At a time when much of the horse racing industry has been in decline,
Tampa Bay Downs has been the sport’s shining success story. The Oldsmar,
Fla., track attracted the attention of bettors from coast to coast by
offering large, competitive fields with the potential for big payoffs,
and its 2010-2011 winter season produced record results. Long regarded
as a minor-league operation, Tampa averaged a stunning $4.57 million per
day in wagers.
I have been a Tampa loyalist for years, and I was one of many
horseplayers who eagerly anticipated the winter season that began in
December. And I am one of many who have been disappointed and
disillusioned about the decline of the track’s product. The fields
aren’t as big. The races aren’t as competitive. The betting isn’t as
interesting. Customers have responded accordingly. General manager Peter
Berube said that wagering has dropped by about $500,000 a day – an
abrupt reversal after years of growth.
The decline is by no means a mysterious phenomenon. Two crucial issues
are involved. One is a factor that every handicapper confronts virtually
every day. Another is a more corrosive problem that is going to affect
most of the U.S. racing industry.