BANGOR, Maine — Horse racing fans soon will have a new place in Bangor to lay down a bet and view the action from tracks all over the nation, and they won’t have to travel too far to go there.
Thanks to recently passed legislation, Bangor Raceway’s simulcast betting facility will be moving from the track’s Bass Park location above Dutton Street to the Hollywood Slots racino on Main Street.
Industry members say the move should increase both the horse race betting facility’s visibility as well as revenue generated from it for Maine’s harness horsemen.
People opposing the proposed legislative move were few and hard to find.
“There were none, in fact,” said Don Marean, a former Maine state representative who’s now a lobbyist for both the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and the Maine Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association. “We testified in favor of it, Bangor and Scarborough Downs did, the horsemen, the breeders, everyone. There’s no downside to it.”
CasinosNo! spokesman Dennis Bailey isn’t so sure about that.
“I don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other, but it’s another indication that this facility [racino] isn’t helping the harness racing industry the way it should,” Bailey said. “I don’t think it’ll help them, and I think it pulls more people away from the track.
“They should have put the slot machines at the track in the first place,” he said.
LD 561 allows Penn National, the parent company of both Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway and Bangor Raceway, to move the simulcast betting facility down the street without having its classification changed from simulcast to off-track betting facility.
The distinction of being an off-track betting facility or simulcast concerns much more than semantics.
“If the law wasn’t amended, it would have become an OTB, which would have provided less revenue for Maine’s harness industry, “ said Marean, who is also a horse owner and operator of Lindon Farm in Hollis. “Being classified an OTB would subject them to a higher operating fee or quasi-tax, and the takeout of money wagered that goes to us [in purse money] would’ve decreased.”
The result would have been a significant hit to the overall fund for horsemen’s purse money, which is the money paid to the horses that win, place and show in each race.
“There’s an additional fee paid by OTB facilities that are $70,000 to $80,000 a year, so that would have increased our costs,” said John Osborne, Hollywood Slots Bangor general manager. “Plus, live commercial tracks [Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs in Maine] are required to set aside money from simulcast wagers benefiting purses at the track.”
If the same wagers at Bangor went from being considered simulcast wagers to OTB wagers, Osborne said it would have resulted in a $130,000 decline in the purses.
“That $130,000 represents 8-9 percent of the tracks’ purses for a year,” he said. “That’s a significant loss.”
So an act to clarify provisions in Maine’s harness racing law governing racetracks was created in November and was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage last month.
The new law reads as follows:
“A person authorized to sell parimutuel pools on horse racing may sell common parimutuel pools for simulcast races. The sale must be conducted within the enclosure of the licensee’s racetrack, at the licensee’s slot machine facilities licensed pursuant to section 1011, or at the licensee’s off-track betting facility.”
The clause “at the licensee’s slot machine facilities licensed pursuant to section 1011” is the amendment.
The move pays off in other ways, according to proponents.
“Operationally it helps because food service and other facilities are already at the casino and there was a duplication of services that there didn’t need to be,” said Corey Smith, Bangor Raceway’s director of racing.
“A, it enhances the gaming and casino floor, and B, it gives us more exposure and gets us out in the public more,” Smith said. “We’re kind of tucked away up here, maybe not so much for live racing, but for simulcast. Regulars know where we are, but not a lot of out-of-towners know we’re here.”
Osborne backed that up with some informal figures.
“On a typical day in the winter, we might have 1,000 to 1,500 people come through Hollywood Slots in a day, and at the track we may have a handful,” he said. “We believe this [move] will increase visibility and the handle for horse racing.”
On live racing days at Bangor Raceway, both the new facility at Hollywood Slots and the one inside Bangor Historic Park’s grandstand will offer simulcast betting.
“What we’ll do is turn the key and business as usual on race days at both places,” Smith said. “On nonrace days, the grandstand will be closed.”
Osborne said the plan calls for renovation and construction to start in mid-July and he expects the new facility will be finished and open to the public by early November.
Genesis Design is handling the design work and Cianbro Corp., which has estimated the project will take 12 to 15 weeks to complete, will handle construction.
“We’re making a few modest changes to the outside part of our facility immediately behind the sound stage, around the left side near the service bar where there’s a row of slots near a glass wall,” Osborne said. “The glass wall will come out and that will open the space for the simulcast facility.”
Smith said he thinks renovation and the ensuing move, which also will involve the relocation of his racing offices to Main Street, will make the betting facility more of a showplace.
“Think about a Kentucky Derby party down on the casino floor and how big and fun that will be,” he said. “That’ll only add to the excitement and exposure of harness and horse racing here.”