With Derby week behind us I thought I would update last weeks Wagering Conference at Caesars Windsor. Although less well-attended than last year, the event did attract some good presenters, and many good delegates.
I got to see most of the presentations, although I did miss a couple so I could do a bit of work in my room. I thought the presentations were better this year than last year.
The "Snapshot of Wagering Session" concentrated on two main issues: Where the business is now, and where it hopes to be after some of the recommendations are implemented (last years stuff). One neat slide was from Darryl Kaplan who was demonstrating that racing might not be here in 40 years (as we know it now) if we do not do something. He showed a clipping from 1968 that ran in a Massachusetts paper on dog racing - 'Dog racing handles and attendance soar' was the caption. He followed that up with a 2008 headline from the same paper 'Dog racing banned in New Hampshire'.
Session two was "No Holds Barred". Bettors discussed the issues with some execs and I was pleased that takeout and other bettor-centric issues were on the forefront. One such issue discussed last year to fix was the uncashed tickets problem. As most know uncashed tickets go right back into revenues and it was discussed that we should place this money in a new seeded bet to give it back to the rightful owners - the bettors. Bettors were incensed to see that a horseman group (and apparently one other group) blocked this from happening. Why do bettors seem to have disdain for horseman groups? That's why. If you dropped a ten dollar bill at Wal Mart and went back in to see if they found it, a manager says that he did, and he waves it in your face and then sticks it in his pocket, saying it is his now, you'd be annoyed too. And no doubt you would tell friends not to shop there. The next time a purse goes down because of lost handles, I hope these groups look no further than the mirror.
Show me the Money discussed taking some cash from slots revenue and placing it into something to grow the game. Common sense for most, but tough to get done. See the previous paragraph for why.
I loved the new technology panel. Dave Vicary was a gem. He is a programmer (retired from Nortel Networks) who has computers running 24 hours a day, building an artificial intelligence handicapping program. He was a cool guy and I was impressed. I loved his other thoughts with video. He says he can get a piece of video, program it so horses are highlighted at the users choice, and you can sort these pieces of video into "troubled trips" and so on. Man that was so cool. This should be done, like, now! I stressed that new markets are different than old ones, and we need to get moving. One example that a couple of people told me made them think: A recent study showed that 33% of South Korean three year olds are considered "web surfers". I asked racing this: In 15 years when this market is legal to bet, are they ready for them. I don't think we are, or will be, without some thinking and investment.
Line of the conference for me was bettor James Erickson, speaking on the betting panel that Kathy Parker moderated. Someone asked a question about drugs and James said 'sometimes you just have to give people the boot. Look at Bill Robinson. They got rid of him, and rightfully so'. I sensed every track exec in the room cracking a smile.
The betfair panel was tremendous. To have one of the original founders there was flat-out cool. To actually have a chat with someone who knows tech, and knows bettors and gambling was something I have been waiting for, and I talked his ear off. I never thought I would hear anyone in racing - anyone - who spoke about one thing more than all others, takeout. He mentioned that our game is pricing itself out of existence. For years I thought I was yelling this in a vacuum, so believe me this was really neat for me to be a part of.
Some other tidbits about the interesting week:
Moira Fanning, Director of Publicity for the Hambo and Breeders Crown is one of the nicest people in this sport. If you have a chance to meet Moira, go to it. She cares about racing, and is no nonsense. She is the one person in racing who I have never heard anyone say anything bad about. That's saying something.
Woodbine was well represented. Mike Hamilton, Jamie Martin, Greg Blanchard, Bruce Murray and Nick Eaves were all there. I am critical at times (but I hope fair) of Woodbine in general, but not the people there personally. I do not know Nick much, but I like each of the others. It is always fun to chat racing with fans like Mike and Greg. I was at a conference last year and got to chat with Woodbine marketing man Paul Lawson and I was sorry he was not there, though. I think Paul is one of the people who 'gets it'.
Kathy Parker, editor of Horseman and Fair World (a US trade mag established in 1877.... but Kathy has not been there that long) is always nice to see. I only see her at these things it seems. What's the most friendly state in the Union? For me, Kentucky. Everyone I meet who is from there is like Kathy.
Kevin Koury, a harness bettor from Florida flew up on his own dime. Do bettors have passion? I think so.
Windsor Raceway karma. Race five was the "Standardbred Canada Pace" and delegates could go down to the picture. I said I would, simply because I looked at the entries and one of our former horses from a couple of years ago was in the race. She was tough as nails, tried so hard and I loved her as a racehorse. I felt that she was going to win for her old carrot giving owner for some strange reason. She did. There were two little harness racing fans - little girls aged four and five, with the blondest hair and cutest smiles one could ever see. We asked their dad if they wanted to come into the picture. I think that made them happy and they had a story for school the next day.
Thanks to the organizers for inviting me - Darryl, Ted Smith and Kathy. It was fun and I was happy to do it. If a reader of this strange blog ever has a chance to go to one of these things, do not think twice. Just go. You will be happy you did.
For an "80-20 story" about the Conference, try the Horseplayer Association of North America website here.