Will We Ever Have Customer-Focused Policy in Betting?

Long ago now I took some friends to the track who had never been to the races. They knew I was hooked, and since we could grab a beer or two (and maybe even make a few dollars) they decided to give it a try.

While there, a horse broke stride long before the gate was gone - galloping like a reindeer looking for a rooftop to land. Although we did not bet the horse, my newbie crew was dumbfounded there was no refund. One gentleman in particular recited the words "horse racing, where you don't even get a chance to play" several times during the evening. Most could not understand how a horse could not even start a race yet their money is taken as the tracks money.

Several years later my vociferous friend and I were watching a thoroughbred race (he was playing poker and I was playing the races), and a horse did not take a step out of the gate. He said:  "let me guess, the people who bet him got screwed on that too!"

They say that negative feedback is given 28 times for every positive one, via word-of-mouth. This fella in particular is evidence of that. It's 20 years later now and at a gathering where horse racing comes up he mentions the story, over and over again, reciting my hobby as a mugs game to anyone within earshot.

The above rules are ingrained in us because it is what we have always lived with, so to us this might be no big deal and "part of our game". But to others, they simply think it's nuts.

It got me to step back a second and do some thinking: has there ever been a policy or decision made in racing which leans on the side of the customer? We're so used to getting the short end of the stick, there are probably a few others.

How about breakage, which "is what the track makes due to the rounding down of what a horse should actually pay versus what the track ends up paying to the winners." Notice this is rounding down, not rounding up. Breakage costs horseplayers about $150 million a year; and despite super-fast computers, the rule is still on the books. Colin's Ghost showed a tote board with penny breakage in 1927, so don't insult us and tell us changing this today is like landing a man on Neptune.

What about uncashed tickets. If someone loses a voucher, or drops a ticket on the floor, or has scores of $1.40 vouchers at home, in most jurisdictions after a set time this is track property. In some areas the horsemen get it. Everyone gets it but the rightful owners - the customer.

I am sure you can think of other examples.

Breakage has been brought up time and time again by horseplayers, and industry watchers but nothing happens. It's their money, not yours, so see ya.

At a recent wagering conference I attended, it was agreed in meetings that uncashed ticket money would go into a huge fund (the CPMA, horsemen groups and tracks were all at the meeting) for jackpot bets, or giveaways to promote the sport. Sweet! Finally something is to be done on that for the customer. Two months later they apparently had another meeting about it. It was agreed the status-quo would rule and there would be no jackpot bets, or giveways to promote racing. They would rather keep all the money for themselves.

Let's look around the world of business and betting. Would Walmart be able to break to "the next ten or twenty cent" number? Of course not, the owners would be placed in Rikers if they did that. It's fraud.

I you lost a cap, or $50, or a ring at WalMart would they have a lost and found, or would they auction off all the items on Ebay and say "finder's keeper's loser's weeper's?

If your football team does not even make it out of the tunnel and the game is a no contest will your local bookie keep everyone's money?

If Michael Shumacher's Ferrari is stuck in the Autobahn and never makes the green flag will William Hill take your money from you and say "too bad, so sad"?

Rules like the above were constructed when racing was a monopoly and made for another age. Refunds cost tracks money, so no refund. Breakage is "free cash" so tracks wanted it. Lose a ticket? "Too bad for you. Where else you gonna go to bet?"

Customers had no choice where to bet, other than a racetrack, so they could be taken to the cleaners with near-impunity. Nowadays this is not the case  - if you take a customer to the cleaners, he visits another store.

With slot money one might expect some of our archaic rules would be addressed and updated for today's world, but they have not been. The monopoly mentality reigns in our sport.

Breaks before the start, start refusals, breakage or uncashed tickets are not going to make you and I leave racing forever, nor will it effect those who are satisfied. But for those who are not satisfied, it means everything, and this is where our growth is supposed to come from.

As Seth Godin wrote:

"Satisfied customers are not likely to increase your sales. Satisfied customers are not likely to push you and your colleagues to stay ahead of the competition."

Indeed. Most would say after 100 years of it, that has already occurred. The competition is killing us.

There are a great many people unsatisfied or dissatisfied in racing, and the population is filled with people who will not give our game a cursory look. When we look at much of the above in totality, who can blame them?


Scott said...

one key point missed here with demanding refunds for horses who don't start the race, usually by their own misbehaviour - every other punter gets screwed by the deductions when that horse is scratched. And if my payout is dramatically slashed because one horse is misbehaving, then I will be the one becoming rather peeved.

I understand the sentiment, but if the horse doesn't start the race because of its own failings (bad attitude, stubbornness etc), then so be it. If it's a mechanical issue (barrier doesn't open) etc, then the horse has been denied a fair start and players should be refunded.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't careless about the fair starts because I am used to them .... but you are correct about new players; they do not understand it and think (some would say commeonsensically so) that if a horse does not fairly set foot into the "field of play" it is a total ripoff.

I have heard.... and have had to explain it dozens of times ... I grow weary. It is like the "no they are only hitting the sadlle pad" episode, which we've all explained boundless times.


Pull the Pocket said...

Hey Scott,

I agree with you because I am a long-time bettor. I know I can make money if I see an offstride horse before the gate, or I can factor it into the odds regarding a poor thoroughbred with gate problems. It is also why I NEVER get mad at an inquiry any longer. I know I will win my share and lose my share. It is a part of racing.

The point I make is that it is not about us: I will keep playing racing if they eliminate these rules and start refunding. It will not effect my play. However, there are others who will not play racing because they think these rules are ridiculous. The ROI for racing, long-term, can go up with new blood, while the old blood (me and you) keep playing.

It annoys me to no end how much we constantly hear we need new people to play racing, yet when the newbies complain about something the old guard says no. We can't have it both ways.


Anonymous said...

All you have to know about what they think of us is breakage. A caveman selling deer hides could make change.

Walleye Willy said...

Say there was no fair start pole and if you were off stride you get a refund. So on the average card how many are off stride before 1-2-3 ?I don't know.Say 3 and if a 100 horses start the card you get at least a 3% refund maybe a lot more because of combo bets. So if the handle total NA handle for the year is a billion you refund at least 30 million min and no one gets thier 25%.

Pull the Pocket said...

Fisherman Frank,


But they bet it back the next race, somewhat happier, so the handle does not take a hit overall.

It's like having six walleye when the limit is seven. You are going to stay 15 mins to hook another big one :)


PS: I need some info on this Commander Crowe horse. I cant seem to find too much about him that is not in Swedish. Is he another Auckland Reactor, or the real deal?

Walleye Willy said...

I'm all for giving the customer back.I've won 8 coffees 5 donuts 4 muffins and 2 cookies on roll up the rim at Timmies and I'm buying more.This is a great example of sales going thru the roof cause of giving back. Check out what they are giving away .47 million coffees -cars tons more .They wouldn't do it if it wasn't good business. I'll get back to you on CC.

Allan said...

Free Prize Inside is my personal fovourite Godin book. There is a tremendous amount of information in it which racing can use. Your post is a good example of the thinking that permeates it cover to cover.
Best regards,

Anonymous said...

If 3% of horses go offstride and are refunded, the amount refunded will be much less than 3% because the avg odds of horses that fit this criteria are much higher than avg.


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