Thursday, January 31, 2013

Horseplayer Meets the CHRB Redux

I got an email last night with an old link to a satirical video posted first on Xtranormal, then on youtube. It was a meeting between a horseplayer and the CHRB. The video, made in 2010 - about two and a half years ago - is fun to watch in today's context.

As most know, So Cal handle and that of Los Al has suffered quite a bit the past two years. I don't have a link, but I read somewhere it was off over $200 million in 2011. As well, and this may be the height of irony, it would've been off more if a "low takeout" pick 5 was not implemented in spring of 2011.

Anyway, give this a watch and think about what happened. It's kind of fascinating (to me anyway).


NYRA Takeover By Captain Cuomo Not a Bad Thing

Close to a year ago, when Governor Cuomo announced the state was going to 'direct' NYRA and in effect have control of slots money there was an uproar. It was like Al Gore was buying Fox News.

The takeover was surely going to hurt racing, and who likes to be told what to do anyway; especially with all this new found slot money.

In places like Indiana this week, where the government is looking at taking away the slot subsidy, it's probably a done deal. Politicos on each side seem to be saying like Governor Pence's press secretary, "there is a better way to use this money". In Ontario, as we all know, the villain was racing and its waste of its slot money. We need it for deficit reduction, was the hue and cry. Both governments use racing as a whipping boy for wasting all this money. It's all racings fault.

In New York, one year down the road, I think everyone should be happy with this state control; simply because when the state is making the decisions, they can't hold NYRA or anyone else to blame.

A year ago there were deaths at Aqueduct. This year there are about as many, after following the government led task force recommendations too. This is bad news of course, but selfishly if NYRA was in charge someone's head would've been on a platter. Someone somewhere would say "these people don't deserve all this money." The 'let's get rid of slots for racetracks' drum would be pounded; be sure of that.

It's easy to spend, tax, or direct other people's money.  It's very, very easy to criticize when others are making decisions. However, when the state is directing policy and making those decisions, it becomes much more difficult. They rarely, if ever, criticize themselves. On the flip side, if something works, the government is quick to take credit. This is a win-win for horse racing, because if a policy fails, they will continue to try and fix it, if it succeeds they'll tell everyone how smart they are.

This was seen just this month. Instead of headlines in early 2013 calling NYRA stupid regarding the deaths at the Big A this season, we're seeing more and more chatter about moving forward. For example, the Governor announced that about $2 million from slots will be directed to "equine safety". There's also chat's about synthetic racetracks at the A.

Failed policy? Let's fix it.

Governor Cuomo is the captain of the good ship racing. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Double Error

It's rare to see. A politician admitting a mistake, but we had that today. Minister of Ag in Ontario Ted McMeekin said this to a Hamilton paper.
  • McMeekin admitted his government "dropped the ball" on horse racing and stated that he hoped that the Liberals would be "A little bit more collaborative then we’ve been. And that we’ll listen better than we have. 
Now, for the first time, I think everyone agrees this was handled poorly. You can't throw an industry on a lagging breeding cycle under the bus in one year, no matter how broke your government is.

The second error comes from us, racing itself. This government study was published from stakeholders meetings since 2010. Items in it were talked about for well before that. It said:
  • The Slots at Racetracks Program limits OLG’s flexibility to locate gaming facilities near OLG customers. Furthermore, the formula restricts OLG’s ability to maximize revenues for key government priorities. As such, the Slots at Racetracks Program should be drawn to a close. 
Just like the government, horse racing "dropped the ball" as well. This, in tandem, is why racing is where its at today.

Racing has little control over what a government does with a final new policy but it has control over what it does to help shape it beforehand. Taking responsibility for this is important and other jurisdictions should be preparing for it now. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stiff Jobs, Lame Duck Elections & Andymays

A new Ontario Premier was elected over the weekend, the left-leaning Kathleen Wynne assumes helm. She has had some nice things to say about horse racing, but (in my opinion anyway) this will not mean much. The wheels are in motion with transition and she's probably a lame duck anyway.

If anything this might be better for racing in the long-run, as being left of center she takes votes away from the left of left New Democrats. That likely helps the Conservatives more in the fall. As most know, the Conservatives were the authors of the slots at racetrack program in the late 1990's.

Racetrack Andy, who most know from sending emails out at a rapid pace (especially when he feels something is wonky in California, which is at least once a day) has joined twitter. He promises a "softer gentler" Andy:

Andy has called me many a names in the day via email, but speaking to him in person he is much different. He's quite a nice fellow. It will be interesting to see if Joe Drape follows him back LOL.

Do you want to watch what might be the most blatant "let's not win" ride in the history of horse racing? You can here. The over/under on what this horse wins by if let run is about six. Maroon sleeves and cap on the outside in the two path.

Bots gone wild? At Betfair last week a betting bot was messing up bad, big time. Someone, or something, was betting horses late down to a ridiculously low price. One race at PEN a 5-1 shot was bet down to 1.14 (about 1-9) and ran eighth. There were four or five other examples.

Yesterday's Prix D'Amerique, which is always worth a watch. Fun stuff.

Ellen McClain of NYRA has resigned. Resigned is probably not the right word. Forced out is more like it. Interesting that some of the more competent types have left racing, while we're left with some, oh, not so competent types.

 Have a great Monday everyone.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

No Bull. What a Difference Competition Makes

The perceptions after a result, rather than a concentration on effort is part of the human condition. As we spoke about in our post on "Luck" it happens with human participants as well. Wins look sparkling, losses look like losses. People over-trumpet the former, and over-analyze the latter. In horse racing it's probably done more than in any other sport, though.

This was highlighted, in my opinion, yesterday in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.

The hype horse - Shanghai Bobby - was expected to do well, but a funny thing happened. He met a horse who is very talented, who raced his eyeballs out, setting a track record in the process. Shanghai Bobby came a game second.

Because Shanghai Bobby lost the race, the meme immediately surfaced the way it always does in cases like this. "The shine is off the rose, chuck him out of the Derby picture, he might be a good miler", and all the rest.

But what if a little bit of "Luck" happened instead?

What if It'smyluckyday chose another race, tore a quarter like Bern Identity did, got stuck up in the gate, or 100 other things that can go differently, went differently?

In that case Shanghai Bobby runs a 100 beyer, and wins by 11 lengths.

Instead of talking about his failings as a racehorse, people would be anointing him King of Horse Racing. "New fig top in his first start, won in a canter, toyed with the field, what a horse!"

The only thing I learned about Shanghai Bobby yesterday is that he's a talented horse who seemed to winter well, who got beat by a better horse on the third Saturday in January. I don't see how you could make any other proclamation either way.

Notes

Golden Receiver won the Presidential Final and earned every inch of it. Nice horse, and a perfect horse for course. He's 8 years old and you'd never know it.

The Meadowlands Handle last evening was $3.7 million, or more than the Meadowlands Pace night handle last year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I've Got a CHRB Appointment For Ya

The CHRB lost Keith Brackpool this week to Magna, and it leaves a hole in the quasi-political organization. Who will the new Governor bring aboard? Who knows.

