Wagering increase in 2013

Grand River Raceway sees respectable increases


Dr. Ted Clarke said he was already wearing his costume Wednesday morning in preparation for Grand River Raceway’s Halloween bash that night in conjunction with the Elora track’s final live race card of the year.

“I’m dressed up as a bald, old racetrack manager,” Clarke deadpanned.

The general manager of the track was in a decent mood despite a trying year. The reason? In 2013 Grand River improved its overall betting handle by more than $1 million, an increase of 11.5 per cent over 2013.

“For us it marked the first year that we have had an overall increase for some time … We had seen declines in the overall handle for three or four years,” Clarke said.

He couldn’t pinpoint a direct correlation between anything the track did this year to reverse that downward handle trend, though he said he suspects lowering the takeout percentage on wagering at the start of the meet and an online handicapping contest helped the bottom line.

“We can be happy with that result, but you have to remember that for the industry that’s a small amount compared to the total (industry) wager a year ago,” Clarke said, referring to the fact Flamboro Downs near Hamilton and Georgian Downs near Barrie raced consistently through the summer of 2012, but not this summer.

Also, the amount wagered by patrons physically onsite at Grand River on the live racing there — betting that gives the track the highest percentage take — was down a little from last year.

But, all in all, Clarke said he was satisfied with the results given that 2013 is the first summer the track has operated without a direct cut of slot machine revenue.

As for the Ontario government’s “final plan” on a sustainable horse racing industry released Oct. 11 at Grand River by Premier Kathleen Wynne, Clarke said he’s still not sure whether his track can make a solid business decision going forward.

“At this point there isn’t enough clarity of how we’re going to function to be able to say that. There are possibilities that exist that if they all come to fruition will make it possible to have a potentially viable circumstance. But at this point it isn’t to the stage where I can say we’ve got it all down pat,” Clarke said.

He said change in business practices is inevitable.

“We need to be prepared to step sideways in order to go forward. It’s essential that we adapt to the circumstance we have,” Clarke said. “There is enormous hurt throughout the standardbred industry in Ontario and I don’t think you can speak about the issue without recognizing that hurt, but I also think there is a significant will to go forward. We, obviously, will have to make the adjustments necessary to do that.

“It’s one of those bittersweet circumstances in which I don’t know the future well enough to say that I’ve learned a bunch of things that are going to help me out next year. I think we’ll just have to continue to roll with the punches and put our best foot forward. This year, for us, our on-track operation has not had a bad year. But on the other had, we’re a long way from being self-sufficient.”

Dave Briggs is the editor of The Canadian Sportsman, the oldest harness racing magazine in North America. He can be reached by email at dbriggs@canadiansportsman.ca