Friday, December 7, 2007

Cognizant of Perception = Growth

Paul Moran, commentator in racing for as long as I have been alive, has some extremely interesting thoughts on Hong Kong racing. He is currently overseas enjoying the racing there, reporting on things we don't hear much about in North America - and they are eye-opening. I encourage anyone interested in the trip to bookmark his blog.

Today's entry focuses on protecting the player's there. It goes to one word: Perception; and two segments: Catering to both casual and professional players. For the casual: Racing is a great day. Costs are not overly prohibitive in terms of other attractions in the city. There are night clubs right on track. It's a fun place to be. For the player: You are not punished for being good, and you are taken care of in matters of respecting your betting dollar.

Despite large live crowds, only eight percent of the money wagered on races run in Hong Kong is bet on-site and this is the home of off-course professionals armed with sophisticated analytical software and high-speed Internet connections who arbitrage the pools. In the United States, such bettors – more acurately (sic) described as investors – have been largely cut off. Not here. They are customers and part of an cauldron of wagering action that reaches monumental proportions.

“You have to realize that the punters are the customers,” a Hong Kong Jockey Club executive said, “and you have to take care of the customers.”

This is such a salient point. Big bettors, or whales are almost treated like a nuisance in some racing circles here. Every time I read something in harness racing it seems to be all about "getting people to the track" and very little about all the other players playing from home. Rebate shops are the devil to some. What business on the face of the earth would do such a thing with their largest customers? Racing in North America, that's who.

Additionally, Moran goes on to speak about integrity and perception. Flip on a race at Maywood, or Mohawk. What can you see happen in any given night? A hole opened that strategically should not be. A speed horse get taken back to last who is well bet. A horse off the claim is sent to the front, with no apparent gate speed, who jogs at 8-5. All these things leave people (the customers) scratching their head. 99 times out of 100 we have a good explanation for the above, and for the most part the racing is clean as a whistle. It is common for bettors to transfer blame others for their bad bet. But who cares? We have to address concerns before they happen. Just because the customer's opinion of the race being "fixed" is wrong, does not mean we can not address their fears.

How is the above customer treated with respect to his opinion in our racing? With very little, if anything.

Now, let's head back overseas, from Moran's story:

When there is a surprise, it is always followed by questions from those in authority.

Take back on a speed horse?

The jockey and usually the trainer will be standing before the stewards immediately after the race.

Send a closer to the lead?

Finish an even fourth on the betting favorite?

Ride into a blind switch when there is an alternative.

Same thing -- an immediate inquiry.

Whenever there is a change of tactic, a disappointing performance, a questionable effort by a jockey – it will be followed by an immediate inquiry -- pointed questions that demand believable answers.

Additionally, how about this gem: Betting patterns. If something strange is happening on the tote board, here is what you get in Hong Kong:

........ when wagering on a particular horse or combination is especially or unexpectedly heavy, that information is made known by announcement and color coding on tote boards and video displays – so, no one is surprised. When the win payoff, known here as the “dividend” will be unexpectedly low due to a large parlay, called a “rollup,” an announcement is made that the reason for the short price is a large “rollup investment” and that fact is made known by color coding.

Do the results of these things stay hidden? It seems in North America if someone gets nabbed doing something they should not, racing likes to keep it quiet. Maybe that is only my perception, but I feel that way. What about there?

The stipendiary stewards address these issues in detailed reports written after every race run in Hong Kong and these are published in the mainstream press.

There are many, many things that happen in Hong Kong we can not make happen here. It would be impossible for harness racing in North America to achieve all that. But there are things that we can do. Protecting our customers and making them feel that when they place a bet with their hard-earned money they are getting a fair shake is not too much to ask. Additionally, big bettors should be embraced for what they are - customers, just like everyone else.

Our customers pay racings bills and will be here long after slots subsidies are gone. Isn't it about time we started treating them with the respect they deserve?

1 comment:

Pull the Pocket said...

In this vein, an interesting story today in a New York paper.

Slots revenue has been falling, and more and more tracks are failing to hit revenue targets.

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