Duncan Patterson is one of the longest-serving horse racing commissioners in the country. He’s served as the chair of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, which regulates and oversees the sport, for the last 10 years. He also heads up the committee on drug testing standards for Racing Commissioners International — all while serving as president of the Delaware-based real estate firm Patterson-Woods & Associates.
We talked with Patterson about the state of the racing industry, what it takes to keep this pastime alive, and the role of betting and fraud in the surprisingly complex world of horse racing.
What was the genesis of Delaware Park Race Track?
The Delaware Park was built by William du Pont back in 1937. It was originally run as a charity called Fair Play after one of his horses. It’s considered one of the prettiest race tracks in the country. I’ve been all over, and the paddock there is really one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
What are some of the challenges to promoting horse racing today?
There’s so much competition for not only the betting dollar but the entertainment dollar. Many years ago, it was baseball, boxing and horse racing. That was it. Now there’s so many other venues and competition. Over the years, we’ve also evolved from a rural society to an urban society, in which the horse is not as prominent as it used to be.
What’s the role of gambling in the horse-racing community
Delaware Park would not exist without casino gambling. A percentage of each gambling dollar goes to purse money [for horse races]. This is true around the country. Many race tracks are subsidized by casino dollars.
How has fraud in the industry evolved in recent years?
There’s almost no fraud as far as gambling is concerned. If there is any fraud on the racetrack, it’s the use of medications on horses. But over the years, we’ve really minimized that through drug testing. We do about 300,000 nationwide drug tests, and less than .05 percent come back positive. There’s almost no abuse with gambling because the computers today can monitor any unusual pattern in betting. Once every three or four years, you’ll see something. But it’s very minimal.
What’s happened over the years is that most of the betting at racetracks is done through what’s known as simulcasting. At Delaware Park, for example, you can bet at almost any racetrack in the country. By
the same token, people at other race tracks can bet at Delaware Park. Ninety-five percent of the handle [total amounts of bets taken] at Delaware Park comes from bettors out-of-state. Because the bets are taking place nationwide, and sometimes internationally, it’s monitored very carefully.
What do you think the future is for Thoroughbred racing in Delaware?
We don’t have year-round racing like they do in Pennsylvania and Maryland. So we depend on horses shipping in from other venues. Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida are the three main areas where the horses come from. But there’s a declining foal [baby horse] crop nationwide, and so there are less horses available to race. The challenge is to keep up with the purse structure [the amount of money the horses run for] in order to continue to attract owners and trainers to Delaware Park. Horses run for anywhere between $15,000 to $40,000 depending on the quality of the race, and we try to keep the daily purse structure above $200,000 because it attracts better horses and more horses. It’s a very complex, challenging business.