It's always difficult to separate the issues of whether we need slots in Maryland and whether those slots might save the horse racing industry. But it's an important distinction.
After years of mulling it over, I've come to the conclusion that we do need slots, especially now that we're facing such an enormous budget crisis in Maryland.
But if we get them, we can't pretend slots are going to save the Sport of Kings. Because they won't.
They might keep the industry from circling the drain and might give pause to some of the top jockeys, owners and trainers who are migrating to Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but without some major changes, it isn't going to be the long-term savior it's made out to be. The small-time operations and horse farms are still going to be holding on by hooves and teeth.
Several studies have shown that people who come to the track to play slots simply don't wander over to the betting windows (at least very often) and wager on races.
Logically, they should. But logic doesn't follow reality. It's like trickle-down economics. Great in theory, poor in execution.
Horse racing is a wonderful sport with a rich tradition. Many of my sportswriting heroes cut their literary teeth at the track. But cast aside the romanticism, and the industry has to accept that it's now a niche sport that is going to have to figure out a way to support itself if it wants to truly survive, much less thrive.
Slots are just the tourniquet and not a long-term solution.