In times past, insider gambling on horses (when purses were equivalent to a Happy Meal) was something to be concerned with. When you can hit a tri by doing some funny business and cashing $2000, it was big money compared to the purse. Racings response to this was to regulate several things, including stuck in gates, breaking horses, and declaring a race official regardless of myriad issues that may happen during, or before a race. This was not a terrible policy of course. If a horse did not look to have a good break from the gate and a driver knew he had money down he could break the horse and get a refund. And with racing being the only game in town, tracks keeping the money and not having to refund it was not something they were going to change. They liked money from people who had no other place to gamble. They could not shop at another store and racing knew it.
But in 2009 times have changed.
If a football game does not start, or something strange happens, even your neighbourhood bookie will give you a refund.
If a slot machine stops in between a cherry and a bar you get a refund.
If a lottery ticket spits out a letter instead of a number, you turn it in for another one.
Can you imagine the customer response in a casino if a machine makes a mistake or a dealer makes a error and the response was “all bets are final”? Even if it was a policy you would be getting a free buffet coupon or a couple of beers from a trained customer service professional.
During the accident last week at Woodbine the ORC judges ruled by the letter, as was on the books. Two horses finished, so that’s that and the race is official. A day or two later I bet a horse at Aqueduct and he got stuck in the gate. I looked up at the quarter and could not find him anywhere. The inquiry flashed and after a brief period the race was declared official.
We have people betting their hard-earned money on these races. If a horse breaks at the gate, or gets stuck in one, the customer did not even get a chance to play our game. Think if you were new to racing and one of your very first bets had this happen. You would immediately think you could turn in your ticket for a refund and as a customer you would be incredulous if it was any other way. But you would be sadly mistaken, and you would certainly be upset and wonder why in the hell you decided to play in the first place. Is this really the way we want our customers to feel after betting a race? In 1950 they had no choice but to come back. Now they have plenty of choices.
Today customer service is of the utmost importance for all businesses. Racing is working towards building a better customer service plan. But how do you capture customers when the rules you are working under were written for a different era? Many things in racing need an overhaul, and we have to fight and claw for every customer out there. A good start would be a change to the refund policy. Don't think like a bean-counter, think like a marketer. Not only will they just churn any refund money right back into the pools anyway, they will be a happier customer, and Lord knows we need more of those in racing.