The walk into the track was exciting. – A day full of promise, as you see humanity taking long strides with the confidence of a gambler. Going to the races was a day to enjoy. Your program in hand, and maybe a tip sheet bought from one of the barker’s promising the daily-double as they had it cold yesterday. The day awaits as you pulled open the doors, and the sights and sounds of the track fill the air. No doubt about it. You are at the races.
You pulled the car into a long line waiting as the attendant made change and placed a parking ticket on your dash. Over the years you got to know the names and faces, and if you parked valet, knowing the attendant was one of the first names you would mention as your car was parked in a secure place close to the door. – As you paid your $2 to enter, you were greeted with a smile from the admission clerk or gave them a daily pass to make your way through a special marked entrance. Now you were ready to start your day. – It was time to purchase a program or Daily Racing Form and head out to your the seating area. – If you wanted a box seat in the grandstand, it cost a few bucks and a tip for the usher; or you could stand in one of your favorite locations where friends would gather. – Looking back, you were probably out $10 before you made your first wager. Horse players are funny folks. They don’t mind making a $20 win bet and tossing the ticket 5 minutes later. But making them pay to park, enter, and have some racing info was a joke. – If you wanted to go to the races, this was the only way to get your day started unless you had a bookie.
The track had a handful of players who accounted for around 30% of the daily handle. The rest of the players who made small – medium size wagers keep the lights on. Or that’s how management used to see the average player. – They kept the lights on and paid the salaries for the day. – When there was no simulcasting, the entire take was made on-track with large crowds. As OTB’s and inter-state wagering began, you would see less and less of the out of county plates as they could get their bet on close to home. The breakdown was about 60-40. 60% on-track and 40% from in-state OTB outlets. At first, tracks loved the idea of thinning down the overhead and were happy to get the handle. – But nothing stays the same. – ADW’s (Advance Deposit Wagering) sites like Twin Spires, TVG, Xpressbet, Betfair, and a host of others came to life. This made it even easier than going to the track, and from the comfort of your home or office you could watch and wager on every track on the menu. You would get free PP’s and it was being at the track without the cost of going. – Bookies who mainly took racing wagers went out of business, and the track was now a 95-5 breakdown, where 95% of your daily handle was from off-track sources.
The small player found it easier to bet by phone or computer and the whales didn’t come out anymore. – Why would they battle the crowds when they could bet with off-shore companies who paid them a handsome rebate of 10% or better ? Track can’t compete with numbers like that, and many times the races were run in empty buildings to scarce crowds. – There were plenty of players betting, and maybe they would play your track if you had Hi-Def signals with H.D. quality. – There is now more importance placed on distinguishing your signal with the pretty paddock hosts, and well-known handicappers talking about the bias on track and what to look for. – Think about it. Why go to the track as much ? You had it right at your fingertips and you could play sunny Florida in your sweats at home while the snow was falling.
Here’s an example of what tracks were facing from an article in 2008 in Slate.com: “The bigger the bettor, the bigger the rebate. The average racetrack’s house take is 20 percent. You’re subject to that bite whether you bet at the track or over the phone. The difference is that the highest-rolling players—who have the clout to negotiate rates—are refunded 10 percent of their wagers by the phone hubs. That cuts their disadvantage in half. Suppose you’ve been betting $5 million a year at the track and only breaking even. If you bet that same amount of money through a hub, you’ll get a $500,000 rebate. Suddenly, instead of spinning your wheels, you’re a professional horseplayer earning a fabulous six-figure income.” Since rebates were first offered at Las Vegas sports books in the mid-1990s, they’ve changed gamblers’ habits immensely. Maury Wolff, a professional horseplayer in Virginia, quintupled his action once he started getting rebates. He also stopped going to the track almost entirely—you’ll see him there 10 days a year. “I’m exclusively out-of-the-house now,” says Wolff, who was a 200-day-a-year racetrack regular a decade ago. “It’s way more efficient.”
For my own use, I have two sites that I use to wager. – I’m a mid-average player for most of the year, and for the Derby and Breeders’ Cup, I tend to go a little deeper. My desk is a personal ADW. I have many windows open with my Winning Ponies E-Z Win Forms, and a couple of screens with my favorite tracks. – With the click of a mouse I’m betting Gulfstream, Aqueduct, and Santa Anita. I occasionally play Oaklawn and sometimes I’ll play some Sam Houston. – I sit there in my shorts as the temperatures are in the mid-twenties and I have the best seat in the house. – No lines to bet, the restroom all to myself, and lunch can be grabbed from the fridge between races. – On TwinSpires I get tremendous service, and on NH Play I get monster-size rebates. These are my two betting parlors, and they send me emails and texts about getting Derby tickets and money deposited right back into my betting account. Not too bad for not leaving the house. – I get to do what I love and never start the car. – At the end of the day, I can request a check or a direct deposit into my banking account and go about my day. – For many, there is no more telling the wife you’re working late.
I work in racing, and you probably see this as talking out of both sides of my mouth. – But tracks have their hands tied and work with a small margin. It’s not their fault they can’t offer more, as the 20% taken in is split with the horsemen in the form of purses. – As I watch from my vantage point, there are a few things tracks can do to stem the tide. But with new ownership’s popping up across the country, the tracks have a tall order. – Tracks have alternative gaming, slots, VLT’s, bingo, and full-scale casino operations under the same roof. – If you could get three or four more trips a month back to the track from your loyal patrons, you have the opportunity to start making strides in customer loyalty.
* In the times of ease-of-motion gambling, track can have two takeout rates. One for the ADW’s and OTB’s around the country and a much reduced rate for players on-track only. – Give them a reason to be there.
* I have watched as tracks have blocked Wi-Fi and computer access. – Let them bring the computers to study and have wagering info. Just block the off-track wagering function. – IT can handle this for you, and it makes sense to allow them to use what they are comfortable with. – For instance, Am Tote has something called M-Bet where you can add money to a voucher and bet directly from your smart phone or device.
* Tracks used to be aggressive with on-track promotions. – Have random drawings, second chance drawings and on-track handicapping contests for players. – Give them more than they expect.
* No more charging for parking, admission, or seating ever again. – On marquee days, you can offer special tickets or reserved seats for loyal players. – Make them feel important because they are still keeping the place in action.
* For the new players coming to the races, have special places with QR codes where they can download a free tip sheet or on-track program to their phone or device for free. – You can capture the data and send them special offers about upcoming concerts, events and marquee racing events. – Tracks do a poor job at communicating with players. New players are on the move and the new demo want no restraints.
* For tracks there must be an active Twitter and Facebook presence. – Twitter can give free selections for handicappers and stimulate conversation. Facebook can allow players to plan ahead for events or chat with others about racing. -Also try and drive traffic to your website where fans can learn about the track history, upcoming events, and have a library where new players can learn how to wager. New fans like to learn at their own pace and there is nothing better than arriving ready to take part.