VictoryLand owner realizes his dream
By Charles Barnette
SHORTER - The imagination of a boy growing
up in lower Alabama helped make VictoryLand the biggest economic impact
in Macon County history.
||VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor
has grossed $2.5 billion-plus in the 20 years he has operated
the racetrack in Shorter.
- Title: Owner of Macon
County Greyhound Park Inc. (became VictoryLand in 1984)
- Age: 63
- Education: Troy University
Its success is due in part to businessman Milton McGregor, who
owns the park, 22 miles from downtown Montgomery.
McGregor is the largest taxpayer and philanthropist in Macon County
having paid more than $130 million in property, sales and gambling
taxes. His gross receipts were $78.5 million in 2003. He has 800
employees and an annual payroll of $15 million.
A native of Hartford and a graduate of Troy University, on whose
board he now serves, McGregor studied business at Troy prior to
serving in the U.S. Army during the late 1950s Berlin Crisis. "Sometimes
fate has a way of putting situations in your way," McGregor said.
A former civilian employee at Fort Rucker, McGregor, 63, left
to begin a career in the amusement industry in 1981 when video games
became popular. He later read that Macon County was having difficulty
funding its school system and considering a racetrack. He asked
about the project, shared his ideas and won the contract over six
But his interest in operating a racetrack began as a teen. His
father had died when he was 8, and his mom ran the family business.
When he could slip away, he and friends watched the "excitement
at the track across the state line" outside Panama City, Fla.
In high school, he thought, "If they could do that well in a poor
location, imagine what could be done in a good one."
Nearly three decades passed before his dream came true.
He sold his amusement business at the peak of its popularity,
started building VictoryLand in January and opened in September
of 1984. Since then, VictoryLand has had its ups and downs, facing
huge revenue losses from its peak before the casinos opened in Mississippi,
but managed to generate more than $2.5 billion in 20 years. McGregor
quickly points out that 75 percent of bets wagered -- after management
fees -- are paid back to the customers. Of that total, 25 percent
goes for operating expenses, including salaries. The entertainment
park has other revenue sources.
Some of its 1.5 million annual visitors come to watch live, daily
greyhound racing in the 12,000-seat stadium. Others participate
in pari-mutuel betting. Visitors can place wagers on any track in
the U.S. with simulcast broadcasting.
Everywhere one turns, staff is available to assist the customer:
admission and parking, valet service, restaurants, concession stands
and a lounge featuring live weekend entertainment. A group coordinator
helps with private events or business social functions.
Area businessmen frequently choose VictoryLand for entertaining
clients, and the park often hosts regional industrial prospects.
"Many," he said, "have never seen any place like VictoryLand, one
of only 40 greyhound tracks nationwide." They just enjoy the food
and beverages. But most "visitors," as he calls them, come to gamble.
The new bingo operation is handled differently. Bingo benefits
42 charities, which are paid a guaranteed jackpot of $10,500 each
night their charity is up, several times a year. There are three
ways to play: the traditional paper card, for which there is no
charge; the electronic lap top computer, which can cost from 25
cents to $1 per card allowing players up to 500 games at a time;
and machine bingo. Since starting the bingo operation last December,
park employment has increased by 300, with more added each month.
McGregor is a hand-on manager, although he depends on a large
staff to carry out the park's daily operations.
McGregor owns numerous other companies, but rarely takes time
off. "Going home" is his leisure time. McGregor and his wife, Patricia,
live in Montgomery's historic Garden District.
Charles Barnette is a freelance writer based