A few random musings about things that are top of mind as the calendar turns:
Close to home, I hope that Suffolk Downs pulls off a miracle with a regrouped casino application and actually wins the license for a Boston-area casino. Once a front-runner, the project stumbled badly – first when original partner Caesars did not pass muster with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and then when East Boston voters turned down the project. A retooled plan on the Revere part of the property, with Mohegan Sun this time around, and Suffolk is in a real horse race with rival Wynn Resorts. Applications were filed this week and the Commission will spend the next few months evaluating the projects.
I also hope that Plainridge Race Course manages a similar comeback, albeit a much less dramatic one, after its own stumble along the way in pursuit of the state’s lone slot parlor license. It is in a three-way battle for that privilege, and the Commission expects to award the license in early March.
While I’d like these two racetracks to win their respective gaming licenses, it’s more for sentiment’s sake than it is based on the relative merits of the applications. They are the last two outposts of horse racing in New England outside of Maine, and it truly would be a shame to lose all that history. There is a strong possibility that these tracks would close if they do not win the licenses, even though the state’s casino law provides purse supplements from gaming revenues.
That said, I do wish that racing would not use reliance on gaming revenues as an excuse to not pay any attention to the racing product, which frankly is falling out of favor in the eyes of the general public for any number of reasons. Look at the new “tracks” such as those being built in Ohio to better serve the markets as racetrack casinos. Miami Valley (the replacement for Lebanon Raceway) wants to abandon human mutuel clerks – can you really imagine a racetrack without clerks? Other initial plans put forward in the relocation process lacked the traditional amenities and facilities at typical racetracks, and offered minimal seating facilities for racing patrons. No surprise there I guess – it just proves that few people attend the races anymore. It’s all about gaming.
In 2014, I look forward to discovering the reality of Internet gaming’s potential in the United States. I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I always thought the estimates put forth in New Jersey were way out of line. I just don’t see the state’s residents piling up the bets online – Atlantic City’s fortunes were always dependent upon regional traffic outside state borders, and the casinos’ drop in recent years was due in large part to neighboring competition. In general, until perhaps the time comes when there are multi-state agreements allowing pooled play, I just don’t see big numbers being produced from Internet gaming. We’ll see.
Speaking of the Internet, I hope that as the lottery industry in the United States celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, more lotteries will get chances to reach new players and enter the modern age of consumerism with the ability to sell tickets via the Web. Only Illinois, Georgia and Minnesota currently sell select lottery products online; the Delaware Lottery currently offers casino-style games through its partner racetracks. Online subscriptions are offered by a few other lotteries. More would likely be offering their games online as a convenience to customers, but backlash from retailers and concerns from politicians keep them from doing so. Frankly, the numbers and experience elsewhere don’t support retailers’ fear that their own revenues will decline. And initial sales volumes tell legislators they have nothing to fear – the convenience factor of buying lotto online doesn’t mean there will be a rash of new problem gamblers. In fact, online ticket sales have built-in consumer and responsible gaming protections that aren’t available at retail locations.
And finally, I wish that the big lottery jackpot games, Powerball and Mega Millions, continue to grow in popularity – they offer the public a chance to dream with a small stake. Some people complain about the 1 in 175 million and 1 in 259 million odds of winning the jackpots in those two games, respectively. But heck, it’s only a buck or two for the dream. The other day I looked at the odds for the Publishers’ Clearing House sweepstakes – they are currently marketing a $1 million a year forever prize. Sure, it’s free to enter. But to win that $1 million a year prize, you have to beat 1 in 1.3 billion odds. Yes, that’s 1 in 1.3 billion. Those same odds apply to the paltry $100,000 prize too. The odds to win $15,000? One in 150 million. By those standards, lottery games are easy to win, so you might as well plunk down a buck or two on the big lottery games! You have a 1 in 18.5 million chance to win $1 million in Mega Millions for a $1 stake; and Powerball improves on that to 1 in 5 million odds to win $1 million for a $2 stake. Sure these are longshots, but people do win and it’s fun to dream. And with every ticket purchased, revenue goes to good causes.