Saturday, February 9, 2008

The 4 in 48

It’s Saturday night, Mohawk has finished, and so has the Meadowlands. The anchor on HPITv searches for something to say, as racing has slowed and there is not much heading to the gate – nothing locally of interest anyway. The Canadian channel on HPITv is blank. It’s closed for the night. The crowd at the Hawk and Woodbine Simulcast files out of the track to play a few slots. “There is nothing left to play”, they say as they leave to see the bandits.

When it is 11:15PM on a beautiful summer Saturday evening and bettors are turning off their computers, Tv’s or going home, the track’s seem to think it is the end of their day, too. Not here though. Fans at the track, or chatting with their friends on a handicapping chat board looking for something to play spells one thing to me: Opportunity.

This is what we do at Pull the Pocket Downs to capitalize on this market. We start our Saturday card at 8:30PM, and we time it so that 20 minutes after the last Woodbine race (at 11PM or so) we are running race 8. Races 9, 10 and 11 follow. We create a pick 4 for those races. We now have a pick 4 with a crowd to play it – both live at tracks across Ontario and simulcast, as we have a full channel to use on HPITv. But guess what, it does not end there. To add a hook, we run it in 48 minutes.

And we call this new bet “The 4 in 48.”

Of course we have to do several things to make this a success. These won’t just work by themselves.

1) We need to make sure the CPMA and OHHA are on board. The CPMA might have some nasty rules that hurt our plan. The horsemen would have a late night. That stinks, as this is a hard working industry and bedtime is a nice thing, but for the good of the game sacrifice must be made; and it is only on one night for the summer. Let’s convince them it is good for the sport and can raise handles. Jeff Gural on the Harness Edge podcast yesterday said that he has never seen a horseman group talk about the product, or raising handles. That may be true about the leadership, but I think grassroots horsemen want to see the sport grow and would love to be part of something like this. Not to mention we card some competitive races, with maybe even a purse boost.

2) We need to arrange track promotion – we are going to get HPI TV coverage, so we need to have a couple of guys sitting around a table, maybe on a nice patio on simulcast, going through the pick 4. They also have to let people know that they will get free past performances at our website; they have to promote the bet. The replays are shown after the races are over, so we fill time and hook the audience. This is a new thing, so we have to treat it as special. We might need “Wanna Bet” girls at the slots, telling patrons about the new bet that they can play for decent return (and it only takes 48 minutes!). We might need to give away some 4 in 48 hats, too. We have some work to do! These things do not sell themselves.

3) We need a 4 in 48 logo (it costs only $200 to get one done), and we have to run the tagline “Pull the Pocket Downs – Home of the 4 in 48” on our simulcast feed. In addition. the website has to be updated with a 4 in 48 page – after all this is our bet. We need to give people info on pool size, payouts, programs, guest handicapping picks, and more.

4) We need to coordinate with our simulcast partners. The anchor at HPItv must know and be well versed on our bet. He is going to be selling it to viewers. He has to be aboard to create buzz. We need to run a bug on the screen letting people know it is coming up next, after WEG. Ken Middleton must also be on board to let harness fans know that they should stay and bet the 4 in 48.

5) We need to make sure the race office is hard at work. We can’t have a trot race, nor can we have a maiden race, nor can we have a 1-9 shot in any of the legs. We need deep fields with quality horses.

The rest of the promotion is pretty simple, and very cost effective. In my company (at my real job) we are working on something called “PR in a Box.” You can get tons of free, or low cost public relations and promotion on the web and elsewhere. So we implement that.

For free PR we do want a hook, however. So, last but not least I make the 4 in 48 a low takeout bet. The lowest takeout win 4 in North America for harness racing is the one at the Meadowlands. There, it is a 15% takeout. I make my pick 4 rake 14.48% and promote it as the lowest rake bet in harness racing history.

“The 4 in 48 with a 14.48 rake” is not only catchy, I think it is doable. The track and horsemen share most of the revenue 50/50 so they can make it happen, and the leakages in the pools like CPMA, photo finish and Ontario Sires Stake or horseman vertical wager taxes, and our simulcast fee can all be fit under the umbrella of 14.48%. We can make money.

The 4 in 48 accomplishes a few things. One, it puts our track on the map. Two, it offers bettors value. Three, it fills a time when there is a dearth in the betting menu where no local wagering is available. Four, it offers a quick outcome (it is the fastest pick 4 ever, as well as the most value, which is another promotional angle), which for younger people is a good thing. Five, we raise handles on a Saturday night which are anaemic at our track going head to head with the Meadowlands and WEG.

If you were thinking that this would be perfect for Georgian Downs, I think you are correct as I do too. I even know the first day they should run it: June 28th 2008, races 8 through 11 – all Gold Final’s on Gold Rush Night. If you can’t get a $15-20K pick 4 pool with this plan, on that night, with these quality races, with a 5 month head start to promote it, I think we should all close up shop.

