Woodbine’s the ‘poster boy’

Feb 19, 2002 5:36 AM

Kentucky racetrack operators, led by Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN), have underscored the success of tracks in West Virginia, Iowa, Delaware and Rhode Island to point out the value of adding video lottery terminals to its daily gaming menu.

When track slots efforts were started late last year, Kentucky officials cited the move by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to put slots at their Aqueduct facility.

Lately, however, they have switched to Woodbine in Toronto, the track where the great Secretariat ran his last race. During the racing season last year, Woodbine Entertainment had a record $1.4 billion wagered on horse racing, an increase of 11.1% over the previous year. Gross revenue to the track was $39.2 million. This permitted the track to boost purses by some $20 million.

And, as usual, a boost in the purse account brings more betting on the horses. Last year, this amounted to $1.4 billion, a healthy 11.1% increase over the previous year.

Those numbers obviously caught the eye of Kentucky track operators. Said one, “Woodbine is our future . . . Without something like it, we’ll be looking at a potential disaster.”

Woodbine, said “racino” supporters, has become the “poster child” of tracks looking for additional revenue.

In past years, Woodbine was operated by racing purists who never would have considered installing slot machines on their track. But those days are gone.

“We’re in the gambling business,” commented Woodbine CEO David Willmot.

“People come to the track to gamble. Take away the betting, and most days, you’d have a few dozen purists at the track . . . and that’s about it.”