Customers Lose in Illinois

Live harness racing in Illinois has been scrapped at Balmoral Park and Maywood Park. The dates have shifted to Hawthorne, a Thoroughbred venue. Harness Racing Update has the full story.

I am the first to admit that - other than what you and I read in that piece as well as others - I know little about the machinations of the decisions, the politics and the bedfellows. But I do know a little about being a customer of the racing product, and in my view, this is really going to hurt.

Balmoral Park has built a betting brand, much due to the work of Michael Antoniades, and this brand is very strong. It is not uncommon to see million dollar handles at the venue, with less than $70,000 purses given out in an evening. The pick 4 has been branded well. When they dropped takeout from 25% to 15% they went to work promoting the bet, and its average pools increased from around $7,000 to $30,000 during that time. If you are a harness fan and you want to make a bet in a decent sized pool, Balmoral was a staple.

Now it's no more.

Harness racing - and racing in general - has been fighting the tape for a long time. As recent as ten years ago there were solid betting pools at several venues, and these pools drove more and more handle. Lower favorite hit rates, an underappreciated driver of betting dollars, were prevalent at many tracks and you, me, and everyone else who bets daily, had a place to play. It's not like that any longer, and to fill the gap, new kids on the block have entered the picture, places like Chester for harness racing, but these tracks do not have a solid brand like the ones they have replaced. In addition, many of these venues are funded through slot machines, and draw entries from tracks people did bet, or wanted to bet. $35,000 purses at Parx for a $7,500 claimer, or $45,000 Opens at Yonkers are prime examples.

Harness racing has a lot of racetracks, but the ones that drive most of the betting revenue in the sport are few - The Meadowlands, Woodbine, Northfield and Balmoral. Not protecting those strong brands, or over-zealous track execs taxing horseplayers into oblivion, can hurt the harness racing betting ecosystem.  With Balmoral gone, harness racing, and its customers, are a little less rich today than they were yesterday.


Anonymous said...

"...over-zealous track execs taxing horseplayers into oblivion..."

Pennsylvania leads the way. Can anyone, including those over zealous track execs, explain why the harness tracks attached to casinos have the high takeout?

The Meadows is ridiculous. Harrah's Philadelphia (Chester) throws bettors a bone with 15% takeout on the Pick 4, but nothing else. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs dropped Pick 3 and Pick 4 takeout to 15% for awhile. Pools more than doubled giving the track more dollars as its share. How did the track respond? Takeout is now 25%. Pools are down to about what they were before the 15% rate and the track earns less.

Maybe the three tracks should hire the Balmoral brain to show them how its done.

Al Gobbi said...

Hawthorne has a pretty decent history of harness racing over the years, PTP.

Anonymous said...

Pocket your lack of betting is starting to show. You are loosing touch with the issues that matter and are cramming your personal narrative where it doesn't belong. Agree with Al Gobbi here. Hawthorne has a long history in Illinois. Hard to argue that leaving it with maywood/balmoral would be better.


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