The following is a statement from New Meadowlands Racetrack Chairman Jeff Gural
I thought I would update everyone on the status of the Meadowlands and our efforts to build a new grandstand on the opposite side of the track. Fortunately, most of the news is positive. On Saturday our on-track attendance exceeded 4,000 for the first time this year other than the Kentucky Derby. While this may not sound great, especially since 30 years ago crowds of 25,000 or more were the norm on a Saturday night, the fact is that on the same Saturday last year our attendance was under 3,000.
The response we have gotten from people who come to the track has been very positive, but the truth is the majority of people are unaware of the changes that we made and the fact that it is a fun place to go and a great place to bring kids. We intend to increase our advertising budget even further in an effort to continue to improve our on-track attendance, which, frankly, is the only area that I see potential for growth. We also received favorable publicity from the interview with Bill Clinton on Friday as quite a few agencies have carried it. I have also received positive feedback from our new breakfast with the babies program on Saturdays. I think people appreciate the fact that you could buy breakfast at the Don Q Wedge and that we were handing out program pages as well as yearling prices for all of the horses to qualify. Hopefully those of you who live in the area will stop by to check it out.
The new OTW being constructed in Bayonne is on schedule to open July 10. I believe it will be the nicest OTW in North America and hopefully we will attract customers from New York since there is no OTW system existing in New York City.
More importantly, I have verbal commitments for all of the money needed to build the new grandstand. Once I iron out one or two open issues with the construction unions we expect to move full speed ahead on building the new facility which we anticipate will be open in the fall of 2013. Once that building is open I think it will be easier for us to get people to come back just because it is a new facility and I assume we will get a lot of favorable publicity as a result. On the downside, we have seen a slippage in wagering on our import product especially on the thoroughbred side and we rely on that income to help pay the bills. This decline has been partially offset by an increase in our live handle on harness racing and cost savings that we have been able to implement as well. Overall, we are still on or ahead of budget for the year.
Lastly, and a matter of great concern, has been the negative publicity that horse racing, including standardbred racing, has been receiving in the New York Times and local publications. Everyone should understand that our sole source of revenue comes from wagering on horse racing which is why it is so important for us to be able to attract on-track customers and simulcast customers who can wager on our signal. We have implemented some of the suggestions that I received over the last two weeks and are reviewing others as well. It is important that we are able to have full fields if we are going to grow our on-track handle.
If we are going to be able to attract new customers especially younger people while holding on to our existing customers it is critical that no one questions the integrity of our product. The negative publicity associated with the Lou Pena suspension and the comments by some would lead one to believe that the industry tolerates this behavior and this can only hurt our efforts to increase handle. Worse yet, it appears that the regulations governing therapeutic medication are so confusing and differ from state to state that no one knows exactly what can and cannot be done. I pledge to address this problem with the regulators as soon as possible but I want to make it clear that if certain therapeutic medications cannot be given within 48 hours of racing than it should not be given within 36 hours. I will do my part to address this issue and I hope everyone in the industry will follow suit as the public does not understand the problem and just assumes that all of the horses are receiving illegal medication.
All in all, with the exception of the Pena mess, I think things are moving in a positive direction. I appreciate the support I have received from the drivers as it relates to closing the holes eliminating half in and half out, as well as following the new rules relating to whipping which I think have made a big difference in the quality of our product. One thing I am sure of is that whipping is not necessary. It does little to improve the performance of the horse and is offensive to many people especially youngsters who stand along the rail and see and hear the whip hit the horse. I hope the industry would take a look at these rules which we are going to implement at Tioga as well.
Once again, if anyone has any suggestions on any subject relating to my three tracks please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise to respond.
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