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Charles Town's new chief

January 08, 1997

Congratulations to Jay Fortney on his appointment as president and genral manager of the Charles Town Races. His achievements, at Penn National and Detroit Race Course, certainly justified hiring him to revitalize the local track.

We believe it's important for revitalization to happen, for two reasons. As the county's largest employer, the track provides jobs to many whose long concentration on thorough bred care means they couldn't be easilty absorbed into the genral work force.

And if the track prospers, it is more likely that Jefferson County will retain its rural character, since horses need pastures to run in, and feed grown and sold by local people.

But just because a positve outcome would result from revitalization doesn't mean it will happen. Charles Town's recent performance - dropping attendance, a falling handle - suggests this patient needs more than cosmetic surgery to regain full health.

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We respectfully suggest several possible strategies:

- Betting on professional sports like basketball and football has grown more popular because the bettors can identify with the teams, and because on every televised game, there's a color commentator explaining the fine points of the game.

Handicapping's fine points also need to be explained, perhaps at some free, pre-race sessions. Jockeys need to be promoted as stars, as well, perhaps by (don't laugh) putting out a series of sports cards which would have their photo on one side and statistics on the reverse.

- The track needs to be a place where people will come even if they're not avid horse players. This means nice restaurants, a picnic area, and perhaps banquet facilities that could be rented out for weddings and the like or donated to local charities for their fund-raisers.

- Finally, management needs to recognize that with video lottery, the temptation to overspend will be too much for some people. An aggressive policy that protects gambling addicts from themselves may cost the track a few bucks in the short run, but will pay big dividends on down the line.

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