After all of the trips to Las Vegas, Laughlin, California, Florida, West Virginia, Indiana, and now Ohio. I have become a seasoned player in the world of glitz and glamour. It seems every trip I’ve ever made has me looking to break even by the end of the night. Oh, there have been a few sweet nights at the tables, but overall it has been an exercise to break even. Do you call that gambling? I used to take $50 bucks and would get to play some 25-cent video poker. If there was any windfall. Off to the $10 blackjack table I would rumble. That $50 has graduated into $200, and it never seems like it is enough. If I take $200 to the track. With a little restraint and a couple of winners, you can bet dollars to donuts I’ll hang around for the feature race.
1. – Bang for your buck
If you’re playing three tracks. One live, and two simulcast. You select the best races from each track, and in the end you’ll have around 12-14 races to play. This allows me to take a breath, and do some well deserved thinking. When I am at the casino, the winning hand I just had gave me just enough time me to rake back my chips as another hand was rolling out of the shoe.
Some decisions at your local casino are made for player comfort to extend the amount of time played, and some decisions are made simply based on casino income, as with any business. The casino expects the player to get 60 hands per hour.
Racing has post times around 2o minutes, and you have time to collect your thoughts. If you stick to the 12-14 race plan, and you take a $200 bankroll. You can make it stretch as long as you like. Unlike the casinos where there is a minimum, and you see the cards at a machine gun rate.
2. – Blinded by the light
Casinos develop everything from when you pull up to the doors with a fast paced music playing your favorite 70′s and 80′s songs. That is the target demo, and why not let them hear the Stones or Zeppelin? The bright carpet patterns would make Walt Disney toss his cookies. This is a design to keep you moving, and circle you into particular slot areas. Have you ever walked around and felt like you were in a maze? Yep, it’s all by design. A design that will part you from your kids college money before getting your free dinner buffet that only cost you $300.
Pari-Mutuel wagering is “betting among ourselves.” Simply put, you are wagering against all of the other players. The track takes a percentage called a takeout from each dollar wagered. Is usually runs about 17% on WPS wagers, and 21% on exotic plays. The casino rakes in all of the cash, and pays you out in a secret formula to allow you to accrue comps. Here is an example from Vegas Tripping, an award winning guide to Las Vegas. – You are a $1 video poker player, and you play in one hour sessions three times per day. Your stay this trip will be three days. – Here is how the casino sees you: Your video poker play is calculated at 500 hands per hour, three sessions daily and three days long. – Your donation to the casino is calculated to be $20.7 per trip, and your expected should be free drinks while playing.
At the track, the margins are different. Use an 18% blended takeout rate. Now split that 18-cents from every dollar in half. 9 cents from every dollar goes to the horsemen in the form of purses (prize money). The other 9 cents goes to the track for state and federal taxes, keeping the lights on, upgrades to the track, advertising, and paying salaries. – It doesn’t leave much on the table for free trips and spa sessions. This is why racing needed to saddle up with casino companies who purchase them and make plans to build for the future. At first, the news is about the creation of jobs, and how racing will benefit from added exposure. For every track that has shown an up swing in attendance, purses, and handle. There is a leveling off point, and business eventually gets back to the old formula. Who suffers the blowback? The racing industry with purse cuts, and the downsizing of racing dates. As a wise man once told me, “the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t.”
3. – Win baby, win!
Casinos greet you at the door with a high powered “hello, and thank you for coming to XYZ casino.” That is not customer service. That is a stale greeting with no feeling, and only meant to get you engaged in conversation and feel good about coming.
As long as I have worked in racing, I felt you have 3 minutes as players walk in. “Joe, good to see you. Best of luck today.” “Ronnie, good luck today. Let me know if I can do anything for you today.” That’s it…. Greet them, meet them, get out your message and get out of their way. Racing fans typically do not want to be bothered, and you have already let them know you are there for needs. Turn them loose and let them play. Playing the races takes a bit more thinking than pulling the lever or tapping a button. Now, with all due respect to high limit card games and craps. Don’t bother them as well. Just when they have all of the numbers covered and have odds on each one, a waitress comes up and asks, “would you like a Jack and Coke, or a Rum and Coke?” – Stay clear, and don’t feed the animals. They know what them want, and how to get a ahold of you. Every time that lucky gent has the dice and all numbers are decorated. Up comes a $5 newbie or a waitress, and the dice go flying off the table.
Casinos have a plan. Win, and win it all. – This reminds me of an old farm saying that you can sheer a sheep many times, but only skin him once. Race tracks and any form of pari-mutuel wagering wants you to win every race! Now this is a tall order, but they make their money off of every dollar wagered and the takeout percentage. I know this may sound a little tough to believe, but just ask the pit boss to explain the comp system and you’ll swear you just asked for the recipe for the secret sauce that makes the new tax code book look like 2nd grade homework. Racing offers the needed creature comforts, and the game is changing to offer a better dining experience where you don’t have to sell your house for a hot dog. Tracks are offering entertainment, music, drink specials, and a sports bar feel. Call it a learning curve, and the only way for them to survive, is to get out and support the game. Baseball, football, and every other sport has no problem asking fans to come out and show support. Why should racing feel silly about asking? Just think, if you went to see an NFL game and there was a betting window. I’ll go out on a ledge and guess they won’t have any problems filling the stadium to capacity.
The long and the short. It is up to you as the player. What do you like? Where do you think your discretionary dollar will last longer? I know racing can be a little intimidating, but this is not your grandpa’s game anymore. There is a huge movement for fan education, and easy wagers that can be made at beginner windows. Players can wager by phone, tablet, or computer at most tracks. This has allowed fans to enjoy the sport, and not have to stand in lines or wait for a seat at the tables. Education is key, and racing has a edge. It can come in the form of a free on-line tip sheets, handicapping webinars or videos, and the ease of motion of getting your bet down with no one looking over your shoulder. I had racing on the mat receiving a standing eight count. But if we look a little closer, maybe the evolution is slowly moving to cater to the next generation of players. – But don’t wait too long. If you do, you may be sentenced to sit a video slot terminal losing your car payment on your lunch break.