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Season Ends with the Promise of a New Beginning for Northville Downs

5 April 2000

It has been a year in which the worst was feared. With two of the three Detroit casinos opening, many thought the racetracks, particularly those in the Detroit area, would be reeling from the competition. With this in mind and knowing that Northville Downs' meet was ending, I decided to take in the closing night at one of my old favorite places.

I have to admit it has been a long time since I have been to Northville Downs. For many years, I lived in Northville and a trip to the track was a fairly frequent occurrence. Yet, the years have slipped by and except for a recent afternoon stop to see the simulcasting operation (horse racing, minus the horses), I just had not been back. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to go home again. In part, I hadn't been back because I knew that the old friends and good experiences I have in my memory bank could never be repeated. They are such good memories that I suspected that whatever I found couldn't measure up.

I went expecting the worst. After all, this was the night of the NCAA semifinal game between Michigan State and Wisconsin. Plus the financial and attendance figures at both Detroit casinos have been staggering, especially on weekend nights. "Would anyone be there?" I thought as I drove into this picturesque and historic small town.

The first surprise was the parking lot - it was nearly full. There was bustling activity at the entrance gate. When I walked in, I was pleased to see that some things had not changed all that much. Northville Downs always has offered a variety of experiences. The first level of the facility is an earthy grandstand area, and feels very much like an old ballpark, the perfect setting for a group of guys to go hang out and have a great time! This has always been my favorite part of the track.

Going upstairs, you get into the more upscale clubhouse. This area has obviously had a lot of money invested in it over the years. There is now a large nonsmoking area decked out with desks and multiple television screens in typical sports book fashion.

Rising to the highest level by climbing the circular staircase, you come to the restaurant level. There, I was greeted by a friendly maitre de and looked over an elaborate buffet with a wide assortment of foods to please every palate. Each table in the restaurant came equipped with two television screens to enable patrons to catch the action both at Northville and at numerous tracks throughout the country. After scoping it out, I returned to the lower level and grabbed a hot dog and a Coke. The refreshment stand woman was friendly, but not very busy. One observation I have is that the fast food offerings could have a bit more variety. Hot dogs and Italian sausages just don't cut it with the food diversity other entertainment venues offer. Then again, if I was truly all that hungry, the buffet on the third floor looked fantastic.

The biggest change in the track over the years is the number of TVs. Simulcasting has lead to televisions and tables set up everywhere. The lower level grandstand seats (which sit right above the finish line) were surprisingly empty. Most of the people in this area were in the corridors and bar areas where tables, chairs and television screens provided all the information they needed. Still, as every race was run, a good crowd would assemble with me out in the open air at the finish line where the dirt flies off the hoofs of the horses as they charge to the finish - a spectacular site.

As with any form of entertainment, the key to the customer having a good time is customer service. Everywhere I went, I played dumb (not much of a stretch) and asked a lot of questions. The staff couldn't have been better, taking the time to patiently deal with me. A quick thank you to the friendly, humorous Ms. Kucharczyk who provided me with a wide variety of educational pointers on the mechanics of track wagering.

If the Detroit casinos are hurting the racetracks, I certainly saw no evidence of it on Saturday night. All in all, I had a wonderful time at a facility that is vastly different from a casino environment. Over time, as the tracks implement some of the changes that Michigan's Racing Commissioner is urging, I think the tracks will more than hold their own. They will be able to: (1) make the experience easy for newcomers; (2) add some music or other variety element at least in one corner of the track, but keep other areas the way they are now for the serious horse players, and (3) do a bit more to promote and glorify the horses and the drivers, which, after all, are what make the sport so great.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com