Racing Needs a Makeover

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 18, 2016 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

As I walked up to the gates there were throngs of people chatting and handicapping. Some smoking cigars or sipping a coffee in the swirl of humanity. All were patiently waiting for something to come, and I couldn’t wait until I could get close enough to see what the hullabaloo was all about. – When we arrived at the admission gate, I was allowed to duck under the chain held by the gate worker. As I walked in the first few steps I was overwhelmed by the massive size and sounds of this new place. People walking quickly, the sounds of the tip-sheet barkers advertising best bets, and players standing in another line to buy these oversize papers. They must have been important as everyone was buying one. – There was something about being in this place. It had a sense of excitement and even as a young boy, it captivated my senses and drew me in like a moth to a flame.

Many of us have a similar story on how we started going to the races. – It may have been grandpa sneaking you out to the track skipping the park, or maybe it was a family tradition. Either way, it was how many of us fell in love with the sport of kings. – Legal gambling was mainly held at race tracks because many lotteries hadn’t been created, and casinos were in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. If you liked action and the one-of-a-kind thrill of horse racing, there was only one place you could find it. Racing was a “build it and they will come” type venue. There was no competition and the good days were great. This entertainment was passed down a few generations, and began to change when other forms of gambling arrived.

Simulcast arrived, and what was held in Las Vegas was now at every track. This process was not so simple as it came in stages. We could bet on races in-state only, and little by little the other tracks started being a part of the daily menu of action. These times were good and people still continued to attend at great numbers, but little by little there was a slow trend of not passing the torch of knowledge. You didn’t bring your son or daughter and show them the beauty and pageantry. The landscape of gambling had begun to change and there were plenty of choices to spend your entertainment dollars. – This was the first sign of the decline.

We have blamed everything under the sun about the decline of the sport. The truth is there is one entity to blame and they are the same folks who subscribed to build it and they would come. We cannot assume anything about the next generation if there is to be one. – There was an epiphany that the crowds were thinning and the golden years of watching the regular crowd attend began to thin out as they were getting older and moving away from the races. The simple answer was we didn’t continue to build a new demo to serve for the future. – I have had the greatest opportunity to be employed in racing. I have seen the best times, the good days and the decline of the sport. In my honest opinion we have become complacent and haven’t tried anything new in fear of being wrong. I have watched the big tracks, the small, and the fair circuits. – There is no one easy fix, but this may be a step in the right direction.

These are far from an easy fix, and they won’t be billion dollar investments. Many are common sense and we have to replace the word “Customer Service” with patron relations. Every person who works at the track is now a part of the system and not pointing to someone else in another department. Get rid of the “I don’t know the answer” and get to know your most valuable asset. – Sit back and see if any of these would be of interest, and if they are. We just might see the changes to build on for the future.

* There should never be a charge for parking, admission, or general seating. Dining areas must have reservations and make it easy to stop by and watch a few races.

* Have QR codes at every entrance. They are two dimensional bar codes that hold information and offers. – In the times of everyone having a smart phone, they can scan the code and get a free tip sheet, on-track program, special food and beverage offers, and even advertise marquee days and events to come. You will be surprised that when regular players start seeing the folks getting things for free, some will break through the barrier and start scanning. It will be great for the new crowd, and will create an aspiration for other players to get in on the offer. – Every entrance, everyday, and make it easy to find. If you’ve never seen one, they are the small boxes that look like their filled with blotches.

* Wi-Fi has been used at tracks over the years and it can be really helpful betting from a tablet, iPhone, or computer. The only draw back is that players would wager on tracks through an ADW or betting site, and tracks would lose money and source market fees would take a hit by players not wagering at the track and betting on a computer or electronic devices. – The track can block all wagering sites and open the informational sites that offer data. – At Belterra Park there is an on-track option called MBET. Am Tote has designed an account where you can go to any window and ask for an MBET voucher for whatever dollar amount you desire. – The voucher has a user code and a password printed on the voucher. Once you start this easy process on any mobile device, you tuck the voucher into your pocket, and you can bet from anywhere in the track at your leisure. “No more long lines and no more missed bets.” – At the end of the day, you make your way to the cashier and cash in your voucher. If you leave and have money on your voucher, it may be redeemed the next time you come to the track. You have to open a new account each time you come as it is not an ADW. – Make it easy to wager and you’ll start serving more folks than you know. Maybe there’s a bonus reward by starting an MBET account for the day. Just another way to keep players betting at your track and allowing ease of motion. – Everyone wins.

* For new players and regulars. Employ the talking heads. – This is on-air handicappers who offer out a concise view of the race and may spotlight a few good handicapping ideas. This works for new players and players from all walks. Make it quick and to the point. Handicappers don’t want to hear jokes and comedy, they are there to watch and wager. Give the info, and even if it not used by everyone, I promise there are on-track fans who listen and your simulcast players can tune in. Nothing like being in California and watching the blustery days in New York. The “talking heads” bring the little things to the attention to all players. Get it out there and let them make up their own minds to pay attention or not. – 90% of your track handle comes from off-track sites, and I enjoy listening to a quick handicapping of the race all the while talking about track biases and weather. Give them info and turn them loose. – Take a look at Mountaineer Park. They talk over the horses on the track while they are jogging in the minutes leading up to post. This is good stuff….

* Have the free bands and dollar beer Fridays. – They showcase your facility as an entertainment destination and not just your grandpa’s place to hang. – Concerts, car shows outside, food trucks, free handicapping seminars from the marquee names in the industry. Man, this is starting to sound like a place to visit. Have a little something for everyone and the hard part is keeping them separate as to not interfere with other players who may or may not want to take part in the event.

* Free coffee and danish for the early birds who arrive at the track. – Have a few urns of hot coffee and a table set up with danish. This is a little thank you for the early birds, and it can last the first two hours before the first post. – Doors open at 11:00 am and first post is 1:00 pm.

* Have a varied and price friendly concession area. – Back in the day it was limited and expensive. Offer your players an option for good food at a square deal. I’ll bet dollars to donuts they’ll stay instead of heading out to grab a bite. No more cold hamburgers where you had to mortgage your house in the old days. – Well lit, clean, and a friendly staff to keep them fed and happy. – It’s all about the complete experience.

* Just about every track has a loyalty card. Make sure racing fans can accrue points for dollars wagered, and allow them to redeem for programs, forms, tip-sheets, food and beverages, and even wagering vouchers.

* Have a special area designated for new players. They can ask questions and wager at their own pace. – I have found that new players are more inclined to play a video poker machine over playing the races. Racing can be intimidating and by giving them their own place. This will break down the scary part of standing in front of a player wanting to hurry and wager.

* The new generation is a quick learning demo. – Have a library of how-to-get-started videos on your website. It would be an easy way for newbies to educate themselves at their own pace and come to the races more prepared. – I don’t think we live in the times where folks will come over and over and learn slowly. But if they are housed in an easy-to-find location on your website players can learn in stages and come to the races ready to enjoy the sport. – Trust me, there are more that would enjoy the opportunity to learn in quick bites.

* During live racing, all managers are out on the floor. This goes from the top down. – When players feel they can connect with a person instead of an email or phone call the relationship process begins. – When the meet is over, the same managers get out a couple of times a day and greet players and let them know you’re still available.