Handle keeps going down, but sometimes I wonder how it isn't down even more.
Today it was announced that Churchill Downs is suing the Daily Racing Form because they took bets on the Derby. Why it is an alleged crime that a major, 100 plus year old business with an accredited ADW, powered by Xpressbet, can't take a bet on the major raceday in all of horse racing tells you about all you need to know about racing's handle growth, or lack of handle growth.
Eight years ago now Ellis Park with help from the late Cary Fotias, wanted to create some buzz for the sport with a 4% takeout pick 4. Unfortunately, bettors had to navigate the protectionist, bizarre minefield that is racing. Some major ADW's didn't accept it, the Woodbine hub in Canada didn't accept it, some tracks didn't accept it. After bouncing a ball on your nose like a trained seal, some bettors did find a way. Average handle for the bet was $42,000, up from a shade over $15,000 a year earlier. Mission accomplished. Sort of.
In 2007, the 10 day mini-takeout experiment at Laurel was tried. Handle didn't get a bump. It's hard to get a bump when myriad tracks shut your "low takeout" signal out, rebate shops say take a hike, Canada says no through Woodbine, and Youbet.com says we ain't allowing our players to play it.
Back in 2001 or 2002, Nick Nicholson, the visionary head of Keeneland, wanted to drop Keeneland WPS rakes to 12%. The NYC OTB's rejected that, because they'd only make about 9% on that signal. Think about that. The NYC OTB's - the politically driven, bankrupt mess that is now defunct had control over what Keeneland wanted to do.
Most recently one of the better bets offered out by a track - the Pimlico 12% pick 5 - is not accepted north of the border. If you are from Canada and want to sign up somewhere else to enjoy that takeout it's like you are exploring the life of an international smuggler. Oh, you can happily bet into the 25% takeout pick 5 at Woodbine though.
Do you want to play the Derby at your ADW? Chances are you couldn't. Do you play at an accredited ADW that has done everything right and want to play all tracks so you don't need multiple accounts? Fat chance.
Horse racing cannot and will not break free from its monopolistic roots. It's not a monopoly any longer, but it clings to it, like some sort of life preserver, while being battered by the waves of non-protectionist, market-driven, customer-focused gambling enterprise.
Handle will not grow from policy that's driven by fear. Handle will not grow by inconveniencing your customers. If you expect the betting base to bounce balls on their noses to play your product, you will continue to be disappointed. They happily move on to something else, just like any rational customer does. In the long run these inconveniences add up.
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