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Fear is Paralyzing, and the Good Ship Racing Can't Break Free

In Washington state there is a law currently being forwarded that would make operating or advertising a fantasy sports site a felony. The bill is being sold in many ways, some of which, well, are let me say, curious. Speaking to ESPN, the author of the bill, said this about these websites:
“This is no different than El Chapo down in Mexico advertising heroin or methamphetamine on our airways a thousand times a day to get kids to try it.”
Despite the obvious - that's insanely funny - it's interesting that in Washington state, ads and companies advertising to young people with "free booze, come to casinos and get rich" and powerball "you can be a billionaire" messages, are just fine. Maybe even encouraged.

Stoking fear, in this case the ultimate horror of fielding a team for $3 at a website, is not uncommon. It happens a lot.

They haven't had to resort to elk racing
Back almost a decade now, Betfair was being licensed in Australia. In the betting mecca that is Down Under, there were government officials who stoked the fear mightily, one going as far to say this betting business was "a front for Al Qaeda to launder money."

Not long after, Aussie racing itself really got into the act. Even a couple of years after the punter friendly changes (low takeout fix odds, exchanges etc) began, this threat was real and growing, and bad; really bad. So bad, in fact, that the whole industry could come crashing down. The head of Aussie racing:
"70 per cent of our income comes from wagering, so if that money is being pilfered out -- and we are not getting paid to put the show on, it means that all our 50,000 participants in the end will lose."
A leading breeder, not to be outdone, went full beastmode:
 "If they are successful, there's no racing, it's as simple as that, and they know that. It will all go back to picnic races. So it's just total destruction of the racing industry as we know it."
The "pay to put on the show" line - which seems to be able to travel across oceans without jumping on Qantas - and "destruction" hyperbole has about as much relevance here than there; it's not about fact, it's just about fear.

In the end "they"  -the bad guys - were successful. With more bettor choice and giving customers what they want handle on Thoroughbred racing moved up from about $12.0 billion in 06/07 to over $15 billion last year (a wagering record). Purses moved up to record levels, as well.

 Things are not all candy and nuts down there. Sports betting is clawing into the market, and foal crops - although better than here in North America - are not growing. The 'industry' is not unlike here, and asking for more money from everyone, too.

However, it's nice to see owners are not racing for Wal-Mart gift cards and horse blankets donated by Bill's Plumbing and Heating. 50,000 participants have not had to look for work. And yes, there's no sign of Al Qaeda laundering money on the third at Flemington.

Fear was conquered in Australia, even if the industry had to dragged kicking and screaming to confront it.

In North America it's different. Here fear in racing truly does paralyze, and when you are paralyzed by it, you can't move forward. 

As Louisa May Alcott once wrote, "I'm not afraid of storms, because I am learning how to sail my ship."

For a business like racing, learning what works and doesn't work by sailing into potentially choppy waters (and honing that policy through what you learn) is as important and just about anything.

What would Aussie-style 6 or 8% win takeout across all channels do with a long term test? What would polytrack do in cancellation-prone northern locales in winter, say at Aqueduct? What would 14 horse fields do in harness racing? What would any other big change of the day do?

No one knows. It's too scary. Plus, we need to pay to put on the show. 

In North America the good ship racing doesn't sail, it drifts. That drifting, caused by often times irrational fear and the assorted fear mongering, doesn't do anyone any good. Unfortunately the industry knows no other way.



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