by Suzanne Bush
When slot machines arrived at Pennsylvania's racetracks, patrons embraced them as if they were family. It seemed as if the state had captured lightning in a bottle, creating a reliable funding stream for the tracks' purses while bringing new patrons to the racetracks. It was hard to argue with the numbers. While swarms of slots players descended on the racetracks, though, not many of these newcomers made it to the actual tracks to see the horses. Beyond the obvious irony in this development, there are long term ramifications for the equine industry in Pennsylvania.
If the horses become something akin to wallpaper at the new gambling venues, will support for the industry eventually wither?
"I think if I had a dollar for every time in my career in racing that someone said that we need to market this industry, I would be a wealthy man," Daniel Tufano explains. Tufano is the Chief of Racing Affairs for the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission. He believes that the future of horse racing—and the state's racehorse breeding industry—lies in bringing more people face to face with the horses.
He is coordinating a new marketing plan with the Governor's tourism office. The theme: Get Your Giddy Up. Paired with a website, www.getyourgiddyup.com, and partnering with local tourist bureaus, the plan—set to launch on May 1—will focus on what Tufano calls the jewel that is Pennsylvania horse racing.
Live Racing the Focus
"We know why we do what we do with the Racing Commission, the racehorse development fund. We want to share this with everyone. The tie is to live racing." He believes that once someone has experienced live racing, they'll be hooked. "The idea is, it's appealing to something inside someone that there's something unique and special you're going to get, going to a live racing event. It's the spectacle of a live horse race and everything that goes into bringing that off," he says. "Someone who's never experienced that and then goes to the racetrack and is hanging on the rail as the horses come down..." it's life-changing.
The marketing plan will promote the various horse racing venues in the state, along with the regions surrounding them, tying local attractions to horse racing. Information on the campaign, budget, target markets and creative is still to come.
Nurturing the Breeding Industry
Paul Spears, Chairman of the Standardbred Breeders Association of Pennsylvania, is looking forward to seeing how the plan will unfold. "Just in a broad sense, slots legislation to revive and revitalize the horse industry is only going to be successful if it's part of a more comprehensive plan to promote all elements of the industry, and promote agriculture." He says that Cheryl Cook, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, was deeply involved in this effort.
Tufano's enthusiasm is barely contained, but he recognizes that there's a serious purpose behind the marketing plan. "That's part of the underlying theme behind this—that it's important for us to demonstrate the value of having this and showing that real work is being done. One of the charges of a great many folks in the General Assembly is what is racing doing for itself? What is racing going to do? This is something we're all partnering to do."
Tufano says that the marketing plan helps fulfill a promise to the taxpayers, too. "That was the promise of Act 71 (the slots legislation). We're creating, nurturing and sustaining an industry. The racetracks are a means to an end. We're seeing the number of stallions increase; we have 22 new ones in the program this year. We have had and continue to have the top Standardbred stallions in PA."
Spears, who is also Chairman of Hanover Shoe Farms, agrees that Pennsylvania's taxpayers need to see that the slots legislation is helping build an industry in the state. "I think it's a good first step in the right direction. There's been a lack of a strategic plan for how all this is to be accomplished. The state has designated a lot of money to go to purse accounts and breed awards, but there has not been the type of high level coordinated effort to make sure this is all going to be successful, and I think the taxpayers are owed that."
The marketing plan is an effort to brand Pennsylvania horseracing, Tufano says. "We want to be a leader in race horses and live racing," he says, in addition to exporting simulcasting.