The NYRA board, the CHRB board, and various other boards in racing seem to have the usual mix of participants: A political pal, a guy from a University, a trainer maybe, and the other ubiquitous "stakeholders". It's a hodge podge of folks from various walks of life.

One person that is never on these boards is a guy who has a tie to the customer - the person who contributes billions upon billions in some form each year to racing.

That, to me, has always been a head-scratcher. With so many talented people out there who know the game inside and out from all perspectives, including gambling and betting and handicapping, why are they never appointed?

If I was someone that truly cared about the future of horse racing and I was looking for a board member, I'd look no further than a Barry Meadow.

A snip from a biography here for those of you who do not know him:

A short review of the life of Barry Meadow reads almost like a scam – Vietnam veteran, professional gambler, sitcom writer, player in the Indian tennis circuit, stand up comedian, publisher, successful handicapper and journalist. 


In 1967 he wrote “Success at the Harness Races” which led to a career in editing a racing magazine. He continued to earn significant income from his handicapping, and during the 1980s it served as his only income for about five years.

From his time as a handicapper he was able to author “Professional Harness Betting” in 1987, which was a successful and well received publication. In it Meadow laid out the plan for anyone to follow in order to become a full-time gambler, and earn a decent income from their efforts.


Only a year later he published “Money Secrets at the Racetrack” which is the perfect companion piece to the earlier publication as it shows players where and when to place the most effective bets, how best to manage their gambling capital and financial resources in order to pursue the pastime as a career.


While perfecting his money making skills with handicapping at the horse racing track, Meadow was also analyzing the casinos and games that are frequently played in them. He authored “Secrets of the Pick 6”, a booklet that is backed up by the author’s own success with game.

Barry is retired from betting and enjoying life in Southern California. he would probably say "no" if anyone at the CHRB or the Governor's office asked. However the real story, in my opinion, is that people like Barry never get asked in the first place. That is a great failing of this sport from the highest of levels throughout its entire history.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Digging Into the Ontario Numbers & Flummoxed

There are a couple of articles in Harness Racing Update (pdf) today on the Ontario situation. The first, by Bill Finley quotes Jody Jamieson and Bill O'Donnell on handle numbers, dates and revenue from that. They don't think the numbers make sense.

The government has said that (apparently) purses will be driven by handle, while transition money will pay track expenses. If so, purses should be at or near the same level for two years. This does make some sense if you crunch the numbers, in the most basic way imaginable.

Harness Handle average $1.3 million.
Takeout (overall): 19%
Gross Revenue:  $247,000

Woodbine gives out about $200,000 in purses each evening.

The current set up with handle, I believe, is to give close to half the 19% rake (about 8.5%) to purses, and 8.5% to Woodbine for expenses. As well, purses get a portion of simulcast handle.

I have not heard what this "handle for purses" system entails. Is it all of live handle and a portion of offsite handle? Does it include money bet on other tracks?

Woodbine, through its distribution network does about $900 million a year in handle. A percentage of that off site handle goes to harness and thoroughbred live purses right now. Is this money part of any new paradigm? Does the Ministry mean harness racing will get purse revenue off local handle and local handle only, or are simo-dollars included at some rate?

As with most everything in Ontario these days we find ourselves with more questions than answers. If anyone has heard how exactly purse money will be devised in this new system, please let me know in the comments section.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Power Play

If you ever needed a reminder that racing and politics are inexorably linked, the last twenty-four hours did it.

In Ontario, the new regulator (OMAFRA) announced they struck a deal with Woodbine to house slot machines for at least two years. Presumably the deal involves rent and transition funding.

In addition, OLG, the lottery arm of government, announced they reached a deal with ten racetracks to house slot machines. One would think these are rent-only deals.

Woodbine has called a press conference for 10AM, so keep your eyes out for that.

In New York State, "have power, will legislate, even for the sake of legislating" seems to be the mantra. Liz O'Connell looked at how powerful governments are there yesterday in the Huffington Post. 

There are four bills of interest to horse racing being pushed:
  • One which bans lasix
  • One which allows tracks to offer rebates to customers
  • One which looks to up the minimum gambling age at racetracks to 21
  • One which looks at installing VLT's in an OTB
Horse racing has a long, rich history. Unfortunately that history also includes a whole lot of regulation.  That continues in most states or provinces today; maybe more than ever.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Horsemanship

There is an always interesting conversation regarding the reduction in starts for thoroughbreds on the Interwebs today. Sid Fernando wrote a blog post which looked at a few numbers.

When a business goes through a sea-change in culture, demand and management, you can pretty much find a statistic to explain just about anything. They all have to be looked at in totality (with a good dose of common sense).

The way horses are raced seems to have changed a great deal since the 1950's, in both the thoroughbred and standardbred game. In harness, even in the 1980's the great Cam Fella raced and won 28 races in a row; all in top classes at dozens of racetracks across North America. Today the top three year olds might get behind the gate only 18 times.  As Tinkster's comment says on Sid's piece, the average lifetime start for a thoroughbred in the 1970's was 30, while now it's 11.

One area that stands out to me in this discussion is horsemanship, and the culture change in it.

I had an old time horseman as my trainer in the 1990's while I was dabbling in the game. When lameness occurred, which is inevitable in most cases, the response was usually:

"No worries, we'll fix him up and bring him back in awhile"

The "awhile" might be a few months or more, but sure enough the horse would be back racing, sound. The most interesting thing was that I would get a vet bill and it would be peanuts. Fixing a lame horse up for peanuts? That was the horsemanship of the 1950's and beyond.

Now I tend to see vet work being substituted for horsemanship. Inject the lameness, medicate it, and race. The funny thing is that at times it doesn't even seem to work. I've seen lame horses in a race be back in three weeks with a huge vet bill who are still lame.  We don't give them time, we throw money at them.

Then, the response that we see so often with factory stables and the commoditization of the animal: Drop him and get rid of him. The horse is lucky to last one or two more starts before disappearing.

These stables (who are a relatively new phenomenon), depend on turnover as part of their business model. There's no place in the stable for horses who take up space. When you cast off a horse, you cast him off and make him someone else's problem. It's "business".

Commoditization seems to happen in the yearling game too.  Buy ten, put them all on the same rigorous training program for stakes riches, and hope one or two last to grab the brass ring in the breeding shed.

I don't profess to say how much of the above happens, which hurts the average starts per year number, but I think it's a part of it.

Read Sid's piece if you are interested in the topic. Again, it's here.

Flash?

There was a story today titled "Woodbine Strikes a Deal With the Government". Keep your eyes open for more on this story.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beat the Racetrack

There was an article tweeted this morning (h/t to @o_crunk) about cheating in casinos. The article mentioned a classic time for innovators - the "Thorp Age" - where the book "Beat the Dealer" was published. The 1962 book, based on optimal betting and card counting, professed that perfect play could result in a 1% edge playing blackjack. It flew off the shelves and changed the game of blackjack forever. Most people could not "Beat the Dealer" but it didn't stop them from trying. 
  •  Beat the Dealer became an improbable bestseller, as thousands of gambling naifs imagined themselves proud owners of a genuine get-rich-quick scheme. Most overestimated their skill and determination, but flooded the casinos nonetheless. Suddenly blackjack became big business.
Although casinos used countermeasures to combat Thorp's work, it can be argued that the book helped the casino business and Las Vegas more than it hurt it. Because people thought they could win, they visited. They brought friends, they played other games, and most of them probably lost anyway.

