Monday, May 9, 2016

Churchill's Change to Pick 6 Rules Symptomatic of a Sport Which Has Lost Its Way

Back in March, Churchill Downs petitioned the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for a change to the carryover rules for the Derby Day pick 6.

As Steve Crist wrote in the DRF at the time:
Sick 6 at Churchill - Speaking of carryovers, here’s hoping someone hits the pick six on the Kentucky Derby card at Churchill Downs on May 7. Otherwise, a game of parimutuel three-card monte will kick in under a scheme unfortunately approved this week by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
To see how it works, let’s suppose that the Derby pick six pool, where the minimum bet is $2, is exactly $1 million. After the usual 22 percent takeout, that leaves $780,000 that’s supposed to be paid out – $190,000 in Derby Day consolations and $570,000 that normally would be up for grabs in a carryover pool when racing at Churchill resumes on Thursday, May 12.
Instead, Churchill will add only half of that $570,000 to the May 12 pool, which will be conducted with a 20-cent minimum and with a mandatory payout. The other half of the pool will be carried over to Friday, May 13, to seed a new Rainbow-style “Single 6” pool that Churchill is beginning that day. That pool is paid out only when there is a lone winner, so it’s entirely possible that the Derby Day carryover money won’t be paid out until June.
This is dangerous policy that disrespects the integrity of the wagering pools. It makes the effective pick six takeout on Derby Day a whopping 49 percent
This ended up happening. As Marty McGee pointed out today:

"Here's what's happening with the $686,309 pick-6 carryover from Kentucky Derby Day:
Half of it ($343,154) is being used in a MANDATORY-PAYOUT pick-6 (now called the "Single Six") when racing resumes Thursday with an 8-race card (races 3-8). First post is 5 ET (Twilight Thursdays the rest of the meet.) The other half ($343,154) is being used to "seed" a new single-6 wager on Friday after the bet is dispersed Thursday."

Seeding jackpot bets with another pools money, and "three card monte" - as Steve Crist puts it - we feel are emblematic of a sport who has forgot someone very important: The Betting Customer.
The "#Sick6" is something that's being used to cure a bottom line, while in our opinion, it should be looking out for an entire industry.

Some (not all, see Keeneland and Kentucky Downs and Canterbury to name a few) in the sport all too often feel it has to resort to such prestidigitation, because "no one is betting horse racing." Well, for that, they do have a point:

We ask, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Although some would like you to believe this drop has been inevitable, we see evidence that the argument is faulty.

In 2006, Nevada sports betting was bringing in $2.4 billion. This year - 2016 - it's slated to do $5 billion.That's over a double.

During this time Nevada sports wagering has taken 5.5% off a bet, expanded reach, and treated customers fairly well - so well, they want to bet more and more money on sports. No funny parlay's, no sick 6, no takeout hikes. Just betting and customer service.

Unlike horse racing, Nevada sports betting has not had a monopoly on internet wagering like racing has. It doesn't have legal status in 43 states. It does not have hundreds of tracks and OTB's as distribution points. It does not have dozens of ADW's. It's being done in one city, miles and miles away from the rest of the country's bettors at a tremendous disadvantage.

The gambling business is big and growing. For horse racing it has not grown for many years. With policies like the "sick 6", which add to takeout, and anger and madden customers, we can fully understand why.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Crist Opines on Canterbury's Two Moves & the Breeders' Cup

In the DRF today, Steve Crist highlighted two huge moves by Canterbury Park. First he lauded the takeout reduction:

"Canterbury is well positioned to show substantial gains. It has had virtually no national simulcasting presence, so almost any business from players wanting to vote their approval of the new rates will be entirely new business. "

What he touched on next was even more compelling. Canterbury also was considering a "jackpot" bet at high takeout, but after discussing the bet with players, they decided just this week to scrap it.

This is a bold move. Canterbury wants to be known as horseplayer friendly by returning more money to customers when they hit a bet. That increased balance on your voucher (or in your ADW account) will be rebet, encouraging more churn. With a jackpot bet, it kills churn, so on-track players especially may be saving more on one hand, but betting it from the other into a terrible bet.  It kind of destroys the whole concept.

So far the Minnesota track has made some good moves. With the reverse on the jackpot just this week, they're keeping the momentum going.

There is a new Horseplayer Monthly coming out in May. We'll have Barry Meadow and the usual columnists, but we're adding a preview of the Canterbury meet, with stats and more. If you want the magazine delivered in your inbox free, you can visit our magazine page here. 

Good luck and good racing everyone.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Press Release: Kentucky Downs Tops the 8th Annual Horseplayers Association of North America Racetrack Rankings

(Charlottesville, VA, April 21, 2016): Kentucky Downs, the Franklin, Kentucky racetrack that races a short, all-turf meet, has topped the 2016 HANA Racetrack Rankings for the second consecutive year.
The rankings are based on an algorithm using factors indicative of horseplayer betting value, gleaned from both empirical and academic study. Key factors including takeout rate, field size, wager variety, pool size, and signal distribution are analyzed track by track and weighted to produce a final composite score.
"With low takeout and a field size of over ten horses per race, Kentucky Downs continues to excite customers," said HANA President Jeff Platt. “Despite an abbreviated meet, the ratings algorithm does not discriminate when it comes to betting value; Kentucky Downs has it and horseplayers responded with another year of record handles.”
“Kentucky Downs is honored to be named HANA’s number one track for the second year in a row. It is a testament to the hard work that our team puts into providing the horseplayer with the best value possible. We are especially appreciative of HANA’s efforts to represent the best interests of horseplayers and look forward to working with them for years to come,” said Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen.

