Sunday, January 16, 2000

Turfway's attendance rising




BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Turfway Park officials again are celebrating a surge in attendance at the track, a change they hope signals better days both for them and the sport.

        Almost 36,400 people visited the track during the holiday meet — that's more than 8 percent over the 33,500 who showed up last year at the same time. The jump comes on the heels of another rise for the track's fall racing dates. That increase marked the first time in six years Turfway saw an attendance increase.

        “We're encouraged by it,” said track spokesman Robert Forbeck. “But we're still nowhere near where we want to be.”

        He was referring to the days before riverboat gambling came to the Tristate in 1996. Attendance has slid ever since. The track's total on-track wagering last year totaled more than $49 million, a significant drop compared with the more than $85 million in pre-casino 1995.

        “The meet totals are strong,” said track president Bob Elliston. “I'm particularly pleased with our increases in handle and attendance on-track in the face of our competitive marketplace.”

        The track was purchased last March by a unique trio — Keeneland, Harrah's casino company and Dreamport — which has promised to bring more savvy marketing and player-reward plans to Turfway. Some of those efforts have started, from more elaborate holiday decorations to infield concerts.

        Customer-service training classes are coming soon for track workers.

        “We're trying to foster a new image,” Mr. Forbeck said. “We want that to show from the top down.”

        They hope to test a new player reward system in March or April, he said.

        The holiday meet, which ended New Year's Eve, also showed gains in on-track betting (up 19 percent over the 1998 meet to more than $11 million), total betting (up almost 17 percent to more than $91 million) and purses (up 11 percent to $3.4 million).

       



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