Time to Throw in the Towel

John J. Walters Dec 2, 2010

When will the horse racing industry decide that it’s time to throw in the towel on a dying sport and realize that their hobby is no longer the crowd-drawing, money-making racket it once was?  The Maryland Jockey Club seems to be nudging at it with their proposal for a vastly abbreviated racing schedule this year that includes only 47 days of live races at Laurel and Pimlico combined, but apparently the state’s racing commission won’t go down without a fight.

Generally a season consists of 146 days of live races, so the Jockey Club’s proposal represents a rather large step down.  In a fine display of the good decision making that has led the sport to a state of such decay, the racing commission rejected the proposal outright, which means that there aren’t any races whatsoever scheduled for the time being.

What this means for the few people who care deeply about the noble sport of thoroughbred racing is that they may not get to see any races at all (if no agreement can be reached) and at best have a much shorter season to look forward to.  What this means for normal people, who don’t care about horse racing in the slightest, is that hopefully the Maryland state government won’t be on the hook to give quite so much money to another unprofitable nostalgic venture (sort of like opera) next year.

Right now, the horse racing industry receives just shy of 10% of the revenue generated by our state’s new slots parlors -- money that could very easily be put to good use plugging the multitude of holes in the government’s budget.  Yet they admit that they would need even more assistance to turn a profit.  The quote goes:

Even with slots revenue augmenting race purses and funding capital improvements at the state's tracks, the Jockey Club has said that financial support is not enough to sustain its business.

You know what normal businesses do in situations like this one?  They adapt -- or they close.  I realize that we have been changing the rules a bit recently with all the bailouts, but the fact remains that when you can’t make money doing what you’re doing it is a clear signal that you are misallocating your resources; that you should be doing something else.

We are facing a massive pension crisis, an estimated $1.6 billion structural deficit for 2011, and elevated unemployment in the state of Maryland -- and we’re supposedly doing better than a lot of other states.  Why, in the name of all that makes financial sense, should we be throwing money away on a dead industry like this?

When I don’t have much money to my name, I first cut out the fat.  I stop buying stuff online.  I don’t go out to bars and restaurants.  I watch movies at home instead of the theaters.  I take fewer “Sunday drives.”  If all that’s not enough, then I seek out ways to reduce my monthly bills or increase my income.  This is pretty standard stuff, not rocket science.  If regular folks like you and me can figure this out, why can’t our government?