I think this lesson was not lost on the industry. You can visit a lot of casinos and play very low takeout slots, or video poker that pays out at or above par with perfect play. It's "Beat the Dealer" but under their own terms. They don't do that because they're a charity; they do it because it makes for good business.

In horse racing (pre-computer), the work of Ziemba is probably the closest thing we've seen to "Beat the Dealer". Dr Z's method of betting place and show in underlaid  pools made some fans players. However this never really caught on. Beating 20% takeouts by a  method like Dr. Z's was not only difficult, it would become impossible.

In the 2000's it is not as much about beating a racetrack by an angle or method, but via a medium. Rebate shops and betfair do not exist because of anything too fancy. They exist because people think they have a chance to win, just like the Beat the Dealer readers did in the 1960's. It's exactly the same principle.

If rebate shops and low takeout exchanges sell racing to a new demo, give people at least a chance to win and promote racing to gamblers like Beat the Dealer did, why is the industry constantly against  them? I think it's because they don't believe the concept of Beat the Dealer works. I think that's an almost Shakesperean flaw for our entire industry as a gambling destination.

If you give people a chance to beat your game, they will try and beat your game. It's not casino specific, or game specific; it's human nature. If people are trying to beat your game, they're interested in it, they're talking about it, they're visiting your venue, and they are paying customers. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

Racedates, Synth, Stats & Lotteries

I saw a tweet from New York trainer Gary Contessa today as follows:
 NYRA has been reevaluating things of late and the talk of a four day raceweek has popped up. That's fine and what should be done if fields are short, and the horse population cannot support racing full cards. However, does it strike anyone else as odd from a common sense perspective? Here is a jurisdiction that just got slots. Purses are rising higher than a tsunami, and they are talking about reducing a raceweek?

Further in New York there was a very interesting conversation about synthetic surfaces at the Big A yesterday on twitter. Despite the obvious (most current fans and horsemen are against a big change for numerous reasons), the idea seems to have some merit; at the very least it is explorable. With synth the Aqueduct Big A meet offers prospective stables big purses, and gives NYRA a chance to drive some new stock and stables to the state during this period. The meet would be different than the same old same old, and might attract more action. The same thing over and over again can get stale. I think they'd be crazy not to explore it.

I datamined over the weekend and noticed there's some wild stuff happening of late at a racetrack near you. Chalk is not winning much more than usual, but it sure is paying better (almost a 0.87 ROI). The shorter shots are not getting bet, morning line favorites are not getting bet like they should either.  Charles Town, Santa Anita and Gulfstream are all about an ROI of 1.00 if you simply bet the morning line favorite.

This weekend at Harness Racing Update the proposed horse racing lottery bet in Ontario was looked at  (page 5 pdf).  This is intriguing because a lotto bet can do a few things that many other bets can't.

It's marketing in a box. If you create a lotto bet you are forced to market it. That means it has a marketing budget and this marketing budget markets horse racing.

Its a big pool. This attracts horse racing cash from all over. The US and abroad as well as locally.

It has two markets: The existing lottery market and the existing horse racing market. You are fishing in two ponds.

It is promotable to slot players. Slot players won't come over to bet a pick 4, but for a $10 million dollar pick 10 (or whatever it might be?).

If done correctly a case can be made that this bet could pull in more than the $50 million projected. In my opinion, anyway.

Enjoy your Monday everyone.



Saturday, January 19, 2013

Outside the Box With Cloudy Tests

At times I find horse racing is plagued with bumper sticker policy on drugs. We test everything, spend millions doing it, and since we test and get so few positive tests, horse racing is clean. What a bunch of bunk.

Bumper sticker policy involves implementing a rule or rules that makes us feel good, but really does nothing. It happens everywhere else too at times and we've all seen it. Want crystal meth gone? Ban it and declare "war". Want to stop kids from getting fat? Ban a big gulp. Do you want to stop EPO in the Tour De France? Well we test for it on raceday. Take that!

It rarely works because the policy rarely addresses the root issues. It doesn't have a vision. It isn't based on sound policy. It is created on a reaction.

Today in Harness Racing Update Gary Machiz offered a new suggestion for drug testing. It involved looking at "cloudy" tests in pre-race drug testing.
  •  I suggest that all horses competing on a given race card arrive at the track, not later than lasix treatment time. All horses would have blood drawn upon arrival. Every horse must produce a "clean" not "cloudy" sample in order to be allowed to compete.
This shows some critical thinking. Critical thinking is so rare that you know when you see it.

Gary explains it better than I could, so please give it a read (pdf). However, the narrative is sound. Trainers who use ITPP or EPO have cloudy tests, trainers that are pushing the envelope have cloudy tests. If their horses blood profile does not match the mean they don't race. If they don't change their ways they don't race.  If they don't change their ways owners do not get to earn money and they move elsewhere. In other words, the industry says: Race drug free on raceday or don't race at all, lose owners and go work at Wal Mart.

This eliminates the massive cost of post race testing over time, and the non-sensical positives for banamine that was given 48 hours out instead of 51, with zero malicious intent to cheat anyone. 

Is it doable, the right thing to do or just another bumper sticker policy? I don't know, but it shows some critical thinking on an issue that has been serviced with a bumper sticker narrative for 100 years.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Has the Horse Racing World Gone Mad?

Did you ever play that time capsule game when you were a kid? You'd put a skateboard, Electronic Quarterback and a pair of corduroys in some sort of tube and bury it. Then like 50 years later you'd open it and have a laugh.

If you were awakened from some sort of slumber and saw the headlines today, you'd think similar. It's like the horse racing world has been thrown on its head. And I don't think it's a bad thing.

We saw a trainer leave the game, after being suspended for 10 years. This is a sport where for years people would complain about positive after positive resulting on a slap on the wrist. Only ten years ago a class I in New Mexico or Louisiana would be worth seven months, now the class one (please no more frog jokes) can get you kicked out for a decade.

How about a New York track talking about going to synthetic to try and protect the horses. I thought even a meeting like that would be considered heresy in the Empire State. 


Today we saw Ray Paulick write an editorial about exotic bets killing churn and how WPS pools should probably be taxed less to help handles. That's a post you see at Paceadvantage.com or HANA, not at an industry website. Not to be outdone, another California supporter - Jack Liebau - said takeout rates need to be looked at in the state after the drubbing handle has taken there. As most know, California raised takeout by over 9% on exactas, and over 14% on three or more bets in late 2010.

The bacon is sizzling. Jack is talking turkey. It's a smorgasbord and it seems the lone-wolf Thoroughbred Owners of California is the only item on the menu.

What's going on?

I think the industry is maturing. It's gone from a monopoly where you put the races on and people will come, to a realization they're a business, and that business involves more than sires and dams, horse sales and purse levels. It involves people coming to see your horses race, enjoying the sport, and betting on them.

It's taken a long time, but I think this industry is getting there.

