Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jobs, By A Nose

We hope that our loyal readers don't think we're crossing the line today, if we talk a little about the horse race. We're aware of the promise we made at the beginning of the year - but we don't think today's topic breaks that spell.

Because the kind of horse race we're talking about today has nothing to do with Mitt or Rick or Newt. And while we may be talking about the shifting winds of technology and industry, we're not talking about that blowhard Rush Limbaugh either.

We're actually talking about horseracing, as an industry - one that like so many industries, is struggling to stay alive, relevant, and affordable in 2012 and beyond.

Like so many industries - including the media industry we work in - technology has made things both easier and harder in the horse racing industry. Tracks in some states - like some in New York and New Jersey - have used new technology like remote track and historical racing to bolster and even improve the status of the horse racing industry in their states. Tracks in those states have also added other kinds of digital gambling, like video lottery terminals.

Those two states are the exception, though - not the rule.

From Maryland, to Kentucky, to Florida and Nebraska, horse racing has been on a long slide, like many other American industries. Like so many other industries, the costs of the business have just kept rising, while the profit on the business just isn't there anymore.

So, like many other short-sighted business sectors in America, those who own the horse racing industry have closed facilities, cut back amenities, cut back staff, and cut wages and benefits whenever they could. Unsurprisingly, the austerity business plan of cutting everything hasn't led to better profits for the horse racing industry any more than it's led to successful economic recoveries in Europe, or at the state level in many American states.

So-called "free market conservatives" always claim that when an industry is on a severe decline, what's needed to bring the industry back to life is innovation.

That's exactly what the horse racing industry in Nebraska has been attempting to do with an amendment to a bill before the state legislature. The amendment went through heavy debate for two days this week. Folks like well-known Nebraska Republican Scott Lautenbaugh - the sponsor of the bill - teamed up with powerful Nebraska Democrats like Health Mello, Amanda McGill, and Danielle Conrad to fight for its passage.

Opponents were worried the bill would expand gambling temptations in Nebraska. Supporters were hoping that it might expand opportunities back to what they once were in Nebraska for horse racing fans - and in doing so, keep or even create a few more jobs.

The amendment passed last night, around 7:30 - by a nose, as they say in the horse racing industry. Its passage is a testament to what can be achieved by working together across the aisle - instead of labeling all members of the opposing political party as enemies who need to be taken out back and put down.

Even with Wednesday's vote, we're not sure if the Nebraska Legislature gave an horse racing one more shot at the prize - or if their efforts will only help serve up a dying industry on a platter to banks and creditors who are always chomping at the bit. The bill itself still needs to be voted on, and we have doubts it'll even get out of the gate.

What we do know is that those senators who voted in favor of the amendment did it in an attempt to save and create jobs, while many of those who voted against the amendment let their unproven fears of gambling stampeding throughout Nebraska drive their decision making.

In an economy still trying to shake off the memories of the last few years, we'll place our bets with those willing to try and save local jobs, over those driven by fear, just about every time.

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