Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Casinos Could Put Fairmount out of Money

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Casinos Could Put Fairmount out of Money

Article excerpt

The battleships have turned their guns on Fairmount Park, threatening to blow the modest race track off the Illinois map. Brian Zander's office has the feel of a bunker.

Zander, Fairmount's general manager, is designing new strategies to preserve territory, plotting ways to protect his horses.

"First, we had to compete with the proliferation of Lotto, and we weathered that storm," Zander said. "Now with the boats on top of us, in the absence of some form of help, it will break our backs."

The boats are casinos, but forgive the folks at Fairmount Park for feeling under siege. In the gambling industry, slot machines are weapons. And the war ships have damaged Fairmount Park's ability to compete for the entertainment dollar.

"It requires no intelligence to pull the lever of a slot machine," Zander said. "If you've never played blackjack, it doesn't take much to learn how to count to 21. But it isn't easy to learn how to read a Racing Form and handicap a race."

The Alton Belle and the Casino Queen are moored on the Illinois side, within easy striking distance of Fairmount Park. Coming soon: a fleet of gambling vessels on the St. Louis riverfront, a boat in St. Charles.

This is a floating Las Vegas. Atlantic City on a barge. Donald Trump meets Mark Twain. Zander is surrounded. So he's fighting back.

Michael Richards, the actor who plays Kramer on the hit TV series "Seinfeld," used the ditzy Kramer character in a batch of funny commercials for Fairmount Park.

During one taping, Zander told Richards how the boats are hurting Fairmount. Richards went into the Kramer mode and zinged the boats.

"Come to Fairmount Park," Kramer said. "You can't drown."

It was an outtake, unplanned, and everyone laughed. Zander will turn the ad-lib into a commercial to promote Fairmount's harness session, which began Friday.

This is just horse play; Zander knows that he can't slow down the boats. He just wants to attract more horse racing fans. He knows what happened in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market. In 1986, Canterbury Downs opened. The racetrack cost $81 million to build.

In 1988, a casino opened on a nearby American Indian reservation. …

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