One of the Kentucky Derby's Two Tribes is Taken For Granted

Horse racing, in my view, has always had a problem subsetting their customer base.

I think I first realized this many years ago at a conference. I talked about some betting stats and threw up some gambling charts on takeout rates and rebates. These showed the obvious - regular players, if given a price break, invest back in the pools without thinking, and it's a good way to reward customers to keep them engaged.

A track person replied, "I went into the grandstand and asked a handful of people. They didn't even know what takeout was."

Oh well, that's that then.

This weekend, the Kentucky Derby nicely illustrated these two tribes. The fans, dressed to the nines, having fun partying, along with the folks who bet Patch because he looked super-cute. On the other side you had folks who were constructing tickets with the precision of a NASA engineer, watching replays over and over; trying to find an elusive Derby day score.

Although there is some overlap of course (there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up, going to a Derby party and betting at the same time), that's generally what the industry is looking at. 

I had a nice glimpse of that during a phone call yesterday.

A friend who is a professional gambler was playing poker and betting a few races downstairs at Woodbine. The concierge, who knows he is a horseplayer, told him he'd comp him to the Kentucky Derby party upstairs.

My buddy said "sure." And he called me from the party.

"Hey, I'm at the Derby party at Woodbine"

"Cool, do you see anyone [horseplayers, regulars] we know?"

"No, everyone is dressed up here. It's really weird."

"Are you dressed up at all?"

"Jeans and a Tee-shirt. People are looking at me funny."
The man who bets more than the entire room, is in the room. His tribe is in the grandstand, or at home playing online.

While racing seems to do wonders with the party crew - the NBC feed is 24/7 party and feel-good story central, the promotions are all "mass" - it completely dumbfounds me how bad of a job they do with the regulars (regulars who are fans or bettors) or those who want to be betting regulars.

Feed quality of what bettors watched on Derby Day
The rights are sold to NBC, which is fine. But nowhere does Churchill Downs write in the deal that people might want to watch horse racing, and not showing all the races is heresy. For regulars, it's not the end of the world we have to watch the Derby in standard definition in a little box on our computer. But if the party feed - capable of showing a race in HD - is not going to show an actual race, have some respect for the people who want to watch the race and give them an option.

TVG on tape delay, XBTV not being able to show the races. I mean c'mon. I watched ten minutes of the NBC coverage and it's ten minutes of my life I will never get back.

When Churchill takes money from a Derby pick 6 pool to seed a jackpot, gets complaints and does nothing, I understand. Churchill enjoys regulatory capture, and where other gambling businesses would get their knuckles rapped they carry on with impunity. Doing things like this is built right into the industry mindset and most are so blind they see absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But asking a simple question when making policy - "What will our regulars think of this?" - the answer is helpful.

Parties are fine and wonderful, and Churchill and others are really, really good at them. But for the other 364 days a year one tribe matters. Racing should stop letting them down.

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