Thursday, September 3, 2009

Seats at the Table

There was quite a bit of action yesterday on the Fred Pope piece at Paulick. Not coincidentally, Ray informs his readers this morning that he is up in traffic and he is starting to blow away some of the thoroughbred news sites out there. Ray speaks of push-button issues and has grabbed a following. There clearly are not too many puff pieces on his site. People seem to really want to speak about the issues there.

I was thinking a little bit about the Pope piece last night, and how bettors seem to get up in arms about them, while some industry insiders think he makes a good point. There has always been a disconnect in racing between the customer base and the suppliers of the product; this is nothing new. And I truly believe that it is one of our great mistakes in our business. We sincerely need people involved in betting decisions at the highest level, who know betting, and who live betting; at the very least they need a seat at the table. Unfortunately, in our business the people who need to be at the table, don't have a seat.

I think a little bit about the Horseplayers Association of North America. I am a member, and yes it may be self-serving to say, but I look at the experience on wagering that the board and advisory board has. People like William Ziemba (Dr. Z), Cary Fotias, Barry Meadow, Jeff Platt, Nick Mordin, Mike Maloney and several others who can be called wagering experts. They have published dozens of books on betting (racing, poker and otherwise). One has a Phd in statistics and is an often quoted person on wagering economics, one is a computer programmer who makes a living from racing, one is a horse owner and full time bettor, one has a unique perspective by playing and being involved in racing in all parts of the world. In total they have well over a century of wagering experience from all corners of the globe. The board of directors has owned hundreds of racehorses, to boot. They live breathe and eat racing, and they care deeply about its future.

On the flip side we have some racing insiders like Mr. Pope, Barry Irwin, people from horseman groups like Bob Reeves, who is a trainer, and others. They care about racing too, and are extremely bright and passionate, but I would submit most don't place too many bets, and don't have the experience wagering that the other list has.

Let's think about this for a second. Let's say that we are scrapping everything - all the rules, the cross-state restrictions, everything. We are starting racing and wagering on it from scratch with a blank slate.

Who would you want writing the rules, or being heard from to create the new North American wagering system - people like Dr. Ziemba, Nick Mordin and Barry Meadow? Or the people who have a seat at the table now?

In other businesses the board of directors and officers each have their place in the world. One of my oldest friends and smartest people I know is an executive at a major corporation. He is a money man. When a new product is looked at, he runs all the numbers to make sure it can go to market and succeed. His partner is the engineering man. He makes sure the processes to create the product are achievable and firm. He relies on the workers on the line, looking for input on what they do. It is a well-oiled machine. Each person has their expertise, and each person is given respect in their bailiwick. It's the way things work; in fact, it is the only way that they can work.

Right now in racing if a new wagering change was looked at, say a change in the IHA, the people at the table will be as follows:

- A person from a racetrack
- A person from a horseman group
- A person from one of the many, many groups with four letter titles
- A person from a state or provincial office or commission

They will be in charge.

The people who bet, or who take bets and have succeeded in doing so (in betfair's case these folks have turned a start-up into the most successful gambling enterprise the world has ever seen in a short time) have absolutely no say. No say at all. They will not even be invited to the dog and pony reception for crackers and cheese and a glass of Jessvino.

I know getting people to change in racing is easier said than done. I have been to the meetings. I have seen first hand the fingers in the pie and the yelling and arguing. I have seen the grasp of control with no one wanting to let go. But when will the good of the business as a whole trump the needs of each faction in our game? When is enough enough? When is the time to move in a new direction?

From someone who loves racing and wants to see it grow, I hope this time comes soon. I hope one of the factions finally stands up and says, "let's roll and get this thing figured out", regardless to what it does to their slice of the pie. In 2012 or 2013 there is a real chance that Australia will pass North America in gross handle. Australia is a country that is 1/20th the size of North America in terms of gross domestic product. I think it's time we start setting the table to ensure this does not happen. One way to start is letting gambling people make some gambling decisions.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Re: Ray Paulick's traffic, he's not blowing any of the big three away.

According to Compete, Paulick attracts 4717 a month, compared to Thoroughbred Times, 47,292; Blood-Horse, 117,080; and DRF, 279,957. According to Quantcast, Paulick attracts an average of 2,500, compared to Thoroughbred Times 29,900; Blood-Horse, 53,100; and DRF, 227,000. And his Alexa rank? 219,056, which barely puts his ahead of Thoroughbred Times, 227,341, and well behind Blood-Horse, 50,090, and DRF, 19,293. Paulick posts many interesting links and knows how whip up a talk, but his traffic numbers are all crap.

Anonymous said...

I think "Seats at the Table" gets right to the heart of the matter of everything that's wrong with racing.

Pacingguy said...

The problem is there are three groups of people at the table: One group want to make changes but are afraid to make that leap of faith and do something radical. The second group wants change but wants everyone else to invest in the changes and they will reap the rewards. Unfortunately, the third group are people who already have given up hope and just want VLTs so they can get their hands on as much money until the gravy train dries up.

Well, I have news for the people wanting their VLT gravy train. The train is a lot shorter than they think.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with having bettors 'at the table' is that all bettors want is to lower takeout rates to approx 10 pct across the board. We all know that lower takeout means winning players win more, break even players turn into winners and some small losing players turn into break even or winning players. As long as state governments have their hand in the till, its going to be extremely hard to lower takeouts. When the people who make the rules stand to lose money by changing the rules, they have really not much incentive to do so. The key is to convince people who know nothing about gambling, odds and percentages that a much lower takeout means they'll make MORE money and not less.

Cangamble said...

Anon, a lower takeout will just mean that most players who lose money today will lose money slower, and spend more time handicapping than they do today.
The upside is that they may devote more funds to playing horses, and more importantly they may force their friends and family to get involved or at least exposed to horse racing.
The upside of the few winners lower takeouts will create is that winners attract even more players who would like nothing more than to gamble and win for a living.

Scott Ferguson said...

I'd be surprised if Australia wasn't already ahead overall, but those figures are probably tote-only, and possibly even just from one of TabCorp or UniTab. What was the source?