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August 23, 2010

Horse racing a dying sport

ENTERTAINMENT - While bullfighting continues to thrive overseas, a different sport in North America is starting to die out: Horse racing.

Which is ironic because the jockey's don't even kill the horses when the race is over. That would be silliness.

No, what's dying is the North American audience and the amount of people who are betting. U.S. and Canadian thoroughbred horse racing has seen a huge decline in attendance in the past 15 years and even the addition of slot machines, casinos or "racinos" have not slowed the decline of people.

Part of the problem is internet gambling and poker dens. Race tracks across North America have seen a steady decline in both attendance and betting totals. Profits are way down and even horse auction values are hurting. There's simply too many race tracks and not enough people coming out to the race track willing to throw away their money.

Lets take the Hanover Raceway for example, which is 3 hours north west of Toronto. Its the only racetrack for 100 km and visitors from all over the region go there... but there's a difference... they only have live races one night per week, Saturday, and the racing season is approx. 7 months of the year. In 1995 the Hanover Raceway had races on Wednesday nights and Saturday nights, but those days with the record crowds are long gone.

These days you can just stay at home and gamble online instead. Going out to the horse races is too much of a hassle. A lot of the customers who still come out are in their 60s, 70s and 80s... the customers who are there for the spectacle of the race track, only bet $2 on every race and aren't that worried if they win or lose.

The die hard gamblers (you know the ones who lose their mortgage, their house and their wife and kids leave them) are becoming more scarce. Not because they're quitting and getting counselling for their gambling addiction, but really because they're not being replaced with a crowd of younger gamblers. All the younger gamblers are either playing videos games, gambling online or finding some other way to waste their extra cash.

These days its so much more logical to spend your money on something that will SAVE you money later. ie. A more efficient engine for your old car, improving your gas mileage and performance. Or solar panels for your home, reducing your electricity bill. Or buying a home gym and then cancelling your gym membership. Why gamble your money away when you can use it to save more money in the future?

Horse racing profits in the USA was also hurt by the recent "Great Recession". This year alone the amounts wagered have dropped 7% in July, which is one of the busiest times of the year for horse wagering. Comparatively from 2003 to 2009 betting totals dropped 19%.

Auctions of race horses dropped 32% in value in 2009.

And there's more changes on the horizon. Gambling on SmartPhones is coming soon and that will mean people won't even need the internet at home to gamble. They can gamble on the subway on the way to work, gamble while waiting for friends at a pub, gamble at their convenience.

Eventually the horse races and wagering on them will go the way sculling wagering. In the 1900s it was all the rage to go out and bet on men's sculling (rowing). Then, like now, there was organized crime and people sometimes tried to rig the race. Canadian rower Ned Hanlan for example took the World Title in 1880 and defended it successfully for 7 years. Betting on sculling races eventually died out... and someday betting on horse races (at least professionally) will have to dwindle.

Eventually there won't be enough old people there to support the sport of horse racing. Race tracks will have to be shut down and turned into something else. ie. Resorts for equine lovers. Its a bit like horse polo, who the heck plays that any more?

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