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Racino money helps harness racing at Ohio's county fairs PDF Print E-mail
Written by By JACK CARLE Sentinel Sports Editor   
Friday, 26 July 2013 22:39
The future of harness racing in Ohio is becoming brighter, including at the county fair level, with the introduction of racinos in the state.
Part of the revenue from racinos is going into harness racing, providing money for increased purses at both the pari-mutuel facilities and the county fairs.
The Wood County Fair is one of 65 fairs in the state which will benefit from the revenue-sharing. Owners, trainers, drivers and fans will see an increase of $1,450 in purse money for each of eight races at the county fair Tuesday. The racing program is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
‘‘That ($1,450) more than doubled the base and that really helps. The base was originally $1,354 and that’s all based on pari-mutuel wagering and that has gone downhill every year,’’ said Pemberville resident John Konesky III, a long-time owner, trainer and driver. Konesky is a past president of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association and was on the executive committee of the OHHA which determined how to distribute the revenue.
The fair stakes races getting additional funds are 2-year-old colt and filly pacers; 2-year-old colt and filly trotters; 3-year-old colt and filly pacers; and 3-year-old-colt and filly pacers.
With expenses raising and purse money going down, many smaller operations such as Konesky’s were hard pressed to keep going.
‘‘It’s our savior. Without it, things were really slim,’’ Konesky said. ‘‘Quite frankly, racing at the fairs was almost not worthwhile anymore, from my standpoint.’’
‘‘Ohio agriculture is the fairs,’’ said Rudolph resident Steve Bateson, also an owner, trainer and driver. Bateson is the director of District Seven, which basically includes most of Northwest Ohio, and chairman of the owner’s committee for the OHHA. ‘‘This money is going to pump new blood into the industry and with new enthusiasm, not only from the owners standpoint, but many horsemen who left the state are coming back.’’
Racinos are a combination of a racetrack and a machine gaming facility. The machines are called Video Lottery Terminals, which look like and function like slot machines. The VLTs are administrated by the Ohio Lottery Commission.
Currently Scioto Downs, south of Columbus, has the only operating harness racing racino in the state, opening on June 1, 2012. The money generated for the harness horsemen this year all came from approximately 10 months of operation there.
There are a total of seven racinos planned for the state, three at thoroughbred tracks and four at harness tracks.
The other harness racing racinos are at Northfield Park, near Cleveland, which will be opening soon, and two in the Dayton-Cincinnati area, one at Lebanon Raceway and the other a new facility owned by Penn National, who is the current owner of Raceway Park in Toledo.
ThistleDown Racino in the Cleveland suburb of North Randall is the only thoroughbred racino now in operation.
A total of nine percent of the VLT revenue from Scioto Downs is currently going to the horsemen, but Konesky said that figure is non-contractual.
Bateson said the revenue-sharing from each racino would be negotiated separately.
In addition to helping increase purses for county fair racing, which is the grass roots of harness racing in the nation, the racinos will increase purses for the track at which they are located. Scioto Downs has already had a significant jump in purses this year.
‘‘The majority of it goes for purses,’’ Konesky said about the money going to the fairs. ‘‘There is some money set aside for health and retirement, and we’re hoping to establish a trainer’s program similar to our grooms’ insurance program now.
‘‘Other monies are set aside for 4-H clubs and some other horse organizations in the state.’’
In addition to the purse money, the OHHA voted to give $3,500 to the fairs which hold harness racing to assist the fair boards with race-related expenses.
The Wood County Fair Board voted to use its $3,500 for improvements to the half-mile track and the winner’s circle area.
‘‘We’re showing that we’re good citizens, giving back to the fairs that have stuck with us,’’ Konesky said. ‘‘These percentages are not set in stone. They will be reviewed as need be. When we get the racinos on line, we are hoping that this $3,500 can easily become $10,000.’’
Even the 29 fairs or agricultural societies which don’t have harness racing in the state, received $700 each in revenue sharing.
With more money being put into harness racing state wide, the sport can gain back its popularity in many areas, especially at the fairs.
‘‘With more numbers and a better program, we will be able to expand our racing to two days at Bowling Green and some of the other fairs that have cut back,’’ Konesky said about the future. At one point, the Wood County Fair held three racing programs.
There will be more horses eligible to race at the county fairs as breeding of mares in the state is already on the increase.
‘‘We have gone from somewhere less than a thousand bred mares two years ago, and we could exceed two thousand this year,’’ Bateson said.
‘‘We will now get our numbers back up, We didn’t have enough numbers to have good quality races and that was a problem,’’ Konesky said. ‘‘That will all change just because of the number of foals. We should be back up to at least a couple of divisions for each race.’’
Besides his leadership role off the track, Konesky has had success on the track at the Wood County Fair for many years.
Last year he drove to two wins and one second; that followed three wins and one second place in 2011; he also had a win in 2010 and three wins in 2009 to name just some of his recent success at the fair. His son, Patrick Konesky is also an owner and has had success at the fair.
Last year one of Bateson’s horsed took a third place finish with someone else driving.

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