Sports

Emerald Downs finally on the financial fast track

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Time flies when you’re watching Thoroughbreds run around a race track.

It’s been 10 years since Auburn’s Emerald Downs opened its betting stalls and track officials seem to be having a lot more fun this season.

But that’s what happens when you are having your most profitable season in the track’s decade-long history.

Thanks to numerous factors, Emerald Downs is operating in the black for the first time in years, which has been the goal since the track kicked off in 1995.

“We are doing great,” said Susie Sourwine, the track’s vice president of marketing. “We are very stable. People seem to be interested in horse racing and everything seems to be going in the right direction.”

According to track officials, Emerald Downs is experiencing a 21 percent increase in its handle from last year, which is the amount of money bet at the track. During its first nine years of operation, the track lost close to $5 million.

Officials have credited the steady rise of alternative forms of gambling over the last decade as a big reason why horse-racing tracks across the nation have been struggling to stay afloat. Casinos, tribal and non-tribal, seem to be popping up all over and Texas Hold’em poker is enjoying its most popularity ever.

So officials at Emerald Downs are ecstatic about what is currently happening at the race track from an economic standpoint.

There are plenty of reasons for the financial optimism. Things like the track offering live full-card simulcasting from out-of-state horse-racing facilities at its 20 satellite locations — something that started last year — as well as a large number of out-of-state tracks that have agreed to broadcast races from Emerald Downs.

The collective handle at the satellite locations, where bettors can wager on races from Emerald Downs and other tracks across the country, is up nearly 36 percent and the track’s handle from out-of-state sites broadcasting races is up 66 percent.

The in-state handle, the lifeblood of the track, is also up 7 percent from a year ago.

“I think that is what really tells us the health of our product,” Sourwine said of the in-state handle. “If just your exporting to other tracks is real strong and your local interest is weak, then you’ve got problems. We are very pleased it’s up 7 percent.”

But the biggest reason for the stronger economic situation at Emerald Downs can be traced back to a $1.6 million contribution from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe last August.

The Tribe’s money has been going toward an increase in purses as well as a vocational training program for grooms at Emerald Downs. The partnership has resulted in a 22 percent increase in average daily purses paid at the track at nearly $90,000 per day for non-stakes races.

“That’s a historical high purse number in the state,” Sourwine said.

This is not the Muckleshoot’s first involvement with Emerald Downs. The Tribe actually owns the 167 acres the track sits on. The tribe purchased the land in 2002 for $73 million.

The higher purses have resulted in a larger number of horses coming out of the stables and going to post at Emerald Downs. According to Sourwine, the horse population being housed at the track is at an all-time high with 1,368 animals, about 100 more than last year.

The larger stable has equated into fuller fields and more competitive racing, she says. The average number of starters per race is up nearly a horse from last year to 7.94.

“We have become a very impressive product,” Sourwine said.

The racing at the track has also been pretty impressive this summer, including a world-record time by Sabertooth during a 6 1/2-furlong race. The highlight of the season — the 70th Longacres Mile — is set for Aug. 21. Live racing takes place Thursday through Sunday at Emerald Downs. Post times are 6 p.m. on Thursday and Fridays and 2 p.m. on weekends.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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