Charles Town Race Track conducted the first Sunday program in its history today, and the results suggested that the innovation will enable the track to survive-for a while, at least.
A crowd of 5,455 wagered $495,772 on the 10-race program. One official called it "an excellent omen," considering that it came in the face of gloomy weather and competition from the Washington Bullets' televised playoff game.
By later in the summer, Charles Town's management hopes that the Sunday cards will generate betting in the vicinity of $750,000, which would bring the track's average daily handle near the break-even point.
Alvin S. Trenk, the acting general manager, said Charles Town needs to average $375,000 a day in order to survive. So far this year the track has been doing $250,000 a day.
The Kenton Corp., which owns Charles Town, had considered Sunday racing so vital that it shut down the track when the West Virginia legislature showed no interest in legalizing the sport on Sunday.
Tha bit of brinksmanship, which promised economic disaster for the local community, finally spurred the legislature to pass a Sunday racing bill, and the voters of Jefferson County to pass a referendum last week approving it.
Still, Sunday racing is no long-term panacea for the track's financial ailments.
"There's no secret what we need for racing to survive here," Trenk said. "The numbers will have to change. The state will have to make contributions-as New York, California and Illinois have done-by reducing the take. There's no place else for it to come from."
The track had tried to persuade the state to reduce its share of betting revenues from 5.75 to 3 percent, but with no success. Trenk was not optimistic about getting legislative help in the near future.
"Outside of the governor, we never felt the legislature cared about this industry or tis importance to the people of this area," he said. "When they allowed Sunday racing, what did they really do? They just allowed us to generate more revenue for them-and flagellated us for doing it."