Canterbury’s Survival in the Age of Proxemics

May 17, 2020

Far away from NYRA, the Stronach-owned tracks and the cash-laden self-serving facilities of Churchill Downs Inc., the stone table that supports the sport of horse racing is fissured. Smaller tracks that are making their final preparations in early April are silent—cue the pins. 

Now if you are “racino” you might have an inkling that the future is bright; as long as those folks return to the card tables and slot stools. 

For instance, Penn National is backed by a powerfully publicly-traded organization (PENN) that just offered a dilution at $18.00, in order to raise funds during the lockdown. Other facilities may not be so lucky. Horse people up and down the food chain are in a spot. 

How will everything sort itself out? 

Only time will tell, but that is a poor answer. In my estimation, wagers backed by state government action are at boxcar odds.

Take the case of Canterbury Park, for instance. 

Bound by a fortress of snow, the track in Minnesota is finally thawing out, but the specter of COVID-19 torpedoed any chance at an opening. Everything associated must halt. 

News of an opening might be on the horizon, now that New York will open next month. But issues are far from over.

In the past, Canterbury in Shakopee, Minnesota has operated within a complex web of political interests. 

Like other tracks cut from the same cloth, the Advanced Deposit Wagering companies (ADWs) sign lucrative contracts who then in turn “split” a source market fee (typically 3%) with the hardworking horse people. 

The challenge is the tribal authority; specifically, Minnesota’s Indian Gaming Association (MIGA). Their powerful lobby has sunk any effort to allow residents to wager on local racetracks from the confines of your own home, since they see that as competing with their business.  

Even though this is severely lacking in common sense, Minnesota residents can wager via ADWs on any other out of state track. MIGA portrays that idea as an expansion of gambling, and thus proverbially, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

In the meantime, according to some sources, they are costing the Minnesota horse racing industry in excess of $3 million annually in lost revenue and purses.

Hardly chariness.

Mitigating these circumstances, Canterbury’s front office did submit a revised racing schedule to the Minnesota Racing Commission for 52 days starting June 8th. Hope springs eternal that there will be some kind of Thoroughbreds around an oval soon.

The central problem though is our new age of proxemics—the ways in which cultures think about space in between individuals. Back in the 1960s, sociologists began to work hard to remedy the effects of population densities. Rising birth rates and food production grew exponentially, and so did the mutation of airborne viruses. Hence, they conceived, we needed a new approach to understanding how people use language, argue with their spouses, and transfer water droplets between one another.

We are starting to understand the effects of all this togetherness.

With COVID-19, tracks are in a quandary. 

If they cannot allow fans to come wager onsite, then they have to be able to do so from home. States, like Minnesota, have two choices: they can stage betting kiosks in strategic locations (for instance, with a drive-thru) to allow money to flow in, or they need to open up the ADW route for folks at home. 

How else can the local track be supported? So, to be proxemics or a fiber cable, take your pick.

In my estimation, the Minnesota state government is going to have to step in and ante up. They will have to provide funding, support, pursue money, and argue for the preservation of the sport.

I am not particularly a strong believer in ADWs, especially when it comes to the relationship to horse racing’s backbone. Their cuts are too large. I also think they are susceptible to manipulative behaviors that only take advantage of the consumer. 

More importantly, the tracks that employ backstretch workers, bartenders, and a host of other folks that make it all run, never see those profits that are funneled out the digital door. 

This is the 21st century though, and legalized sports betting only continues to increase (see Draft Kings public offering, DKNG). So, it is difficult to argue against wagering easily on hand-held technology that is fast, mobile, and efficient.

Will the public stewards of Minnesota make the right choice on behalf of horse people? 

Stay tuned.

What we do know, is that Canterbury has always prioritized racing, so they will take a major financial blow no matter the outcome. 

If possible, let’s hope the betting public has the chance to support them.

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