The above headline is one that I’d occasionally thought about submitting to the Onion. Unfortunately, some of the things that I joke about have a tendency to happen, so I’d decided to keep it to myself – until now. I’ve been thinking of it since I’d found out that Hollywood Park Race Track in Inglewood, California will close after seventy-five racing seasons.
When a landmark, especially a sports facility that had become sort of an intersection of several generations, is lost, future generations are deprived of something that the past had taken for granted. The loss of such landmarks as Boston Garden, Ebbets Field, Chicago Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and Comiskey Park were voluntary; they weren’t demolished out of necessity, such as the result of a fire or earthquake, they were replaced for their own unique reasons, such as failure to generate adequate revenue, declining or increasing attendance, the property had become too valuable for its current purpose, increasing maintenance costs, the other guys have a new stadium so we want one and taxes, among others. The impending demolition of Hollywood Park is a combination of reasons, which all happened to meet at the present time.
First of all, this is an example of ”drive-in theater syndrome.” Many drive-ins were built in rural areas. But as those rural areas were developed, the rising property values made selling, or using the land for something else, difficult options to ignore. Located near Los Angeles International Airport, the value of the Hollywood Park property had outgrown the income generated by horse racing; this was the reason why developers bought the track from Churchill Downs, Inc. back in 2005.
When CDI decided to sell, revenue, as well as government regulations were two big reasons.
Just like race tracks in other states, the owners in California were asking the state assembly to legalize slot machines in order to boost revenue. And just like other states, such as Michigan and New Jersey, state politicians decided to protect other gambling interests from expanded competition. When the owners of the now-closed Detroit Race Course asked for slot machines in order to survive the competition from a new Indian casino, the response from state officials was, “we don’t want you to compete with the casinos.”
A story about the demolition of New Jersey’s Garden State Park claimed that a slot machine bill was vetoed by then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 2001 due to campaign contributions that she was receiving from the owners of casinos in Atlantic City; former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle allegedly blocked the construction of a casino at Dairlyland Greyhound Park for similar reasons.
Attempts to put slot machines in Kentucky race tracks have failed for a different reason: lawmakers claim that they want to preserve the tradition of horse racing. Ironically, this attempt to “preserve the tradition,” may lead to Kentucky soon becoming a two-track state: Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
When personal opinions, conflicts of interest, lack of knowledge and indifference have influence on the drafting and passing or defeat of legislation, the ripple effect only becomes larger as it travels down the affected industry; and the employee at the bottom is the one who feels the damage the most.
Besides the problems within one-way competition, another damaging problem is bureaucrats with little or no knowledge of the industries or goods that they are supposed to regulate.