The Good Ol' Horserace Industry

This one examines a single type of gambling institution – the large, commercial horse race track.

Three comments are in order concerning the social relevance of horse racing in comparison with alternative gambling enterprises.

First, horse race gambling is seriously huge, and profitable industry. An estimated overall profit of $4 billion dolars from wagering in 1963 was legal at race tracks in the United States.

Fifty-seven million persons attended horse races that year, a greater number than the total for major league baseball, professional football, and collegiate football combined.

No estimates of the size of illegal horse playing are trustworthy, but one which is often cited states that $16.50 is wagered ‘off-track’ on horses for every dollar wagered legally.

Second, in contrast to Nevada-style casinos, most of which are removed from major population centers and have the general features of resorts, race tracks are primarily identifiable with conventional urban culture.

They are normally located well within the physical embrace of the metropolis itself.

For example, ‘Aqueduct’ (the largest race track in the New York area) enjoys the benefits its own station on a subway line.

Los Angeles has two major tracks both located within a few minutes travel time from the center of the city. In fact, of the ten largest cities in the United States, only Houston has no horse race track within half an hour’s reach.

While the racing industry often celebrates its connections with the elegance of Old Saratoga and the romance of the blue grass, it is clear that the realities of modern horse racing bring it closer to the model of the supermarket than to that of the vacation spa or the county fair.

Third, many precise data of interest to students of social behavior are readily available without dependency upon questionable and troublesome detective work.

A variety of records are kept (and many are published) both because state governments have economic interests in the revenues of track operations and because tracks have almost no reason to hide their records – but every reason to encourage publicity.

Exact tabs are maintained on attendance and wagering, even to the point of recording where and when every bet is made.

In contrast, there is no way of computing, from the data available to the public, exact amounts wagered in casinos or card parlors.

Of course, casinos appear to do a very impressive business, but the size of that business is harder to pin down in exact terms.

The Nevada Gaming Commission says that the reported gross revenue (taxes) from all gambling establishments in that state in 1963 was $260 million. Still, the amounts actually wagered in that state remain unknown.

While it is tempting to focus attention on the more bizarre and colorful world of casinos, the present study is an attempt to appreciate the more routine case of the ‘local neighborhood race track.’