Sunday, April 08, 2001

Turfway fading in the stretch

Attendance, wagers down this season

The Associated Press

        FLORENCE — Officials with Turfway Park say weather problems and competing tracks may have contributed to lower attendance this year.

        Attendance and betting handle numbers “are not going to be pretty,” said Robert Forbeck, director of marketing and communications for the racetrack.

        Both are likely to be down more than 10 percent from last year.

        This year a hard winter took its toll on Turfway's contribution to Kentucky racing. Racing was canceled 14 days because of weather conditions.

        Mr. Forbeck said the track is also losing horses to competing tracks in the region — tracks where purses are fattened by money from other forms of gambling.

        “We see horses leave our backside every day to go race at Mountaineer (Park in West Virginia),” where they face “lesser competition for bigger purses,” he said.

        Although Turfway's big day, the Spiral Stakes, drew 17,485 people this year, business overall is down about 40 percent from 1996 levels, officials say.

        Mr. Forbeck attributes that to increased competition from riverboats and simulcasting in other markets.

        Turfway is owned by three equal partners: casino operator Harrah's; lottery giant GTECH, and Keeneland in Lexington.

        GTECH has made an offer to sell its stakes to Keeneland and Harrah's.

        Nick Nicholson, president and CEO of Keeneland, said it rejected the first offer, but is in the process of appraising the property to make a counteroffer.


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