Improving the Racetrack Environment

For the most part, there is only one reason why people show up at the track – to bet horses. They certainly don’t go for the ambience or the food, with some exceptions like Saratoga. Anyplace that has Hattie’s fried chicken, a nice picnic area to eat it in, and a row of pretty good food trucks attracts people for more than just the betting, but Saratoga is really the exception.

This discussions started with the closing of Suffolk and I noted that among other issues it had the ambience of a factory. Racetracks might learn a little from casinos. Yes, they are gambling destinations, but in Vegas you can eat at restaurants run by first rate chefs and shop at upscale stores. Perhaps racetracks should think about how to attract people who are not just hard core horseplayers.

Here are some ideas to think about.

  • Why do tracks have to grab a few extra dollars for a “clubhouse” admission, especially at a place like Saratoga or Del Mar where the only advantage of an upgraded clubhouse admission is a few less people at the betting machines? If the clubhouse admission came with the ability to sit in a free grandstand, it would make sense. Otherwise it is just price gouging. GIVE PEOPLE SOMETHING FOR THE EXTRA MONEY.
  • With the exception of Saratoga, tracks need to upgrade the food. In fact, there should be some destination restaurants on site. How about a restaurant that has its own entrance on the outside of the plant where people can eat without having to pay admission, and when they are done can use their receipt as track admission if they want? How about a food court with something more than hot dogs and beer? Nobody should have to eat crappy food at high prices just for the privilege of losing whatever money they have betting horses.
  • Casinos are not big fans of shopping areas – they take space away from gambling – but they do it so the non-gambler has something to do other than sit 25 minutes between races. Perhaps a small shopping village on track property would work well.
  • And while we’re accommodating the non-gambler, how about a first rate day care facility? It’s got to be better than having the urchins going up to the betting machines thinking they are some sort of video game.
  • The day of the cavernous, concrete betting factory is long past. We need smaller, more accommodating racing plants. How about tables and individual TVs and betting machines much like you see at OTB sites? There should be a seat of some sort for everyone.
  • Do tracks charge for parking because they want to encourage carpooling, or is it just a way of grabbing 100% of $5 instead of the 20% take? Tracks that operate parking should have two lots. One for free at the farthest reaches of the parking area, and one close in  that charges a nominal fee.

Tracks need to upgrade facilities and upgrade the fan experience. There have to be some ideas out there that are doable without spending enormous sums of money.