The Hazel Park Raceway abruptly announced its closure on Thursday. That's leaving employees and horse owners high and dry right before the start of the 2018 racing season.
Hazel Park was the only thoroughbred racetrack in Michigan. Its closure came on the first day horses would have been shipped in for a month of pre-season training.
Owner and breeder Lisa Campbell says that stalls are reserved months in advance all over the country, so owners are scrambling to find space in the very few unreserved stalls at out-of-state tracks. That means some horses potentially will not be able to race in 2018. It also means the sport of thoroughbred racing in Michigan has effectively come to an end.
"Personally what I'm doing, I'm selling everything. I'm done. I'm going to sell all my horses, my brood mares, my stallion, and just get out of the game," says Campbell.
A 2002 report on the economic impact of Michigan's horse racing industry, including thoroughbred racing, harness racing, and mixed breed racing, found that it generated more than $443 million in economic benefit to the state, and supported employment of about 14,000 people, resulting in nearly $142 million in personal income. The industry, however, was already in decline at that time due to competition from the state lottery, Detroit casinos, and other types of entertainment and gambling.
Twenty states have opted to boost the horse racing industry by diverting a portion of gambling revenues to horse racing prize money. Those bigger purses have benefited the sport in states that allow it, but such measures have never been passed in Michigan. That created additional headwinds for Hazel Park, which could not compete with subsidized tracks in surrounding states.
An unfavorable regulatory environment has also been blamed for Hazel Park's demise.