PLUS AND MINUS
There is a fallacy in your editorial about racetrack minus pools (SCORECARD, Feb. 14) that is a common one, universally and firmly implanted in the minds of legislators, racing commissioners and the public in general. To attempt to controvert it is probably an exercise in futility; yet the subject is very important to racetrack management, particularly here in New York. Last year our legislature took another slice out of the bettor's dollar by doubling the breakage from 5� to 10�. The racing commission followed up this increase in the state's share of the breakage with a telegraphed order to the various tracks establishing a legal minimum payment to successful bettors of 10� on the dollar.
Actually the phrase "legal minimum" is a misnomer, because no law requires such payment. It is, in fact, a complete perversion of the fundamental principle of pari-mutuel betting, because it compels the racetrack to gamble with its patrons. The practice of paying minus pools under any circumstance was not always a part of the pari-mutuel system. Originally, if there was nothing bet on other horses, a winner merely got his money back.
On a 5� minimum the problem was never so serious because the smart bettors of large sums would not take big risks for 5%, but today our stakes programs in both Thoroughbred and harness racing are being jeopardized because tracks cannot afford to race standout horses. What difference would it have made last year if Bret Hanover was in a field of three or five or seven or 17? Ten percent would have been very attractive.
And let me suggest another dreadful possibility. Assume the Florida Racing Commission had compelled Hialeah to permit show betting on Roman Brother. And assume a tremendous show bet on him by the smart ten-percenters. And assume he ran out of the money—as he did. Now, of course, no bettor at Hialeah would be so unfair as to suggest that management would have anything to do with the result of a race to save itself, say, $100,000. But there may be bettors at some racetracks who would, perhaps, timidly make such a suggestion. Or, perhaps, even try to burn down the grandstand.
The simple fact is that making racetracks gamble with their patrons is an evil thing. We should return to true pari-mutuel racing or as close to it as practicable, i.e., the 5� break.
ERNEST B. MORRIS
President, Saratoga Raceway
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Your article, Year of Drought in the West (Feb. 7), states that the decline of the Thoroughbred-breeding industry in California is due to the state's having only 110 days of top-quality racing. Just how many days of top-quality racing, would you say, are run in Kentucky, the acknowledged leader of the industry?
If, as you say, California's two limited seasons, separated by a break of two months in the spring and five months in the fall and winter, deprive horsemen of the incentive to plow money back into local breeding programs, maybe the southern California racing patrons would benefit by the competition of a third track (at Los Alamitos, for example). Or would this suggestion be in direct conflict with the views of the groups paying for the Stanford Research Institute report?
If legislative help is needed to solve horse racing problems (i.e., increased tax revenues), how did you overlook the following?
1) Legalized book making (a cinch to bring in more revenue than the "remedies" mentioned in your article).
2) Government loans to horseplayers (this would boost the track handle along with the welfare and unemployment payments already finding their way to the track).