Dutrow On Oprah

Everyone has been talking about Lance Armstrong's mea culpa Oprah interview, but your cub reporter (me!) has found out the Oprah has already interviewed Rick Dutrow and it will be aired sometime in February.

As an added bonus, your cub reporter (me!) snuck into the interview posing as an electrician. I told Oprah that her lights were making her look like a cranky older woman on the View and she commandeered me to fix it. She didn't even ask for I.D., so away I went with my fake wrench, while she interviewed Rick.

I took notes because that's what cub reporters do. Here are some interview highlights.

OW: Hi Rick, thanks for coming onto the Oprah Winfrey show. Woot woot!

RD: Ya, woot. You're welcome Oprah.

OW: Rick, most know what you've been going through, but to refresh for my audience, you have been suspended ten years for violations in horse racing. You've appealed them to several courts, but it seems the end of the road may be near......

RD: Thanks for reminding me, Babe.

OW: ..... and I wonder, what's your next step?

RD: My next step is appealing to the Supreme Court; those people in black robes that live in Washington. Then if that fails I am going to the UN, or whatever the hell that place is in New York where all those fat cats show up in foreign cars with flags on them. Then if that fails I am going to an intergalactic court. They're gonna have to take me away in chains. Jdutrow Chained! The J is silent.

OW: It seems it might already be happening as there was a news report your horses are being entered under an assistant's name. Is that true?

RD: Jdutrow knows nothing about that.

OW: Bill Finley wrote in ESPN......

RD: The guy is a weasel.

PW: Well he wrote on ESPN "I think this is a case of the system working perfectly and regulators hitting the bulls eye." Scanning the twitter I see a lot of people seem to agree. A lot of people seem to be saying bad things about you on social media, or in grandstands. How does it make you feel?

RD: They're entitled to their opinion.

OW: But how does it make you feel? Really feel, deep down in your heart. Tell me Rick, tell my viewers.

RD: I don't know. It makes me feel hungry. Hungry. Or sleepy. Look, people can say whatever they want about Jdutrow. I don't care.

OW: Under that tough exterior there is a man, a feeling man with deep thoughts, maybe late at night. A man who cries, who feels. Tell me Rick. Tell me.

RD: Are you trying to make me cry? Jdutrow doesn't cry. I didn't cry a the end of Field of Dreams. I don't cry when cutting onions while listening to Kenny G. Jdutrow does not cry.

Oprah then huddles with producers. I hear "he's not gonna cry" from one, Oprah looks confused, sad, scattered. One of them says "Big Brown" and Oprah returns.

OW: What about Big Brown?

RD: Nice try Oprah, but that gets me mad, it doesn't make JDutrow cry. Kent blew it, I am sure that horse was in tip top shape and woulda won in 2:25. It was Kent's fault, not Jdutrows.

OW: Lance was a much easier interview than you are Rick.

RD: Lance is a cheater. Jdutrow isn't.

OW: Thanks Rick.

RD: Thanks Oprah.
_______________________________________

And that was all I saw. I am not sure if it will be aired or not. But that's the news from the cub reporter (me!)

Have a nice day everyone.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Luck II

On our post on Luck - bad beats and making things beyond your control affect your play - the Tinkster left a good comment:
  • This is one of the rare cases in which I don't agree with your conclusion. While I do agree with your basic premise, that “bad beats” are likely to eventually even out over time, I would argue that you may be missing the bigger picture.

    The key to successful gambling is money management, and, to my mind, the most nuanced aspect of money management is an ability so uncommon that few successful gamblers are aware of it, let alone able to master it.

    The skill to which I refer is the ability to identify both hot and cold streaks during their early stages, and adjust accordingly. This ability, when refined, can have a huge impact on the bottom-line.

    The connection to your post is that when you speak of "luck", you do so in a dry, academic manner. That is understandable, but it fails to take into account that in horse racing, every participant (e.g. owners, trainers, riders, horseplayers, etc.) experiences streaks. And those streaks, while perhaps reasonably viewed as random from a statistical standpoint, can in fact be recognized and taken advantage of , irrespective of whether one views them as being related to luck.

    In other words, convincing horseplayers that what they may consider to be bad luck is likely to even out on long-term statistical basis, and that they would be wise to act as your professional friend did during his 56 race cold streak, could well be a mistake in the context of what I have outlined above.

    I am, in summary, suggesting that there actually is an intelligent and rational basis on which horseplayers might change their betting responses based on what is widely perceived to be “luck”. 
This is a good point and I agree. I did not touch on reduced bet sizing, taking a break or riding a win streak by  being more aggressive.  I was concentrating on bad beats from a statistical perspective.

If you are having "good luck" or "bad luck" it may be happening for a reason. Maybe you are betting speed horses but there is a slight closer bias, or if you are winning, you are betting similar horses and the track is nuanced to speed. The possibilities are endless really. It's a big part of being a good bettor.

We do see it with trainers, drivers and riders too. A barn can't catch a cold (actually the barn probably has a cold and goes sour), then everything seems to fall into place. In harness racing a driver who is driving well is likely being aggressive because he has confidence. Aggression wins races in a speed game. 

Funny enough, I thought back to a story a friend told me a few years ago (the exact details are fuzzy so I hope I don't butcher it if he's reading). He has played professionally for many years and is a wonderful horseplayer. He, like most people, is not immune to losing streaks, nor is he immune to the nasty psychological effects of them we all face. You can't fight human nature. He also knows how to properly deal with them.

Many years ago now, after a particularly bad streak he was on, he did the right thing; he finally decided to call it quits and take a vacation. He went golfing for a couple of weeks in Florida or Georgia (I don't remember which). While there he did not check results, or even look at a horse race or form.

On the way home - by happenstance - he picked up a Form to do a little reading. Glancing at the Belmont results he noticed there seemed to be an outside speed bias. That happens (ed) from time to time at Belmont and usually stays that way for a few days.

He didn't think much of it, but when he got home it stuck in his mind and he dug a little deeper. He saw that it appeared to be a pretty stout bias.

He downloaded the next day PP's.

This is a fellow who makes his own figures, watches hours and hours of replays a week at many circuits. He did none of that because he was technically on a losing streak and wasn't playing yet. He wasn't ready to dive back in. What he did do was decide to take a pick 4 (it may have been a pick 6, I can't recall exactly) adding outside speed and riders who looked like they knew what was happening with the track.

This guy can spend $20,000 on a pick 6 carryover with many hours of ticket construction, but this time he spent something like $256 or $324 on his one spread ticket.

Lo and behold it hit with a plethora of speed bombs and he cashed for over $50,000.

Streak over.

The end of this streak was not superior handicapping, but a whole lot of luck. If he handn't decided to pick up a Form to read on the plane, he never would've even noticed the potential ticket.

However, in a way (like Tinkster alluded above) he made his own luck in this case. He did the right thing by quitting for a couple of weeks. He didn't jump right back on the horse, he noticed a potential nuanced bias and took a $256 ticket to have a little fun; ease back into racing. It worked.

Bad beats, losing photos, losing head bobs and all the rest are mostly out of your control, however doing the fundamentally correct thing when encountering them is always the proper thing to do. It can make your own luck.

Have a great Wednesday everyone.




Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Luck

Continuing on the betting meme this week I thought we'd touch on Luck; not the HBO was-show, but the 'holy moly I just got hit by a piece of Skylab'' kind.

I was reading an article yesterday about close NFL games and the fact that statistically they're fairly random. They as compiled and studied by football's version of Bill James shows:

"that teams that win at least 75 percent of games decided by a touchdown or less regress to winning 50.7 percent of games decided by the same margin the following season. Similarly, teams that win less than 25 percent of those games win 45.9 percent of them the following year."

This helps, according to the author, explain the concept of clutch.

He explains that Eli Manning, quarterback of the Giants, is considered "clutch" because in the playoffs he won those close games. However, how he won them comes down to "luck".

"To give you a point of reference, a quarterback who has been especially lucky in these situations is Eli Manning, who has a 5-1 record in such games. ..... For example, had a punt not grazed Kyle Williams' leg, the Giants would have lost to the 49ers in the playoffs last year. Had Wes Welker caught a critical 2nd-and-11 pass in the Super Bowl, the Giants probably would have lost that game as well. Finally, if Brett Favre hadn't thrown a horrible interception in overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game, the Packers easily could have won that game.  Did Eli Manning have anything to do with those plays? No, he did not. But he still gets credit for leading his team to wins that should really be chalked up to luck. It's simply flawed logic; football is a team game. "

If a couple of random plays go the other way, he's 0.500, just like most others in those games. Arguably he would be 0-2 in Super Bowls and probably be called a "choker". Tom Brady is another example. After going 5-0 in close playoff games early in the 2000's, he is 2-4 in them now, twice losing to teams that were double digit underdogs. He didn't just lose his "clutchness", he is simply reverting back to the mean. It's expected.

In other words, we should never try and handicap, or make big decisions on luck, because you can't.

Similarly in horse racing, we get bit by "luck" all the time. How we handle it, either in our handicapping, or in our reaction to it when it goes against us can be the difference between winning and losing.

Top harness drivers drive thousands of races a year and by any statistical measure they're pretty close in terms of ability. What they all have in common is "luck". Sometimes they'll be in the wrong place at the wrong time, most times they'll give good drives. The best of the best might make 4 mistakes in 100 drives, the worst of the best six. It's negligible.

I have a friend who won't bet a certain very good driver, and I am sure you have friends who won't either. Same with jocks. Why? Because they bet them during one or two mistakes and never forgive them. The thing is, the "certain" drivers or jocks are usually different. Someone got bit by that random mistake that each of them may make.

They're letting "luck" - the random - along with a big dose of emotion cloud their judgement and that can cost them money.

100% of the time a head bob at the wire is random and luck. Often times we'll hear the "horse dug in and has heart". Heart because his random head bob hit the wire first? What if the other horse was carried four wide, checked at the top of the lane and lost the head bob? What if the wire was positioned a foot forward? Why should it even matter when at times both of the horses are wearing full cups and can't even see each other? Either of those horses could've won that race. The result doesn't make one a goat and one a champion.

Other things we have to deal with head bobs is that when we lose them we get upset. It throws us off our game.

Just like we should not put too much stock in Eli Manning's play alone, we shouldn't in head bobs either. We may lose one, but like with any random occurance, we'll win the next one. If we don't we'll win the next two, or three. It'll revert to the mean and there is no reason to get upset. Why cost yourself money by being miserable and getting thrown off your game if the result is random?

Other statistical anomalies will happen in betting the races we have to deal with. Like losing streaks and losing photos. This past weekend I bet seven horses in a stretch and went 0 wins, 6 seconds, and 0 thirds. I lost three photos (two of them at Tampa Bay where watching the replays I still think my horse won both). I could get upset, but that distribution is not normal. I will win as many photos as I will lose them over time. It means nothing.

I spoke to a friend recently that bets professionally. He recently went through a streak where he lost 56 straight win bets. Fifty six. 

He did not change handicapping one bit. With a 20% hit rate a streak like that is expected to occur from time to time. It is what it is.

If we change our betting as a response to "luck" we should quit gambling on horses and hit the slots to play the machine in the corner because it looks "hot".

Whether we are handicapping players, horses or the circus that surrounds them both, it's best to not make proclamations about them without digging deeper. If there is a reason for something we adjust. If it's luck, we're better off turning the page and moving on.

Enjoy your Tuesday everyone.


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Ability to Fade the Obvious

I am a losing win bettor at horse racing, just like everyone. I am tearing up almost 8 in 10 tickets and throwing them on the ground. Virtual scoopers love me. Only on two of ten bets I can smile and say, "I won".

It doesn't mean I lose at betting in the win pools at the end of the year, but when you lose that many bets it can feel like it.

In behavioral economics, "Prospect Theory" explains the fact that we as human beings value wins and losses differently. We derive more pain from losing, than joy from winning, as illustrated in this graph:

You can see this in gambling by simply having a chat at the simo-center or popping on twitter or a chat board. If a horse is hyped, you are told you have to be crazy to bet against them. If a football team is a favorite and scores on their first series you have to be nuts to fade it. Not only will you probably look stupid, you will lose your bet. All those people who are telling you you're stupid add to your grief.

In reality, those are the best times to do exactly the opposite of what the masses are telling you to, because the odds will be in your favor. The odds matter, not being right or wrong.

The thing that strikes me about the Prospect Theory model when using it for horse racing is that if we think about it, the above graph is the thing that's wrong. Whenever I speak with a player who remembers a big score they almost always faded a chalk to get it. It's where you generally make those huge, memorable wins: Throw out the Green Monkey, fade that Derby hype horse, bet against a bridge-jumper.

We incur pain because we may lose those bets, but over time we remember them adding to our utility. That graph should actually be a lot closer to symmetrical.

As horse racing bettors we need to always fight those demons because they are always nattering at you. But to beat a 20% takeout we have to, or we end up losing our shirt. And we have to always remember that big picture: In the end losing your shirt feels a whole lot worse than being wrong.




Sunday, January 13, 2013

Are You a Good Gambler?

@o_crunk tweeted out a good piece today. For those of you who gamble it's second-nature. For those who bet it might be worthwhile to have a look at.

Here are a couple of snapshots, with some comments. 

"The model I like—to sort of simplify the notion of what goes on in a market for common stocks—is the pari-mutuel system at the racetrack. Any damn fool can see that a horse carrying a light weight with a wonderful win rate and a good post position etc., etc. is way more likely to win than a horse with a terrible record and extra weight and so on and so on. But if you look at the odds, the bad horse pays 100 to 1, whereas the good horse pays 3 to 2. Then it’s not clear which is statistically the best bet using the mathematics of Fermat and Pascal."

- This is the "don't pick winners, pick winners that are going to win at a higher rate than the odds board probability says they will" line. e.g. bet a horse at 5-2 that will win greater than 28% of the time.  It's also why you'll rarely hear professional people bet a driver or rider change that others will bet, or why a flavor of the week trainer who's lighting it up that everyone knows about becomes a negative expectation play.

"Unfortunately, what a shrewd horseplayer’s edge does in most cases is to reduce his average loss over a season of betting from the 17% that he would lose if he got the average result to maybe 10%...... if it weren’t for that big 17% handle, lots of people would regularly be beating lots of other people at the horse races. .."

