Thursday, May 29, 2008

Paying to Play & Thursday Notes

Some things popping up on the wires this Thursday morning, and a thing or two that rankled my wires:

First up, I went to Woodbine last night to watch some thoroughbred action with a few friends. I went up to Champions (the upstairs betting lounge) and was completely shocked when I could not get in with my HPI VIP card. Shocked is not too strong a word, especially when the attendant at the door said: "what's that? That does nothing for me". Jamie, Andrew, whomever who might read this blog, you guys have to fix this. There is no business in the world who would charge their highest value customers $5 to get in to bet, giving them upwards of 20% of every dollar spent. And your employees should all be schooled on VIP cards (given a list like the program sellers have) and how to act when shown one.

Relaying a story about a Vegas racebook, which shows the marked differences in customer retention and happiness, I went to one a couple of years ago. I decided I might play in the racebook, so I got a tracking card and made some plays. I think the first day I bet around $1500, maybe $2000. The second day I went to grab my racing form (you had to leave a deposit for a racing form which was refunded when you brought it back) and the racebook manager said "no, no deposit, just take it. Anytime you want something, come and see me". I did not even have to ask, and I had no idea he knew who I was - he must have done his homework on my betting volume. He learned about me in one day. Later when we were stuck for a room and we called everywhere for one for the weekend, we asked the racebook manager if he could offer some help. Within 15 seconds he said "ok, you guys are in your rooms for the weekend. Come back at the end of your stay and we will see what else we can do for you in getting you a free stay."

And at Woodbine (where I have had a VIP card for three or four years) I am asked to pay $5 to get into Champions? This makes no sense.

I never 'ask' for things. Some people do, I do not. But sheesh, a cover charge to go spend $150 in food and drink (there were several of us there) and $1000 or so of handle between us, and we can't even get into the place free?

Woodbine does many good things for their good customers, and for that I always give credit. But this is one they have let slip through the cracks. I hope they fix this. There are only 175 or so VIP's in the entire HPI system. In fact, one of the people who came with me is a high volume bettor. When asked why he does not have an HPI account he thought "why, so I can get charged $5 to bet?". Flashing a card should garner immediate trust and some respect, just like the Vegas racebook. How can we grow that VIP number and our game any other way? The little things matter folks. Matter a lot.

Equidaily reports a few links today of interest. One is yet another opinion piece in a Quebec Newspaper about propping up harness racing. Entitled "It's Time Quebec Gave Up Trying to Save Racing"


Despite all those gambling machines and the new money they brought in, attendance continued to fall and profits failed to materialize. Any day now, we expect to see Attractions hippiques to turn up in Quebec City, cap in hand, looking for a sweeter deal. The answer should be a swift, sharp "No." Enough is enough.

Similarly, but not as ominously, Ontario is getting ready to look at racing and subsidies and slots. An opinion piece from former Ontario Minister John Snobelen (a friend to racing) shares his thoughts on this.

The decade-old deal around slot revenue shares at racetracks has a similar cloudy record. Racetrack ownership has changed at many tracks as the business of slots has become senior to the business of racing. Betting on races has dropped and attendance at races appears to have declined.

What was intended to be a gift to the horse racing industry has turned out to be a curse. With a decline in traditional revenues the industry is as dependant on slot revenue as the government is on gaming revenue. And they say gaming isn't addictive.

More words from some of racings participants about the early retirement of the sports stars. This time from people involved with Affirmed and Alydar, which was one of the great matchups in racing history.

Cauthen remarked that good horses come along so rarely, “It's sad to see them disappear almost as soon as they arrive.”

Velasquez said, “Horses should run at least another year, giving more exciting races to the public.”

Secretariat, who rivals Man o' War as the greatest racehorse ever, was among those to retire at the end of his 3-year-old season. Yet no one doubted he ranked among the greats. He was champion at 2 and 3, won on turf and dirt, won the Triple Crown in 1973 and defeated older horses.

As for Affirmed, Cauthen recalled that his trainer, the late Laz Barrera, said after he won the Triple Crown, “ ‘Let's see what he can do against older horses.'

“It's a different mind-set now,” Cauthen said. “They feel they need to get them into the breeding shed.”


In New York there are rumblings about "raising takeouts to make more money". Ya, I know - we all know - this never works long term, and only helps to continue to destroy our sport. Nick Kling gives his thoughts in a piece in the Troy Record.

Thoroughbred racing and the airline industry have several things in common. Among the
most important is that, with a few exceptions, they treat their customers like cattle.
Apparently they expect their patrons will keep coming back to the trough to be fed, no matter how much it costs them in the end.

Unfortunately for racing fans, we don't get the same representation from politicians as do frequent flyers. Political leaders tend to cozy up to racing management instead
of grilling them in public hearings, like they do airline officials.

Higher takeout has been shown repeatedly to cause a decrease in total wagering. Eventually, since more people lose money than win betting on horses, there will be no money left to bet.

State leaders need to carefully consider the best way to create a level playing field for all of racing’s stakeholders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding your HPI VIP card not being recognized, I can only say I've had a very similar experience,

Seems being a long-time VIP member, means nothing. Might as well go to the Casino, play a table game, and virtually without asking, get handed a voucher for their buffett. And yes that has happened to me.

Hence next time I have a choice of gambling venues, where do the WEG executives think I'll go?