by Max Brantley
Live racing -- 56 days
Machine gambling 365 days.
Money bet on live racing in 2006: $53 million
Money bet on machines in 2006: $220 million (and this will skyrocket in 2007 thanks to all those skillful video poker and blackjack players flocking to new machines.)
Money bet on live racing in 1989: $119.6 million (and that, thanks to inflation, was worth at least double an equivalent dollar amount in 2006)
Money bet on machines in 1989: Zero.
I don't doubt owner Charles Cella's fondness for thoroughbred racing. Or GM Eric Jackson's commitment to the sport. But slots are now the tail wagging the horse at Oaklawn.
Machine gambling is touted for its beneficial effects on horse racing purses, which supposedly produce better horses, more avid horse players, etc. Clearly, that's hokum if betting is off more than 50 percent (and more in real dollars) over a 17-year period. Also, I note that average daily purses have increased only about 30 percent, by about $60,000 a day, since machine gambling arrived at Oaklawn, or a total of $3 million in 2005, not a huge jump against inflation. I'm not sure how impressive a share of the take that is against the machine gambling handle, which jumped from 0 to $220 million annual. I believe Oaklawn gets a "takeout" up to 17 percent, or $35 million on a $220 million handle. Of course it has overhead.