Saturday, January 12, 2008

Woodbine 2010

A poster below asked "what should Woodbine/Mohawk racing look like in 2010?"

I don't know what it will look like in 2010, but here are some thoughts as to what might be put into place to improve its product.

As I mentioned before, WEG and most of harness racing in Ontario, is held to horseman agreements, CPMA rules, ORC rules and more. In effect, when Wal Mart wants to have a sale, they have a sale. When they want to change product lines, they change product lines. When they want to fire someone who hurts their business, they fire them. It is what makes the free enterprise system work - namely a quick response to the customer and the business. WEG's business model in terms of product and price is not very malleable.

As in other posts though, we have a magic wand. Here at Pull the Pocket Downs, we can make changes. Regardless, this post will look at what might or can be done to improve the Woodbine product in 2010.

I would do the following ten things (notice there is a change, then promotion with that change..... they would go hand-in-hand):

1. The Super 7 - er Pick 7 - would be scrapped. I would immediately lower pick 4 takeout back to 2003 levels, which I think was 14.75%. Why they raised prices in a falling handle landscape in the first place is beyond me. We immediately right this wrong. This lower takeout would then be advertised. "We have the lowest win 4 rake in North America" is our tagline. If this grows, I would seed this pool on Saturday nights to a big number and hope to get new money into the pool. The racing secretary would make sure all pick 4 races are 9 or 10 horse fields. There will never be a trap race in a pick 4 again - i.e. a race with a seven horse field with a 1-5 shot.

2. With WEG currently at 4 nights a week for harness, there is absolutely no excuse to card races with fields less than 9 - with some work. Entries have been in the 160 range, for 110 spots the past while. The horse population is there. After a few weeks of tweaking the condition sheet, we should be able to see full fields in most races. Once full fields are established, promotion begins: "Woodbine Harness Racing has the Fullest Fields in North America" is our tagline.

3. The high end of the condition sheet - FFA's etc, will now be full fields with FFA/JrFFA Handicaps. The purse for this event will be made $60,000 from $45,000. It will be a feature race every week and press releases about this race will be sent out - it is our draw. It will be a field of ten. The FFA's we currently see seem to be 5 or 6 or 7 horse fields and are generally snorefests. The promotion: "WEG Harness has the richest and deepest Handicap division of Open pacers in North America" We might even attract some new horses from the Meadowlands.

4. We own a night. Trots are raced on Thursdays, perhaps with some sort of bet promo. Young horses are raced, say Fridays. We own Saturdays: The best fields are assembled, the pick 4 is seeded, HPI rewards points are doubled, purses are upped to attract the best horses we can (while diverting purses from other nights), 13 or 14 high quality races are carded, the pre-game show with Mike and the boys is promoted and they work on camera most if not all night - no dead air, we also take the Saturday show up to Champions where interaction with customers can occur and we can create some buzz up there, all simulcast races have volumes turned down - on track stuff is key and it is the focus. On track giveaways, slots stuff to hopefully cross people over - virtually everything is done for that night. Promotion: "Saturday at Woodbine is Harness Night In Canada"

5. Claiming races are written, and written and written - every week until they fill. If purses need to be diverted to these races, and taken away from some others, so be it. Make it happen.

6. Rewards programs are increased immediately. I read a "Harness Tracks of America" conference transcript several years ago where WEG's exec said "we won't pay people to play" with regards to rewards. How is that working out? Well we pay people to play in WEG 2010 - every gambling business does it, and has for literally centuries.

7. Day of the week promotions, whether that be a seeded superfecta pool, a cincofecta, a low takeout pick 3 night - whatever, are established and promoted.

8. The signal is now available to anyone who wants it. Mountaineer Racetrack went from a backwoods place who races 5 claimers at night, to a high handle track within a few years. Their philosophy was to sell their signal to resellers and let them do what they want with it. There is a new sheriff at WEG in 2010, and he exports the signal. This increases gross handles and gets us to hopefully compete, and within a few years beat Saturday Meadowlands racing; making Woodbine Saturday harness the destination for harness fans. If a small track in West Virginia can own night thoroughbred racing, we sure as hell can do better.

9. In the corporate offices a new employee incentive program is announced. It is based on handle. If handle goes up, your bonus goes up. This program is established for everyone - right down to a program seller.

10. Judges rulings are explained on air, by the judges. The racing product itself is scrutinized. Uniform calls are made, as we illustrated here below. In addition, no hock kicks, no illegal whipping - these are fined heavily - $500 for a first offense, and up $1000 for each offense after that. These guys are making $200K a year, $100 fines don't cut it. After three infractions you are suspended for 30 days - no appeal. If a hole is given; it is for a strategic purpose. If not, fines are given. $1000 for the 1st offense, and increases of $1000 from there on out. That will stop this stuff in about a week, once and for all. A jockey in Hong Kong just got two months for not riding a horse hard enough for second place, which will probably cost him $50K, so please, no one tell me this is too penal. It's time we joined the rest of the world and show our bettors we mean business.

