Well, the conference has come and gone. Tonight there is a dinner and night of racing at Montreal (which I still call Blue Bonnets); and that is all for the two and a half day event.
I learned a great deal, and came away with more knowledge. The big bettors on the panel spoke about knowledge to bettors being power. Knowledge to customers about the business is also a good thing, on the flip side.
A few things I took away from the experience:
Bettors are certainly not the enemy if they play other games; or if they have switched betting to other lower cost avenues. Their behaviour and candor were welcomed as far as I saw. Most what stood out to me: every bettor that spoke wants to play the game. They want to play right into a Grand River pool on a Tuesday. They want the game to grow. They want it to succeed. They want to own more race horses. If the audience expected bitterness, or yelling, or name-calling from customers, they came to the wrong place. I think for the first time racing saw first hand that bettors want the same thing the tracks want - a growing game.
Ideas were plentiful. Roy Sproxton, gambler, racing fan and horse owner, expressed something interesting to the crowd, related to pool size. He said "I market make on a betting exchange for sports betting. I provide liquidity in the market. I get a nice price break to do that. Why can't I call Georgian, or Grand River and bet right into their pools, and get a decent price break. What if I guaranteed I bet $500 a race? That would encourage more people to bet into the pools and pool size could mushroom. Maybe with some work we could four or five guys doing that, who professionally play and provide incentive for others to join us and raise handles."
That's interesting. That's outside the box.
I have always had a soft spot for harness racing in PEI, NS and NB - the have not harness racing world, where people truck 200 miles to race for $500 purses. They have $20 win pools there. Why can't we get outside the box and have each horse owner, or a central organization charge, or contribute $15 on each entry, paid at the stable gate, or through a license fee or whatever. This $15 is a $5 wps bet on their horse. The pool size would be immediately $90 and each horse would be 6-1 (with rakes). Well each horse clearly does not have a 6-1 chance. The rail horse might be even money fair odds, so that encourages betting. People will keep adding money to the pools until fair odds are reached - that is a mathematical certainty. It guarantees churn. It attracts people looking for a value bet.
It's this type of change that might help our business grow.
Kaplan from Standardbred Canada had a good idea relating to scheduling races to get pool size up. Why not have one track each night of the week featured by all of harness racing across the country. A pick 6 could be that night for each track; some buzz might be created. The more we see a product and know people are betting it, the more we will play. One track featured is a good thing.
Takeout was on the burner, and I was surprised we did not hear more of "they are greedy for bringing that up" or "horse racing is too expensive" from the crowd. It was a testament to the people in this business - down to earth and respectful, even if they might not have agreed. I think perhaps it was because every bettor stressed, fairly eloquently most times, with a real-world underlying theme: "Look, I want to bet more. I can not bet more as the environment and pricing is too punitive. You have to make this game winnable. You have to attack the mindset that harness racing betting is for suckers. We have to let people win and lowering prices is a big way to do that."
We clearly all know that lowering prices will not alone cure the game. Any lowering prices has to be done via rebates and ADW, in a tight churnable betting account, to see the benefits of churn. Also, it will not happen overnight. Pinnacle sports did not grow overnight; they grew by churn. If we give people $4 extra back on a $30 score, they will just rebet it once, maybe twice at live racing. If they still have money left at the end of the night they will sink it in a slot machine on the way out. The live racing experience with slots unfortunately will break peoples bankrolls. Racing hopefully takes the same mindset that places like betfair and Pinnacle have/had - help people win, but do it via a betting account. Professional bettor James Erickson was asked "what can we do to up your bet size?" He replied, nothing. That is up to me, when my bankroll goes up I bet more, when it goes down I bet less. Help people win, they will bet more. It is simple, really."
I hope those points get across.
Lastly, I want to thank everyone for contributing to the 7% tax back thread. I relayed several of the posts. Your voices are heard.
The bottom line for me is that this will take strong leadership and much work. I mentioned to a few people from Standardbred Canada at the end something sometimes we forget: To implement change it costs money. I as a SC member am willing to contribute with an increased fee. If they bring a workable plan that needs to be funded to horsepeople and others with an increased fee, I hope they have the same reaction. We have to pay for this, we can not just wave a wand and fix things. it takes work and sacrifice.
With wagering down 40%, the question is not can I afford to contribute something to the plan through an increased fee, the question is how can I afford not to.
Thanks for everyone's participation. Thanks to Standardbred Canada for inviting me. It was a privilege.