- Beating 17% is brutal. That's why low rake rebate shops or exchanges flourish. It's easier to beat 5 or 6%.

"Here again, look at the pari-mutuel system. I had dinner last night by absolute accident with the president of Santa Anita. He says that there are two or three betters who have a credit arrangement with them, now that they have off-track betting, who are actually beating the house...... And the one thing that all those winning betters in the whole history of people who’ve beaten the pari-mutuel system have is quite simple. They bet very seldom."

- This in a nutshell, is what I believe is wrong with the system. To win with 22% rakes you have to bet "very seldom".  Think about it. Would McDonald's be what they are if you "ate very seldom" there? Would Wal Mart be making money if you shopped there "seldom"?

When a trade cost $300 in 1975 brokers were telling you to "buy stocks seldom". When E*Trade offered $7 trades, they were telling people to trade 100 times a day. Volume and revenue followed.

Memo to track execs and horsemen groups: Stop promulgating a system where you are telling your customers to "bet seldom"

A few weeks ago I chatted with Derek Simon on twitter. Derek plays in Twinspires and tries to grind out 10% a year betting 'seldomly'. "Picking his spots" he does fairly well. Conversely there are others on twitter who bet each race every race and play for a living.

The big difference of course, is the price paid. If you are betting into betfair at 5%, almost every race is playable. If you are playing into the tote, maybe one in ten races are.

The way the game is gambled is based solely on the playing field you are gambling in, or on.

It's similar in poker. If you are playing a pick up game with a bunch of newbies you should wait until you have a good hand before going all in. This is because newbies want action, they want to bluff and have some fun. You might as well play tight. That's your edge; your playing field.

In racing you play tight if you are betting into 22% takeout. You play loose if you are playing into 5% takeout.

That's why when takeout drops handle rises. There's more opportunity to open your wallet. People getting low rake play loose. We need more people playing loose.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The 5% On-Track Rewards Card & A Big Super High 5

It's a cliche, but racing has been "inside the box" for a long time. It's clung to the status-quo and can't seem to shake it.

Sure we've seen some ideas, like the "Beulah Fortune Six" or some good on track promo's, but none seem to grow the pie.

Recently California racing decided to try a 20% on track bonus for their pick 6. You have to bet your ticket at the track to get the bonus. That might help things a bit, so kudos for trying.

There is a recent push to help on-track wagering and the thinking is sound. The more that's bet on-track the more of the pie the track gets and the purses receive. There's nothing wrong with trying to increase on-track wagering.

However, most ideas (like the bonus for the pick 6) seem to be inside the box.

Here's an idea that's outside of it. The 5% on-track bet card.

Any customer who wants one gets one. There are some in existence today and this is nothing new, but this one has a twist. The customer signs up, he bets on track with this card for all his wagers for the day, but before the last race he is given 5% of his betting volume back. This, in effect is a 5% rebate, just like someone playing at an ADW would get at home.

These "virtual dollars" are not cash though. He can't swipe his card, take out out his $50 out and head out for a six pack and a steak. These dollars are simply a credit on this players card that he has to play on the last race of the day. A wagering credit.

He or she has to be on track and has to be present for the last race of the day to use this money.  If he or she wins his free bet, the virtual dollars are now real dollars and he or she can take them out to use them as he or she wishes. or the bettor can simply leave a balance on the card to come back tomorrow and play the races again.

This 5% back could be formidable for a number of reasons.
  • It allows you to sign up people for a card, so you can track their play and deliver better customer service. 
  • It gives the customer a better experience. Who doesn't want a rebate?
  • It increases handle. Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?
  • It drives people to the track
  • It gives players a better chance to win. You might be able to beat a race but you can't beat the races. But it's a heck of a lot easier with 5% back. 
  • 5% back is not a lot of money. If the average takeout is 22%, this lowers it on track to 17%. Currently a signal fee is around 9% for these players at home. 
  • It gets people to stay to the end of that card. We're paying them to.
Example, Pete comes to the track and puts $200 on his betting card.

He plays 8 races, $10 WPS a race and a few ex's and doubles. He rolls his bankroll over four times for $800 in betting volume.

He then bets $40 in the last race via his rebate. Let's say a track gets really crafty (this is obviously less effective but it may make it easier to get by a horseman group) and they make the virtual dollars to be accepted into one pool, like a Super High 5.

There are (hopefully) thousands of Pete's at the track. The last race pool, if it was say a Super High 5, could be increased by over $150,000 (if $3M is bet on track with these cards).

And of course, that $150,000 is taxed back through takeout, and some people will hopefully win, and churn that back as well.

Even better though: What player in simulcast land will not want to take a shot at a huge Super High 5 pool at your track if all these on track people are flooding that pool? It's almost like a carryover. Instead of a $40,000 super high 5 pool the pool could be $400,000, the highest in all of horse racing.

The takeout share from simo money now comes into play, too. In the end giving a 5% takeout reduction through this card could actually end up increasing revenue, virtually overnight.

This might even change the on-track culture. People may end up betting more to get more of a rebate for the last race. They might play more into the WPS pools to churn in races 1 through the second last race. You might have scores of people betting the show pools to cash. Instead of them playing into hard to hit bets getting them annoyed because they lose so often, they cash some tickets.  This makes their day much more fun. It's always more fun to cash tickets.

We can't continue to nickel and dime horseplayers. We can't try to squeeze more from them at every turn by hiking takeout or killing their bankrolls. Be their partners, help them win more, make their day more enjoyable. Think outside the box and don't be conventional. You might find yourself better off.

Ontario Situation is Quite Perplexing

I got a call yesterday from an Ontario kinda-insider about the political landscape in Ontario regarding the slots-at-racetracks program. We got to talking and he asked me what I thought would happen.

My answer was "I have no idea." It's the same answer I had about a year ago.

This is not a simple question, and questions that aren't simple rarely have a simple answer. 

The problem we're having now has to do with the political landscape, and who wants what.

The OLG hired Paul Godfrey in 2009 to change the struggling franchise.  Godfrey ran the Toronto Blue Jays and Metro Council and he is a Conservative insider. He was hired by the Liberals, with tacit approval from the minority NDP party. All three parties seem to like him.

As well, all three parties need money if they form a government. Ontario has some of the worst debt of any entity in the world. It's a mess. With the wheels in motion can any party stop the ball from rolling; a ball that has already been rolled half way down the mountain? Especially when all three parties have said yes to expanded gambling?

If you were in the US and had a small business and Romney was running, you probably voted for him. About 80% of such people did, because they knew what they'd get. If you were a big supporter of health care for everyone you voted the opposite, you knew what you were going to get. Everything is nice and compartmentalized on any number of issues.

In Ontario you have no idea what you're going to get.  All three parties provide lip service, but lip service is what they do best.

There will likely be an election in the fall. It will probably be a dog fight between conservatives and socialists. Whomever wins might do exactly what's been proposed.

Or maybe they won't.

Such is the political landscape in Ontario.  It's about as clear as mud. The problem for horse racing as I see it, is that you can't hitch your wagon to a train when you have no idea where the train is headed. Especially when all three trains might have the same destination.