That's it in a nutshell. In summary: We become a racetrack who pulls out all the stops. For horseman, they get a night with great racing and big purses. For the customer they get a wonderful on track experience. For the bettor, they get quality, deep fields, lower rakes, a competitive rewards program and respect for their hard-earned dollars from judges and horseman. For employees, they get a chance to be part of something, and are given incentives to achieve the goal of becoming the best harness track in the World.

Most of all: These changes are tried for a long period of time and each change is promoted. The first time someone comes into the office with a "bean counting" thought, they are shown the door. We don't bean count. Jeff Bezos, when no one was coming into in 1995 and buying books, did not say "whoops, didn't work, let's close up shop. This Internet thing won't catch on!" Neither did Ebay, or Paypal, or Careerbuilder. It is the 21st century - things are different now.

That's my thought on WEG racing in 2010.

Please comment below if you wish. I would like to hear what people think.

PS: Of note, I have made the above suggestions based on the landscape of Ontario racing and its rules. Of course I would want lower rakes for all (in the 7-10% range as many wagering economists have said it should be.... and it has to be across the industry, not just one track) and do much more, but with the landscape as it is, without change, the above is doable, imo.


Anonymous said...

Thumbs Up!!!!

Caper1144 said...

Great stuff!! You should be invited to speak at the Standardbred Canada wagering symposium. WEG needs to start listening to you!!

Anonymous said...

They can do all the promotions in the world but that might not help. First for foremost they need to keep existing fans or fans that have left in the last few years. They need to ask themselves why have they left? Primary reason, it became increasing difficult to handicap with all the juicers. There was a time that you can be down most of the card and bounce back with one triactor. However now it rare you see any huge payouts.

It would be easier to bring back fans that have left then to find new fans. Employees need to be friendly and courteous. From the program sellers, food counter, ticket sellers & security guards.

Anonymous said...

I think POINT #10 is the MOST IMPORTANT one.

It seems there is little INTREGITY LEFT in this sport. Neither the JUDGES who only seems to call these fines on "THE OUTSIDERS" that drop by to race once in a while or by the Drivers who figure its alright to take it easy this week at 6/5 . Prime example was Jan 11th race 5 where the 1 horse draws in from racing from the 10 hole last week, is dropping a few classes and yet the driver in no way attemps to get spotted off the gate ends up second last at the quarter pole. Must have been a SUPERFECTA RACE!!!

It sure would be INTERESTING to see what percentage of WINNINGS is paid off in the LOCAL AREA of this track compared to what the AVERAGES are at other much does the SMART MONEY take out each night..I think thats just as bad as the HIGH RAKES the tracks are taking.

There is NO REASON for the WIN 4 Rake to be what is 23% now adays. WEG has raked in $356 MILLION PLUS from Woodbine and another $121 MILLION from MOHAWK ..almost HALF A BILLION DOLLARS in 7 years or so and this doesn't even include the RENTS received at each of those places (likely $100+++ MILLION more).

Yet the HORSE WAGER PATRONS are still being STUNG on the rakes that reflect a time when the business had to make ALL ITS money off the rake on the handle.

If the MEADOWLANDS can servive taking 15% off Supers while not receiving $100 MILLION in SLOT cash it mind boggling that WEG cannot.

Win, Place & Show: 13.65%.
Pick 4: 21.7%.
Double & Exactor 17.20%.
All other wagers 23.0%

Horsepeople receive a further 2% on all wagers, except triactor wagering where it is 4%. The Ontario Provincial Government
retains 0.5% on all bets placed in Ontario. The Canadian Government (through a revolving fund cost recovery basis) retains
0.8% on all wagers placed in Canada for provision of drug control, photo-finish, video patrol and audit services.

15% on superfectas(WEG is 26.3%)/pick four (weg is 25%)

17% on WPS (Weg is 16.95%)

19% on exactas/daily doubles(20.5%)

20% on pick six

25% on trifectas (Weg is 28.3%) /pick threes

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments.

Raked Under Bettor: That is a good point and one I looked at below on my "Building a Fence, Wayne Gretzky" post - slots cash is $2B since inception and we do not use it properly, imo.

anyhow, thanks to everyone who responded. And thanks to the original poster who commented that he would like to see a post on how woodbine should/could look. It has been a popular post so far.


Anonymous said...

