Raymond “Skip” Sauer leaned over the railing at Pimlico Race Course and could practically feel his cut of the $1 million in prize money.

“Come on, Warrior!” Sauer bellowed at the horse rounding the corner.

At 12-to-1 odds, Warrior’s Charge seemed like he was about to about to pull off the improbable. The thoroughbred was in first place as he galloped into the final stretch of the 2019 Preakness Stakes, and Sauer believed he was about to make a bunch of money.

So did Baltimore.

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A report commissioned that year by the city projected that Preakness could generate more than $50 million in economic impact if the state refurbished the racetrack.

A typical fan at Preakness might see cash changing hands, hear the ding of credit card readers and wonder: How could this not be an economic boon for Baltimore? But Sauer is no typical fan. His exuberance is weighed down by the relentlessly logical brain of a sports economist.

When Warrior’s Charge crossed the finish line fourth, he was disappointed — but not surprised.

Deep down, Sauer — a practical numbers guy — always knew the horse was unlikely to win Preakness, just like he knew that Preakness was unlikely to do much for Baltimore’s economy.

“We skeptical economists just look at the numbers and we conclude that it’s just not so,” said Sauer, a professor emeritus in the economics department of Clemson University.

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Dennis Coates, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has an even more direct assessment: Preakness has no impact on employment, income or tax revenues.

This might sound impossible to the guy wearing a new $200 seersucker suit who spent $69 for an infield ticket at Pimlico and tossed in $20 for unlimited Guinness Blonde. But economists like Coates and Sauer aren’t looking at individual transactions — they’re looking at the entire region.

Consumers don’t have limitless money, Sauer said. When they spend money at major sporting events like Preakness, they are shifting spending away from other activities.

A photo of Raymond "Skip" Sauer, who said he had great time attending Preakness Stakes in 2019, even though his horse didn't win the race.
Raymond “Skip” Sauer, left, said he had great time attending Preakness Stakes in 2019, even though his horse didn’t win the race. (Courtesy of Raymond Sauer)

Preakness has one advantage over a typical sporting event, Sauer said. It draws fans like him from places outside of Maryland, and that brings new money into the regional economy.

But even this benefit has a drawback, Sauer said. Other groups, whether it’s individual tourists or conventioneers, will see the higher rates at hotels and opt against visiting Baltimore that weekend.

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Still, Sauer isn’t against horse racing. Regardless of the economic impact of Preakness, he said, the sport brings joy to his life.

The 68-year-old grew up riding horses and took a keen interest in betting during the 1970s, the heyday of horse racing, he said. That fascination with sports betting dovetailed with his interest in economics, and he’s now a part owner of Ten Strike Racing, which ran Warrior’s Charge at the 2019 Preakness Stakes.

Ten Strike doesn’t have a horse in this year’s race, but Sauer still will be attending Preakness and placing bets.

Maryland’s leaders are also placing a bet — and it’s a big one. Thanks to legislation enacted this year, the state will invest up to $400 million revamping the Pimlico Race Course and building a new training center.

As an economist, Sauer said he’d like to outlaw all subsidies for professional sports, including horse racing. But as a fan who sees the billions of taxpayer dollars poured into football stadiums and basketball arenas across the country, he can’t help but feel a little smug that it’s his sport’s turn at the public till.

“Why not me?” Sauer said. “Everyone else is getting theirs.”