It’s “The 4 in 48”. I'd play it every week. And I think it is cool.

Oh, and if we lose the first leg? Well of course - we can stay and bet the 3 in 36.

I am interested to hear your comments: Are you looking for a good bet or track to play on weekends in the summer after the big tracks are done? Would Georgian get your money? Would you play the 4 in 48? If Georgian debuted the 4 in 48 on Gold Rush night would you look in and watch those Gold Finals, instead of missing them because you are watching WEG and the M that night while they are racing them? Do you think stepping outside the box like this is a good thing, or is racing that late simply a non starter?


Anonymous said...

Yes, I've been thinking that for years. Look at all the handle that Australia gets just from people sitting around at home betting on the computer, and it gets full coverage on all the channels.
With M1 starting at 7 now, it seems they are getting done earlier and earlier each night, I've always made posts to HPI about showing other tracks in their absense.
Back when Maywood raced on a Monday night, I often wondered why at 10:30, when all the other harness tracks are done that they didn't pick up the ball and show the remaining 7 races on the card, people would bet it for sure.
Thursdays too, WEG/M1 are done early, Maywood still has like 7 LIVE races to bet on.
On saturdays, I dive into the Balmoral program after the WEG/M1 scene is done, if I knew I would be able to focus on a track that I follow more closely, like a Georgian downs, I would be all over it.
The marketing aspect of your idea is SOLID. From a track's point of view, why are we sending people home with money in their pocket, if they are still willing to spend it but have to wait until tomorrow to come out and bet again.
I haven't played Geo that much on a saturday do to the fact that they are back to the old scheme of going head to head with M1, not that they are doing it on purpose, just that they aren't paying attention and their races are going off at the exact same time.

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi A,

We all see what happens when Kawartha Downs is on HPI, and when it is not. The days it is, it is a track you can play a few dollars into. When it is not, you avoid it, simply because some races a horse might not even have $2 to win bet on it.

I got to chat with Ron Geary of Ellis Park via email during his trial of the 4% pick 4 at Ellis. Despite the struggles of not having it on with Youbet and other ADW's (the Ellis pick 4 for 4% could not be bet here on HPI for example), he promoted and got his little track put on the map. His product is no better than Windsor's or Western Fair's - mostly 5 claimers, and the odd allowance race, and it lies on the Kentucky-Indiana border with no real metropolitan center nearby. Despite all that trouble he ran a bet that generated a $100,000 pool one day.

This bet did not achieve the desired result of upping handle on other races like they thought. One reason was because they were not on all simulcast networks, as stated above, but another reason was because they were running at a time when ten tracks were going off. There was competition. People would bet a few bucks in the pick 4, then go play Santa Anita. We eliminate that with the 4 in 48, because late Saturday night there is virtually no competition for local (ie Toronto area) players!

I read a fairly large harness bettor speaking of which tracks are worth playing, and he had Georgian ranked 5th in all of North America for harness. It is a decent product. With more distribution, and a hook for simulcast players like Ron Geary did, I would bet more money could be bet than ever before there. The hard part is getting all the parties to agree, spending a little money on something that might "not work", and going to it.

In regular business we experiment every day - with sales, ad campaigns, affiliates, new products and more. If we are going to compete in a perfectly competitive gambling world experimentation is key, imo. This is one way to experiment, and I know there are many more. When your handles for your product are down well over one third the past few years with no sign of abatement, no idea is a bad idea, imo. If it does not work, go back and try something else. Rinse, wash, repeat.

If we can put a man on the moon, and we can do it almost 40 years ago, I would think someone out there could experiment with a 4 in 48, or other bets and hooks to improve our sport.


Anonymous said...

In the Georgian area though, what is the next earliest track going the next day? Sunday is a dark day, unless of course some of them are headed to Flammy for 6 pm start.
So far tonight only 2 races(M1 and Geo) went off at the exact same time, not bad, but still shouldn't happen.
Even if we could get a few plugs stateside it would be awesome.
I think at Balmoral they have a bet called the Bal-Cal p4, where they combine the last two races at Balmoral with two races at Cal-Expo, knowing full well that with the time zone adjustment that there are virtually no other harness tracks alive.
They even put a 25k tag on it!



Pull the Pocket said...

Crikey Louie!

It's 11:30. If WEG keeps going this late, we'll need the "4 in 8".

Im too tired to play anymore, unless Mr. Childs from Australia comes and gives us some thoroughbred tips :)


Anonymous said...

Great idea. I know WEG would never take an innovative idea like this and roll with it, Georgian is probably the best fit. We need something to get more people interested in the game, and also keep the existing people in the game. Unfortunately, it is a dying game right now. Great Idea !! Keep up the great blog.

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