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Releasing the Racing Hook that Hooks Ya

I read, like a lot of you, Lenny's post about giving up his passion as a horseplayer. If you have not read it, give it a look. It's informative.

Although Lenny touches on a lot of personal issues, his overarching theme regarding the handicapping and betting genre is pretty eye-opening and interesting. I don't think anyone can argue with him: This is one tough, expensive, frustrating, time-consuming game.

And sooner or later (for whatever the reason, but clearly it's related to utility maximization) a lot of people finally say "no more".

Back in about 2007, Bobby Chang who was (might still be, I don't know) the vice-president of wagering for the Hong Kong Jockey Club was presenting at the Asian Gaming conference. Hong Kong was going through handle losses (or stagnation) and Chang looked into what was going on. He concluded some long-time, dedicated players (not unlike Lenny) were leaving; some for other gambling avenues in Macau, some just leaving for the sake of leaving.

Mr. Chang said (paraphrasing), 'Once people leave a betting game that hooks you like horse racing, they are hard to get back. So we had to do something'.

Mr. Chang decided one reason for the losses was that some of these players were not making enough money to keep them doing what Lenny does - watching races, making speed figures; being customers. So, he offered out a pretty stout rebate on tickets of about US$1,000 or more. Wagering in Hong Kong was about US$7.8B and falling at that time, now it's US$14B and rising.

There were other factors at play for the turn around - there always are - but what's more relevant in this instance was the actions of Mr. Chang and the HKJC. This was an executive that noticed:

i) Some customers were not having their utility maximized

ii) Competitors were offering something they liked

iii) Time was of the essence, because when these customers are lost, they don't come back.

Notice a trend, analyze the trend, make a plan to offset the trend, then quickly (within one meet) make sure said policy is implemented, because the lifetime revenue of the sport is at risk, and no immediate action is not an option.

That, of course, doesn't happen here very often. As Lenny's letter above notes, the things he complained about are never addressed. Not only are they not addressed, sometimes gasoline is poured on the fire, making them even worse.

Worse, for example, like a game that needs churn to keep customers happy doing the exact opposite with 57% takeout jackpot bets; jackpot bets that are erroneously and disingenuously advertised on industry websites as "carryovers"; jackpot bets that if some poor, ground-down chap actually has a chance to win one to change his life forever, sees a last leg callously cancelled, like the track was shutting down a hot dog stand because it ran out of buns.

I picked one example off the top of my head (since Lenny mentioned it), but you or I could've come up with dozens of them.

Lenny's issues are personal. Whether the sports' issues are fixed or not will likely not affect him personally, or alter his decision. What is relevant is that too many people have left horse racing, to spend time with their family, to play other gambling games, to watch sports, bet DFS, or a hundred other things. It's shocking that the industry here, unlike in Hong Kong, treats these things with absolutely no urgency.

I don't know if there's the know-how, the passion, or the will inside the sport to fight to keep customers, or get them back. If there is, I haven't seen it, and yes, I've been at this for awhile. 

Best wishes Lenny. You were passionate, loved the sport, and fought for what you believed. There is one fewer of you today, and it's racing's loss.


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