We are all living Lewis Carroll’s dream, and all of us are Alice in
Henry Kissinger and Cardinal Law
resign, as they should, but Trent Lott, foot lodged firmly in mouth, an
apologist for segregation who helps run the country, does not.
We prepare to go to war because George
Bush thinks Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, but we allow North Korea,
which has nuclear arms, to deliver scud missiles to Yemen, where terrorists
abound, having already bombed an American ship and killed American sailors.
The whole Alice cast is assembled in
Washington: the March Hare, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, and of
course the Mad Hatter. The Mock Turtle, too, with his different branches of
arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision.
Living in this upside-down world, it
was amusing to hear the leaders of racing rattling around discussing the
industry’s problems in Tucson last week.
It is one thing to listen to talk
about the problems of betting in Las Vegas, which is built on gambling and
It is quite another to hear the fury
in an outpost of the old west, where nearby Tombstone sells Boot Hill and the
gunfight at the OK Corral and the legend of Wyatt Earp as tourist attractions.
But Tucson was where the talk was last
week, and racing leaders discussed account wagering, Internet betting, what life
will be like living with giants like Magna and Churchill Downs and whether the
little guy can survive. Whether Chris Harn and his crooked fraternity brothers
have ruined the sport and how long they are going to spend in the slammer, and
— most important of all — who is going to get slots at tracks and who
That preoccupation was tempered by the
realization that while slots are booming purses upwards for those who have them,
fewer and fewer people are going to racetracks, even at the tracks fortunate
enough to have slots.
That point was hammered home in a presentation by Nick Eaves, the senior
vice president for marketing and business of Woodbine Entertainment Group, based
in Toronto. Woodbine racetrack is the epitome of racing and gaming, a
masterpiece of a racino. It is huge, it is lavish, it is beautiful, it is all
that anything in Vegas is, except that it has a racetrack, and a major one. The
purses paid to horsemen are so high, thanks to the slots that are housed in a
magnificent first level casino, that it draws American talent, despite the
Canadian dollar being worth only 63 cents. Of course, owners also only have to
pay only 63 cents in American money, instead of a real dollar, to have their
More important is the fact that
despite all that, on-track attendance continues to slide there, and it was
American betting money — $122 million of it last year bet by Americans on
Woodbine’s thoroughbred racing alone — that kept Woodbine in black ink on
its running horse operation.
What this says is that the issue of
slots at tracks still has not played itself out. Everyone who runs a racetrack
wants slots, because Ontario and Delaware and West Virginia and Iowa, which have
them, are enjoying prosperity. But in all of those jurisdictions legislatures
had the wisdom to mandate a generous share of slot revenues to horse racing
purses. Those subsidies have worked well for the racing industry.
In Tucson last week, a warning was
issued, that those who giveth also taketh away, and that as huge budget deficits
engulf states and provinces everywhere, the legislators who wrote the slot
subsidy guarantees — or their successors — can reach back into the pot and
redistribute the spoils.
That would change the dynamic of slots
attracks, but an even bigger threat looms in Washington. If credit cards
are barred entirely for gambling transactions, with no exceptions or exemptions,
account wagering and interstate simulcasting will be in dire peril.
If that happens, the American racing
industry as now constructed is in jeopardy, and an American sporting tradition
and gambling enterprise that has survived all challenges for two centuries will
be fighting for its life in our Alice-in-Wonderland upside-down world.