Talk of the Town: Will video gambling spell the end for live horse racing?

South Florida has long been known as the winter capital of horse racing. Many Kentucky Derby winners have taken advantage of our tropical weather to train and stretch their legs in advance of the Triple Crown.  Hundreds of harness racing teams from across the country make the track at Pompano Park home. However, we’d hazard a guess that probably 75% of the visitors to the Isle Casino at Pompano Park even know that there are horses outside!

Sadly, I believe you are right about 75% of the people at The Isle,” stated Kathleen Dempsey, Secretary / National Director of the United States Harness Writer’s Association (USHWA). “It’s a shame, but a sign of changing times. Ugh! That makes me sound old, and I do realize change is inevitible.

Slot machines, video poker, and even streamed races are quickly outpacing the live events that are taking place within walking distance of the casino floor. Owners of parimutuels are not unaware of this fact, and have been lobbying the Florida legislature hard over the past few years for decoupling; a process by which the tracks can eliminate the horse racing, greyhound racing, and even jai alai and focus on the much less expensive slots, poker rooms, and the like.

“Decoupling, if passed in any state, will be the downfall of horse racing,” added Steve Wolf, President of the Florida Chapter of USHWA . “Once one state passes it, will it catch on like wildfire with other states that have racinos as slot machines are so much more profitable than live horse racing and the casinos will opt to get rid of live racing if given the choice.

This has pretty much come about because horse racing (especially harness racing) has failed over the last 60 years to adapt the sport and educate young people about it. The X-Factor and Millennials want instant gratification when spending recreational money and have never been properly exposed to racing. Thus these simulated video horse racing games, being able to play at home on a computer and not having to wait 20 minutes between races, is much more attractive and retains their interests.”

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“I am sure in the future with much more lax casino laws, that gaming will grow, sports wagering will be allowed in most states and horse racing will continue to suffer in a slow death roll,” Wolf continued. “More live tracks, if decoupling passes, will close down and soon there will be just a handful of the top tracks with major purses around the country still being able to survive.”

As intriguing as these online racing experiences are, they can’t beat the feel of the real thing. The thundering of hooves, the thrill of the race, and even the shared experience of watching the action unfold pale in comparison to sitting in front of a computer and seeing how an algorithm plays out. If you’re really into it, you can even get a ride in the starting gate!

So, if you’re interested in finding out more about one of the oldest sports in the world, check out some live racing at the Isle Casino Pompano Park. You might even walk away a winner!