Notes:

Pennsylvania is losing slot revenue as well to the general fund. Unlike Ontario they still get over $100 million though.

The Dutrow saga is unfolding similar to how the Bill Robinson thing did up here. It looks like he's off to Federal court now.

The Meadowlands continues to draw handle. It will be interesting to see what happens when their competition opens. I suspect if entries dry up a bit they will run fewer than 11 or 12 races to ensure the brand (this years brand, which was the brand of early 2000 with full fields) is not hurt too much.

You didn't need to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to figure out this: "High Stakes Gambling Machines Hit Poorest Communities Hardest" . To think, those communities played horse racing for years.

Two Kinds of Mistakes, via Godin:  "There is the mistake of overdoing the defense of the status quo, the error of investing too much time and energy in keeping things as they are. And then there is the mistake made while inventing the future, the error of small experiments gone bad. We are almost never hurt by the second kind of mistake and yet we persist in making the first kind, again and again.

Have a great day everyone.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Incentive To Cheat

There are some interesting articles about Lance Armstrong filtering around the interwebs of late. One from Toronto's The Globe and Mail talks about 1999, when the sport was trying to clean itself up.
  • One year after the huge doping scandal in 1998 that involved police raids, arrests and a rider strike, everybody was nervous. French law treats doping as a criminal offence and numerous accounts later written about the 1999 Tour de France paint a picture of a sport terrified of being caught.
  •  But not everyone got the memo. In his book The Secret Race, former Armstrong team-mate Tyler Hamilton described the elaborate subterfuges used to get EPO, the drug of choice, to the team’s riders. And analysis of 1999-era urine samples done years later, after an EPO test was developed, supports his claims.The tests, which Mr. Armstrong has disputed, showed the drug in 40 per cent of his samples. Among the other riders tested, the drug was present in only 8.6 per cent of samples. The disparity feeds the criticism that Mr. Armstrong won his first Tour by riding dirty in an era that was trying to clean up, thereby showing the rest of the field that they would need to start doping again to keep up.
That makes you wonder.

All of the resources that were put towards cleaning up the sport, all the riders who were changing their ways, all the effort to rebuild a tarnished sport.  It was working as it should. But allegedly one of a few riders didn't play ball and he was the one winning all the races, and making millions upon millions of dollars.

I think that's why I believe blanket changes to racing will not solve any big issues. If 99 out of 100 people stopped entering the dark side to win races, that one person can get all the glory. A high win percentage begets more owners, better and better horses and more and more money. The incentive never goes away. And the cycle just continues as you have more trainers trying to keep up.

Oprah'd

It was announced this week that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong will appear on Oprah.

Expect a hard hitting interview with meme's of everyone does it, and I had no choice, if it even gets to that. Followed by some tears and a warm hug, of course.

We're not the only one.
No one is ever at fault on Oprah. A man shoots his coworker at a McDonald's and the problem will be low paying job stress, combined with high fat foods and the fact that as a child he owned a red ryder carbine action air rifle that he wanted after watching A Christmas Story. 

Oprah provides cover. It's why so many want to go on her show.  She makes for a convenient excuse.

I think she's entered horse racing, too.

I read Steve Crist's article about the tax problem in the US, whereby horseplayers are taxed on winnings, and sometimes losings too. It's pretty crazy. They were made in, and for, a bygone era, and they're still here.

I saw a tweet this week that it would be great to change things, but with government's so cash strapped it's "too difficult" and the problem lies in the "system".

What about the previous 40 or so years? Was it too difficult then too?

Changing this tax, or at the very least updating it to the rate of inflation would allow handles to soar. Instead we hear we need takeout hikes or more food trucks.

We've been Oprah'd.

It's not dissimilar with my favorite racing Oprah moment - takeout decreases by NYRA.

The conversation for years went like this.

"NYRA should lower takeout"

"They can't. The New York Wagering Board runs takeout. The 'system' is stacked against them".

Well, NYRA has to ask the NYSRWB to lower takeout first, to get the ball rolling. Like Tioga Downs did. They applied and they succeeded. It's like complaining you don't have a job when you haven't applied for one.

But that doesn't matter because the NYSRWB doesn't like NYRA and it'll never happen. It's too much to overcome. The system is formidable and you might as well do nothing. The hole is impossible to be dug out of.

Oprah'd.

Bob Quigley, former head of the Meadowlands and now a retired 83 year old, talked about racing in Harness Racing Update this past weekend. Speaking about the Meadowlands he said:

"One thing I like is that these new people seem like they are working hard and trying to do the right things. What I didn’t like about the people running the place right before Jeff is that they seemed most interested in just hanging around to get their state pensions. I would see that a lot of them would go home at 5 o’clock and close up their offices."

I think that's the problem with the "system". We have too many people who leave early who don't want to work hard enough to change things for the better.  They take no for an answer fairly quickly, because the "system" provides them with cover.

For the good people who do work hard and want to overcome these obstacles, well they're fighting two battles: The problem itself and the people who tell them they're nuts to even try to fix it because the system sucks.

Someone smart said "When the deck is stacked against you, reshuffle the deck". I think reshuffling it with some new blood would do the sport wonders. As long as they don't watch Oprah.




Monday, January 7, 2013

Open Wallet, Extract Money

The OLG's casino expansion in Ontario is soon to hit high gear - one would expect - unless something drastic happens.

From the Guelph Mercury:
  • Clarke said Grand River Raceway is following the lead of some other small tracks in the province, looking at working out an agreement with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to continue operating its slot machines. There are 240 at the Elora raceway.
    That revenue would be a fraction of what the track and community currently make.
    “It’s on the agenda, but not imminent,” Clarke said.
    Elora is also in one of 29 zones the province has selected that can apply to host possible full casinos down the road, but the timetable for that selection process and when they would be up and running is another unknown
As we've discussed before I think this is the "big picture" that the racing media has glossed over. It isn't about Bingo Halls, or taking money away from racing because the government doesn't like rural people.

It's all about the Benjamins. Or in Ontario's case, the "Robert Borden's".

Their goal is to squeeze as much money out of the province it can, via casino's, to pay for deficits, or whatever spending ideas they have up their sleeve.

Funnily enough, while places like Russia try and quell gambling .....
  •  Russian President Vladimir Putin sanguinely noted the economic and crime costs of state-sanctioned gambling and recriminalized 2,230 casinos — virtually wiping the economy clean. Associated leaders such as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed that “the gambling business is ... [a threat to] national security.” 
.... Ontario expands it.

I have no doubt on paper this will make the province more money, but at what cost?

The provincial horse racing industry has a leg to stand on, in my opinion. Not by looking into bingo hall splits or protesting, but in asking the Ontario public what they want their province to look like in ten years. By joining forces with municipalities, politicos, church groups, and whomever else is against a huge gambling expansion, perhaps stopping this massive expansion can happen.

Remember, this government won't let us buy a bottle of beer in a corner store, but they want gambling on every street corner, it seems.