Strange how just the other day I popped an email off to WEG thanking them for restoring Race Replays to their site. On the other hand most of the time I feel like I'm being held hostage by WEG: by the outrageous take-out rates, by the inaccessibility of streaming video and programs to an awful lot of people. They have to re-stamp themselves as the flagship of Cdn racing and, as the hub for the rest of Canada's mutuels, re-examine many of their policies. A great example is the common-pool wagering. Because of their take-out policies it really has meant "not much" to the bettor. Yes, bigger pools, but we give it back in the overriding rake anyway. Result: much ado about nothing. We/they have to realize that not only are we in competition with other forms of entertainment and gambling, we are also in competition with other tracks! Drastic changes are required, we can see the numbers, last year was a disaster. When you're born into this business it's heartbreaking to watch, especially when you feel like you're being held captive.
Full fields of competitive racehorses. If WEG is to be the premier track then no more "tripped" horses, it's put out or get out. As a private property they could do so much. They've taken some steps but they have to be aggressive in all aspects. Yes, the attempts in the drug enforcement area are important, but they've missed too many steps in between. Bold and innovative, no more old school and resting on laurels, the laurels are long-gone. Did someone really say "we will not pay people to bet" ? That says it all, doesn't it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, there's not a single thing I disagree with. And on to point #10 ... my mythical standard is that if my maiden Aunt Martha wouldn't like it, don't do it (at least not in public). Auntie shouldn't see excessive whipping, kicking and maybe she doesn't know a lot about horses but she sure knows clean and articulate. The dirty, shabby and profane should be shuffled off to a very dark place and kept there. The front end is all important. Even gamblers have relatives and companions.

Anonymous said...

Simply a better rebate program. The current program is nice with it's redeeming points for gifts, toys and trinkets. But quite frankly, a serious horseplayer isn't going to bother with any of this, well, maybe at Christmas due to laziness. The cash redemption levels have to be adjusted i.m.o.
Getting $5 for 1,600 points at, best case, 1.5 points per dollar is equivalent to a rebate of .048%. The rebate system with it's different rebates and different levels needs to be revamped. I understand the premise of bigger rebates on the vertical multi horse bets is trying to get money into the pools.
Everyone knows you need to spend money to make money, and if you want the bettors (customers)to come back, you have to spend a little money.
Seed Pick 6's, pick 4's. The pick 7 is a waste of programming code in the tote system.

It is easy to be critical, I fully understand. But, in conversations with many "large" bettors. This is the jist of the discussions it seems recently as evident by the bloggers excellent post

Anonymous said...

Very good thoughts above. I agree on Race Replays Anon. It was a good addition. I would like to see the whole website reconstructed and its betting interface, but man that is a whole other story :)

I notice harnesslink picked up the opinion piece, so it will be interesting if we see any more comments.

Anonymous said...

WEG has to come out of the dark ages and realize they aren't the only game in town anymore. The first thing is WEG should get rid of the pick 7, either replace it with a pick 5, or maybe just have 2win-4's per card, with a guarantee of $40k minimum but with a reduced rake, maybe 15%. Also they have to have a way better rebate system to the bettors, they have to remember that the bettors are the heart of racing, but in reality WEG probably thinks it is the slot machines. Unfortunately harness racing is a dying game right now, and unless WEG starts right now to rejuvinate the game, unfortunately to say, it is going to be dead.

Anonymous said...

All good stuff for sure. Some real thought needs to go into attracting both the casual fan and the serious bettor. From the point of view of the latter, certainly any ideas related to improving ROI and integrity of the sport are going to be positive enticements.

The main factor in ROI is of course rewards, as you have said really a no brainer and why can't these people see that it will improve ROI on BOTH sides. Statistics don't lie and if you pay attention there is lots of eveidence and locical thought out there which supports this. Full fields help ROI of the seriious bettor through improving payouts/ making handicapping "challenging". Another pet peeve of mine is the $0.20 plays. Have they imprived handle any? Although I haven't analyzed it thoroughly, my suspicion is they have not. Superfectas were always one of my favourite wagers, despite the high takeout. Since I am not a chalk player, my interest was in tickets that would usually pay you fair value/reward for picking against the chalk. With $0.20 tickets, I have found that supers with long to middle odds winners are now more consistently what I would consider under valued and I have to believe this is directly attributable to the twenty cent tickets. The same pattern emerged at the Big M also went they went to the 10 cent tickets.
The end result for me was a reduced ROI and ultimately a lack of interest in playing. I went from spending a minimum of say $150 on every super available pretty well to perhaps betting one once a week and spending no more than $100 on it. Do the Math, that's a pretty big chunk from just one small fish.
Win 4's, well i immediately stop betting them when the takeout was raised. Nothing to do with the 10 cent tickets but rather simple math. I was a marginal ROI positive player on win 4's, tracked that statistically for many years. The increased rake would make me ROI negative, easy decision, no longer bet them. Previously for me it was a $200 minimum bet most nights.

In light of the free fall in handle, it would make sense to me to address the issues of the serious player as priorities but also a lot of your ideas will go to helping interest the casual ones too and perhaps help build that fan base back up.

