Change for the Bettor

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 11, 2013 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

Racing has changed in leaps and bounds over the years. In the last 25-years, there has been more innovation than the last two hundred. But that is all in the history books… I was looking over my bar of racing memorabilia, and many sweet memories came flooding back. I know we’re not suppose to live in the past, but from time-to-time it’s a nice place to visit.

Bookmakers used to hold shop at the track. In Europe the on-track bookies can still be found with chalk boards and wagering signals as players try to get a square price, and the bookies try to keep a balanced book for profit. My grandpa used to have beautiful handwriting. Most men look liked they wrote with the wrong end of the pencil, but not him… He used to write on the boards as a young man in the backroom betting parlor. Another gent who was a track fixture had the same gift. “Spivey” could write like an artist, and he carried out that same noble duty as a young man. It was important as that is how the bettors knew the odds and who was running. In 1911, Colonel Matt Winn from Churchill Downs brought in the pari-mutuel betting system, and the bookies soon made the exit from the track.

If you went to the track, there were usually nine live races. When Keeneland was in session, there were eight races, and one daily-double. But things have changed more than grandpa could have ever imagined. In the early 1990’s, I  remember getting one or two simulcast races from Arlington Park. The simulcast explosion had not happened, and this was the greatest thing in the world. Going to the track was an event, and you looked forward to the races days in advance. Now you can wager by phone, computer, mobile device, the local track or OTB parlor. There is action to watch and wager from early morning in Europe, and finish out the day watching Australia in the middle of the night. Once upon a time tracks would run a double-header. A race card in the afternoon, and they came back a few hours later to run another card. Fans showed up, and in many areas it was the only game in town. But with casinos, racinos, and a million forms of lottery, 90% of the track handle comes from other sources, and only around 10% comes from the on-track betting.

Do you remember eating at the track? Me neither… You had to mortgage the house to get a cold hot dog or stale popcorn. But that has changed. Tracks and other gambling operations have become savvy to giving the players what they want and turn the day into an experience. Where coffee and burgers once held sway, that time has been replaced by increased dining with prices that won’t keep you from the window. Long ago, I would see players leave to go out for a beer after a few races. Now they can belly up to the bar and chow down on sports bar fare, and their favorite brew. Oh, how things have changed…

The video is flawless, the graphics are eye-catching, and the wagering menu can allow you to launch away at any track. There is free parking and admission, and giveaways galore. Most tracks have loyalty cards like the casinos, and rewarding players is a norm where it used to be a favor. Yeah, things have changed quite a bit…