The thoroughbred industry is struggling in Washington state and nationwide—not that you’d know it by Emerald Downs, where the horseracing season come to an end this Sunday (Sept. 25). This year, despite a lackluster economy, the Auburn racetrack has seen a marked increase in attendance and a small increase in money wagered on races at the track—all of this in spite of a race schedule trimmed by eight days this season, to an all-time low of 82 days, and a reduction in field sizes.

Thoroughbred racing may be known as the “Sport of Kings” (due to its past popularity with the aristocrats and royalty of British society), but the thriving of Emerald Downs has occurred without any recent help from government—not too surprising, considering the budget and political climate in Washington state and the nation.

Ron Crockett, president of Emerald Downs, helped engineer this comparatively rare success through selling 10,000 discounted tickets through Groupon, a deal-of-the-day website featuring discounted gift certificates usable at local or national companies,  as well as offering free pony rides and face painting for children.

That only makes sense to Crockett, who’s simply trying—and succeeding—in getting fans to turn out for horseracing at Emerald Downs. With the Legislature battling budget deficits for the last several years and a less­-than-reassuring economic forecast for Washington state, he knows it’s unlikely any public funds will be spent on the sport.

“There is no denying the economic reality of the world today,” Crockett said. “But we can’t sit on our hands and wait for things to change. We have taken a very proactive approach to developing new customers and engaging our current base.”

Of course, Olympia has played an important role in the overall success of the thoroughbred racing industry in Washington state. The passage of Senate Bill 3342 in 1985 helped generate more than $4 million in additional revenue for the horseracing industry in its first year in effect. Legislation passed in 1991 increased purses and reduced the state’s share of the mutual takeout. The funds generated from this lowering of the state’s take helped pay for the construction of Emerald Downs.

Legislation conducive to creating a profitable atmosphere for horseracing, of course, is not the same as the taxpayer subsidies that have been enjoyed by the Seattle Seahawks football and Seattle Mariners baseball franchises in the construction of their stadiums. In fact, earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature attempted to pass House Bill 1997, which would have extended the King County  taxes used to pay for the stadium bonds used to construct Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners.

Safeco Field cost $517.6 million to construct, with $340 million in public financing from the prepared food tax and rental car tax in King County.

Back when state lawmakers passed the plan to pay for a new Mariners stadium in 1995, legislators said the taxes would expire when the stadium bonds were retired. The bonds will be retired this year.

In part because of We the People Will’s bringing attention to the issue, HB 1997 did not pass, and the taxes used to pay for the construction of Safeco Field will come to an end on Oct. 1.

Even though horseracing is experiencing a slump, Crockett is confident Emerald Downs will continue to do well, and he thinks the industry will survive and even thrive again one day. After all, he’s seen long shots pay off before.

Brett Davis is the Communications Manager of We the People Will.


[Reprinted from the We the People Will blog; photo credit: Curtis Cronn]