Thursday, September 07, 2000

Turfway effort boosts betting

But riverboats remain a drain

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Nearly two months into a high-tech marketing campaign, Turfway Park is making a comeback, boosting wagering on thoroughbred horse racing by about 10 percent.

[photo] Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park, has reason to smile about the new FasTrack Rewards program. Wagering at the racetrack has increased by about $730,000 over last year.
(Enquirer photo)
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        And with Wednesday night's opening of the racetrack's Fall Meet, Turfway officials are hoping to build on the momentum of their summer efforts to attract larger crowds.

        Wagering at Turfway had taken a nose-dive since the opening of casino riverboats in Southeastern Indiana four years ago. Turfway's on-track wagering last year was about $49 million, compared with more than $85 million in 1995, before the casinos.

        While business is not the same as it was before the riverboats, the racetrack is on an upturn, said Robert Forbeck, Turfway's marketing and communication director. Attendance and wagering has increased during the last three live race meets.

        However, business has also been booming for the casino industry this summer. Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind., had its biggest month ever in July, with gross gaming revenue of $31.7 million. Grand Victoria in Rising Sun brought in $13.6 million the same month.

        With hopes of combating this growing competition, Turfway launched its FasTrack Rewards in early July, a program pioneered in the casino industry that rewards loyal customers with perks and prizes. The computerized system tracks customers' betting activity, awarding them points for every bet.

  Turfway Park's Fall Meet opened Wednesday night. Through Oct. 6, the thoroughbred racetrack will hold live races at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and at 1:10 p.m. weekends.
  The Kentucky Cup Day of Champions is set for Saturday, Sept. 16. Post time is noon.

        “This is a way we can directly market to individuals,” Mr. For beck said. “It's all about building patronage and lifelong customers.”

        Since the rewards program started, about 2,500 customers have signed up to participate, and wagering at the track has increased by about $730,000 over last year, Mr. Forbeck said. From July 12 to Sept. 1, customers bet $8.4 million at the track, compared with $7.7 million during the same time last year.

        Several other events and improvements are also in the hopper to improve business at the track.

        This summer, Turfway spent about $5 million on landscaping and renovations. This fall, special events, such as Friday night concerts and this weekend's family fair that includes pony rides and stable tours, are planned to boost attendance.

        The Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, Turfway's premier race day, is Sept. 16. The track is bringing in nationally prominent horse trainers who have never been to the track before to improve the caliber of the fall meet, Mr. Forbeck said.

        Kentucky Cup Day's six stakes races have already drawn nominations from thoroughbreds including Golden Missile, Early Pioneer, Ecton Park and Cat Thief for the Kentucky Cup Classic and Caller One, Swept Overboard, More Than Ready and Chilukki for the Kentucky Cup Sprint.

        “This is our best meet of the year, and this may be the best meet we've ever had here at Turfway,” he said.

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