VLTs Boost Ohio’s Horse Racing Industry

Following a decade of slow and steady decline, the Ohio horse racing industry is reportedly picking up pace again, primarily as a result of funds generated by video lottery terminals (VLT) placed at the state’s horse racing tracks. Ten years ago Ohio was at the top of its game, breeding high quality standardbred horses for harness racing, but the state’s racetracks started to lose supporters to surrounding states that had expanded their gambling options – and their purses…

Owners, breeders and other key horseracing personalities started to leave the state, with the family-run Midland Acres based in Bloomingburg, being one of the breeders making the choice to open a farm in Indiana and move the pick of its mares there for financial reasons.

Records indicate that in 2003, Ohio had bred 2,591 mares, a number which had dwindled to 688 by 2010. But in 2011, Governor John Kasich facilitated legislation allowing video lottery terminals to be installed at the state’s racetracks, and by 2013 around 2,591 mares were bred – the second highest number in the United States, with Pennsylvania in first place. General Manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association located in Columbus, Jerry Knappenberger, noted that two years ago the organization’s stallion directory consisted of about 40 pages, while this year it consists of 128 pages featuring breeding stallions and advertising.

Prior to the introduction of VLTs, the purses at Scioto Downs ranged between $2,000 and $5,000, but today, with track owners required to direct between 9 and 11 percent of the VLT revenue to race purses, they generally start at $5,000 and can be anything up to $25,000.

In addition to the direct revenue generated by the VLTs, auxiliary services such as the supply of horse feed and tack, as well as veterinary services and transport equipment also receive a boost from increased horse racing activity in the state. Moreover, employment opportunities increase with the increased demand for trainers, drivers, grooms, blacksmiths and more. Just as the decline in activity negatively impacted people’s lives, the ripple effect of the improvement in Ohio’s horse racing sector will, no doubt, be appreciated by many.