I'm more libertarian than most, but 29 full blown casino's in addition to more bingo halls and casino's we already have from Kenora to Kingston doesn't sound very appealing to me. I doubt I'm alone.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pennsylvania Racing Needs a Recharge


Even when the Meadowlands started to have field size issues in 2007 and carding crazy 6 and 7 horse betting events, the bettors still tried to stick with them, because the brand was what it was. Only after a few years of stagnation, the short fields and a lack of willingness to change began to be too much for even the most loyal of customers. 

At that time the brand was hurt. But it didn’t go away. 

This season bettors seem to be giving them a chance again. Handle has been good and the new team led by Jason Settlemoir seems back to doing the “little things” they always have.  They are protecting and rebuilding their brand. You can feel the fan and customer base pulling for them to succeed. 

Across the border in Pennsylvania, we see almost the exact opposite. Go to any chat board, or talk to almost any bettor out there. The bulk of them will have something unflattering to say about Pennsylvania racing.

“30% plus takeouts with all that slot money, are you kidding me?”

“They card races for horsemen, not us” 

“Cash bonuses for winning a couple of trot stakes, how does that help me?”

Pennsylvania racing’s branding from a customer perspective is almost all negative.

 It's not a harness racing only phenomenon. Out of the 69 thoroughbred tracks rated by the Horseplayers Association
of North America, Penn National ranked 45th, Presque Isle 50th with Parx coming in at 61st.

Read more at HRU, page 5 PDF.  

Notes: 

Eric P, blog commenter and Canadian Horseplayer advocate chatted on ESPN radio today. The interview starts at 9:28 here. 

The Meadowlands did $3.5M in handle last night. They're building. I hope it continues.



Saturday, January 5, 2013

Positive-Negative & a Nice Betting Score

Call it buzz, or branding, or a "good vibe" but it means a lot.

The Meadowlands, this meet, has got that "good vibe" going and it's continuing.  Handle was up 31% year over year yesterday and they've got another sure handle night tonight with a pick 5 pool that should broach $100,000.

Someone with a psychology degree might be able to explain it, but in racing "agglomeration" is infectious. You want to be where people want to be - Del Mar, Saratoga, Keeneland. And it's the same with betting. You want to bet the pick 5 at a place where others are, you want to support the Meadowlands.

On the flipside, remember Santa Anita's opener in 2010? That was post takeout hike (bad buzz) but the internal buzz was all about the "return to dirt". There were many who thought that would result in a huge meet and the press was complicit in that. Of course, that did not happen. The buzz about the "Giants and Dodgers" and the anti-customer vibe trumped it pretty good. It was hard to get back, and in fact, it still hasn't returned.

Tracks and horsemen groups really need to accentuate the positive at all times. If you are planning to do something to kill buzz, stop and think about it. It'll hurt you.

I got a note from a Betfair player today that I found interesting. 
  •  Cork 12:40 Maiden Hurdle this morning in Ireland. Horse making second career start after finishing 11th of 17 at 33-1 in his debut trades at 230 early in the morning, goes off at Betfair at 5.7, wins for fun
Nice. Bet a horse at 230-1 at night, have him go off at about 5-1 and cash. I don't know what happened there, but someone really liked their horse, it appears. The bookies must have taken a bath.

Cynical citizen alert. Stop reading now :)....

Darryl Kaplan looked into the OLG's Bingo expansion and came up with some interesting nuggets. The whole thing - from the initial shock change, to the OLG Bingo changes - all kind of reeks. It just smells. We've gone over that before.

But does it matter?

Really, if the mainstream media picks it up, does the public care, or do they say "oh well, it's government, what do you expect?" And the media? Since when do they dig? They just report what's going on. Some of them are even worse, they carry water for their favorite causes.

Look in the US. An election campaign was just waged where the media and President spoke primarily about taxing rich people to solve problems; to "pay their fair share". That was hyped beyond belief and it was on every TV ad and newspaper column over and over again. Well he won and the new taxes passed. A guy making a million a year had his taxes go up by $172,000. Yippee! Did it solve a problem? Of course not; this is what things look like with rich people paying a boatload more. 

In the spirit of bi-partisanship, his opponent wasn't much better. He told people middle class taxes wouldn't go up with his "plan", probably because he was too scared of being labelled a rich person. 

It's like everything is a ruse. Everything is "sold" to people. The truth doesn't matter one bit and telling the truth to solve a problem certainly won't follow. People don't seem to care. If their guy lies to them they're okay with it. If the other guy does, well he's a liar.

I think it's similar with the slots at racetracks program. Darryl can write, people can get mad and protest, but no one will care. We expect, in this day and age, that government's will probably fudge the details, not tell the truth and the whole truth. That they'll do backroom deals. It is what it is. 

Cynical? Sure. But I think I have seen enough to be.  I don't know what will happen with the slots at racetracks program in Ontario. Right now it's clearly finished. In six months? Maybe there'll be someone new telling us a new story. Will the new story make more sense than the old story? Probably not.

Have a great Saturday everyone.I'll be less cynical after I play some races and watch a little football. Promise.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Hey, Racing Demo's Could Be Worse

I got an email from my pal who posts on the blog as Walleye Fisherman. Not so strangely enough, he is a fisherman. Anyway, he sends me a couple of links on fishing demographics. It turns out that in 1990 the average age of a fisherman in Canada was 39. Now, in 2012 that number has risen to 50.

Fishing is "dying off" it appears and young people just aren't fishing anymore. He tells me "Young people don't fish. I have kids who come to the cottage who won't leave their laptop"

Fishing is one of those things that takes time. You have to buy equipment, have a place to go, spend some money on licenses, all that kind of stuff. You can't just turn on the TV and go fishing

I read similar recently on the Wall Street Journal. Apparently deer are eating all the crops in Japan because there are not enough hunters. Hunters are "dying off" so the locals say, and the government puts their average age at over 60. It's so bad they think they may introduce wolves as an invasive species to control the deer. Young people don't want to hunt anymore, either. 

Other time-consuming pursuits are falling off a little bit, too. I read a report from Taylor Made which said new golfers are being introduced to the game at a snails pace. If you live in LA or Toronto or New York that makes some sense. Drive an hour to get a few miles down the road to the course, play a six hour round behind a drunk fat guy playing from the blue's, and pay $100. Oh joy.

Technology, 500 TV stations, video games and video on demand, smartphones and everything else allow us to do myriad things. But technology does not allow the day to be longer, make traffic less congested, or make us run on an hour's sleep a night. That stays the same. Fishing, hunting, golf, live horse racing, are all fighting for time. And they all take time.

Racing has an edge on many time-consuming pursuits, however. We don't have to fight traffic to enjoy it, or take a block of six hours to go to the track. We can play it from home, and it gives the user a chance to make money. Money is the great elixir. It's why a low takeout exchange like Betfair racing has an average age of user of 35. Racing is not old, our pricing and how we deliver it is.

It's going to be difficult to reinvent fishing or hunting. Who knows, maybe we'll see a technology backlash in the future and people will spend more time in that crazy place called "outside", but it's not very likely in the near future. Racing on the other hand can probably reinvent itself. New branding, exchanges, new technology, statistics, all the things online gambling or online stock gambling trading have done might help some. 

Enjoy your Friday. And if you're going fishing in rural Canada today, bring a heavy duty auger and bundle up. The ice is thick and it's freaking cold out.