Saturday, December 8, 2007

The B Track Blueprint

With the previous focus on bigger bettors, betting exchanges, Hong Kong and rebates, it might be a good time to shift gears.

Harness racing has always been different than their thoroughbred cousins. Recently I had the good fortune to attend the North America Cup at Mohawk, and I got to compare that to the Cups I have attended at Woodbine. It was no comparison. Side by side I was with harness fans. From one end to the grandstand to the other I was barraged with friends and former friends I had not seen in some time. Later on I was also fortunate enough to go to the Queen's Plate, on the patio at Champions. It could not have been more different. Not better, not worse, just different.

Harness racing and "B" tracks go hand in hand. It is the sports' history.

Recently I read a quote from a jcapper (a thoroughbred software program and database) user regarding small tracks. This user and bettor was "purging" smaller tracks from his database, because he would not play them. There were dozens of tracks. For the professional player, small tracks are a non-starter. It got me thinking: Who bets the small tracks and why? What is the draw? Can they be great again? How can they grow their business? Is it impossible?

Over the coming days we'll explore that. In a nutshell, here is what we'll do. And what we hope to accomplish:

First, we'll have thoughts on B tracks from distributors, to customers.

Ian Meyers is a long time horseplayer. He is the CEO of Premier Turf Club, an advance deposit wagering company. He currently has an array of harness tracks on his betting menu. We will pick his brain on how and why his customers play B tracks, and how they can be encouraged to play more.

Norm is a fan. I ran into Norm at Grand River Raceway in the beautiful Ontario town of Elora this summer at Industry Day, where the aforementioned Somebeachsomewhere romped in the Battle of Waterloo. He was just heading back from a Fair track in Eastern Ontario. When I asked him how he did, he replied "didn't lose any cash, because there was no betting". He went because he loves the sport. We will get his thoughts on what makes him tick, and why he follows the sport at a grassroots level.

"Thewhip" is a part of the under 30 demographic that racing covets and needs. He is a Windsor resident and has been watching racing, literally since he was in diapers. He is one of the B track's biggest players, spending time and money on the product. From Maywood, to Grand River, to Western Fair, to Kawartha, to Georgian, to Flamboro...... every small track is followed by him. He is a frequent poster to, arguably the premier chat board for harness racing (free membership, so join if you are a fan of racing). He lives racing. We will get his thoughts on why he plays small pool tracks, how we can play them successfully and what he thinks can be done to attract larger players.

The second thing we'll do is look for reaction the above in a number of ways. First, the previously mentioned have many horseman, and bettors as members. Hopefully we can get some reaction there about the topic. Additionally, we hope to get some thoughts from industry watchers, and the B tracks themselves. Kelly Spencer at Grand River works her butt off to get people out to that track, Chris Roberts of Georgian Downs is tireless in his pursuit to grow that track, Darryl Kaplan at Standardbred Canada has a passion for racing and wants it to grow. Maybe we can get all three to offer their thoughts.

In the end, maybe we can have the elusive B Track Blueprint, with the goal of increasing handles for the lesser known tracks. And growing the game. With handles bleeding all over, not just on the B tracks, it appears what we are doing is not working. Let's work towards trying to find out why and seeing if we can't come up with something to fix it.


Tracks seek bigger slice of gambling profits

State officials said that they have lowered revenue projections in the current 2007-08 budget by about $104 million — from $586 million to $482 million — because of sagging results.

That is a huge drop in revenue. It seems that slot revenue is down most places, so this is not just a blip. Even the win per machine at Yonkers, with NYC nearby is coming up short. As this happens, and probably will continue to, I think it is becoming more and more apparent that something needs to be done to encourage betting on racing. Fans, not slots will save the game in the long term, in my opinion.

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