feature at the track, the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes, was won by a three-year-old filly trained by Grant Hoffmans.
Despite the quality horses, wagering on the program was far less than at other tracks. Total on-track handle was $126,204 while another $460,035 was wagered at more than 300 simulcast outlets.