Good job, hope someone listens!

Anonymous said...

Without addressing their ridiculously high track takeouts, all other speculation regarding WEG is meaningless. The fact is that they are losing their big players to offshore rebate houses, Betfair, and online Poker because all offer a lot more bang for the buck than Woodbine does.
It is sad that with all the technological innovations made in the industry (and WEG has been a leader in this area), that they are lucky to get a small total betting increase from one year to the next.
The reality is that big money bettors and medium money bettors have woke up and found alternatives.
And all the big brass at Woodbine does is whine about the alternatives for bettors, which I find laughable. WEG does not own us:)
I'll be betting today, but not through WEG.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas!

As a fan I want to see a rejuvenated interest in the sport. Being young, I understand how hard it is to generate an interest with the younger generation. It has taken until more recently to gain any interest from my friends to come to the track. Possibly it is because I have a growing stable, and I am beginning to drive more. But the main thing is they are always interested now in coming to watch, and are starting to put small wagers on each race. Some friends have also been interested in coming on nights when I have not been racing so they could "make some big money with my inside tips". Some may take that wrong, but the just of it is they trust my knowledge of the horses racing and feel they can place a few wagers and have a good shot at making some money. More seasoned bettors and fans understand this will likely not be that case, but it gives us a good light to focus on: the hope that they can make a profitable and enjoyable night at the races.

While most of this focus is from a betting and fan standpoint, I would love to see some improved suggestions for those who make up this industry.... the horsepeople.

Im not talking about increased purses, or more race dates. Im talking about an improved product, improved way of life with equal opportunity and overall better understanding for all involved as to what helps us improve racing. Id like to see standards set up in regards to equipment; a fiery nature of competition between our competitors. Most of all I would like to see a level of professionalism brought into our sport. As it stands now, there are various levels of embarrassment that can easily be spotted in our industry.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Great list.

Rebate programs? What's that? I bet on the internet and somehow I'm not part of the target market. The other day, I wanted to talk to my uncle in Toronto, but I had to call Windsor Raceway and ask them if it was okay first. You see they are going make the call for me. Don't worry, not only will they screen the call, they are going to charge me an extra dollar for each minute I am on the phone.

Judges at Northfield Park come on air and explain each ruling when there is a placing. I'm all for this, and maybe something extra. If we have a group of judges travel all over ontario, why not have a group of bettors do the same thing. If 6 eyes have trouble seeing all the crapola that goes on each and every night at your local pony track, just imagine what 6 more eyes could see? Maybe we have a group of organized bettors at each track with a direct line to the judges booth, to be able to throw a red flag, if you will, on any race. We all know of the terrible bias that goes on at this end of the spectrum and yet it still goes on?
Not just that, being bettors, you know damn well they are going to stay for the LAST race, unlike some of the judges who have already left the building once the last horse crosses the wire.

I could comment on all these issues for hours, I'll be back later to put some more time in.

Pull the Pocket said...

Northfield does seem to be cognizant of the bettor. That is good news on the judges. I think I read on cangamble's blog about some track in New York where a steward was asked to talk to the media about a call, and the media was not allowed to talk with him. Crazy! As I noted below, in Hong Kong everything is spoken publicly about.

Nice call on the extra pick 4 Anony (above). I meant to mention that. Another pick 4 on a 14 race Saturday card would be a decent idea imo. At 25% rake, it is a bad idea, to me though.

Also, the poster speaking about the 20 cent mins on superfectas I do agree has hurt players who are more serious about the game. I think they actually have used a churn argument with 20 cent tickets (more winners; and more winners bet more). What is strinking to me? If they believe that, why are rakes high? Why havent they cut takeout? Why havent they done daily rebates? Why not pay a winners bonus instead, with HPI customers?

Thanks for all the thoughts everyone. I enjoyed reading them.

Phil J in NJ said...

First comment here and I don't feel this is the place for it but here goes ...

I've seen you guys make mention of a horse "tripping" out or a driver letting another in and how these guys should be fined for it.

I couldn't agree more, if I am understanding you correctly. It is as annoying as can be to bet against a horse leaving from the 10 hole only to have Georgie Brennan blast out of there and Andy Miller yield to let him in the pocket. The hole reason to bet against such a horse is he figures to get a tough trip, that all goes out the window when he gets let in.

Is this what you guys are speaking of?

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi Phil,

Generally yes, that is what the boys (and perhaps girls) are speaking about. A hole can be given for strategic reasons (i.e. to get a dead horse out of the flow that you want to pull around, or other reasons to help you win) but often times the public perceives that holes are given in a "buddy system" sort of way.

No one is saying holes should not be given - that would screw up a whole lot of races - but if they are given for no good reason other than to maybe help someone out and get a favor later, people seem to be of the belief there should be consequences.

Thanks for the comment.


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