Keeneland, with their 16% straight and 19% exotic takeout menu was second. Perennial horseplayer favorite Saratoga rounded out the top three.
Canterbury Park, which announced a massive takeout decrease just this week, vaulted up to sixth in the rankings. Suffolk Downs, with their 15% across the board takeout menu, also moved up appreciably.
For a list of all tracks rated one through sixty two, full ratings coverage including statistics, analysis, and track executive and insider interviews, please visit a special 'Industry Issue' of Horseplayer Monthly, our free e-magazine at this link.

For a web copy of this release, please visit here:

 The Horseplayers Association of North America is a 3,000 strong grassroots group of horseplayers who are not affiliated with any industry organization. HANA hopes, through proactive change on several key issues (including but not limited to), open signal access, lower effective takeouts, affordable data and customer appreciation, the industry’s handle losses can be reversed. Joining HANA is free. 

Click here to sign up early!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Canterbury Park Slashes Takeout for Upcoming Meet

 Note: In this week's 8th Annual "Track Ratings and Industry Issue" of the Horseplayer Monthly, we'll have a feature interview with Canterbury Park officials. To sign up for the free magazine, delivered to your inbox, please do here.

Canterbury Park racing officials today announced a sweeping reduction in pari-mutuel takeout that will result in the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack offering a wagering product priced lower, on average, than any track in the country. With win, place, show takeout set at 15 percent and all exotic wagers at 18 percent, Canterbury Park will be the best horse racing wagering opportunity in the United States when its 69-day race meet begins May 20.

“Canterbury Park has long strived to be the most horsemenf-friendly track in the country. Now, we want to be the most horseplayer-friendly racetrack in America,” Vice President of Racing Operations Eric Halstrom said. “With the growth in the quality of our racing program we, with the support of our horsemen, are taking the next step and making our races the most profitable wagering opportunity. By changing our takeout to the lowest in the United States, we’re giving horseplayers worldwide great value and drawing attention to what is sure to be the finest racing season in Minnesota history.”
Horse racing is conducted using a unique form of wagering called pari-mutuel wagering. Within the pari-mutuel system, all wagers are pooled together and those that pick winners share the money within the pool after a portion of the pool is withheld by the racetrack. This withholding is called takeout. The takeout is used to pay for purses for the races and to pay the operator, Canterbury Park, for putting on the races and facilitating the wagering.

Racing and gaming industry economists suggest that handle, the amount of money wagered, will increase substantially as takeout is reduced. Canterbury officials are confident that bettors will embrace the lower takeout and continually improving quality of racing with field size that regularly exceeds the national average. Horsemen purses have increased by 91 percent since 2010 due to tribal purse enhancements, and out-of-state handle on Canterbury’s races has risen by 114 percent over that same time period.

“We have been successful in increasing handle as our racing quality has improved. However, substantial upside still exists, and we believe this bold move will help us recognize that potential and create passionate Canterbury Park fans throughout the country.  We’re excited to offer something that no other racetrack in the United States has – the highest return to bettors all over the world,” Halstrom said.

Tom Metzen, President of the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents trainers and owners racing in the state, is in agreement with the takeout changes. “Racing at Canterbury Park continues its upward trend and the Minnesota HBPA supports the idea of a reduced takeout for our horseplayers,” Metzen said. “It will not only increase handle but show race fans everywhere what a jewel Minnesota racing is on the national scene.”

The reduction in takeout has also been met with widespread approval from major racing organizations including the nation’s premier horseplayer advocate group, the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA).

“Canterbury Park has made a bold gesture for 2016, lower takeout for all. Their new wagering menu offers tremendous value. It also tells me they want my business,” HANA President Jeff Platt said. “I’ll be giving Canterbury a long, hard look this year and would encourage horseplayers everywhere to do the same.”

The takeout restructuring will be discussed by the Minnesota Racing Commission April 21.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Press Release: HANA Harness Handicapping Challenge Horse Rescues Prize Fund Reaches a Record $5,750; Horse Rescues Named

March 8, 2016 – HANA Harness is pleased to announce the addition of Hoosier Park Racing and Casino as a Gold Sponsor, raising the prize fund for the 2016 Hambletonian Society Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge sponsored by DRF Harness, Green Acquisition Corporation, The Hambletonian Society, Hoosier Park Racing and Casino, Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment, Northfield Park, The Raceway at Western Fair District, Red Shores Charlottetown Driving Park, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs to a record $5,750.  With the sponsorship deadline being March 12, additional sponsorships may yet be named.

With the new year, race fan/handicapper Russ Adams and DRF Harness’ Matt Rose join the roster of handicappers to make a baker’s dozen with the possibility of one last handicapper joining the fray. 

As is the tradition of this contest, each handicapper chooses a rescue of their choosing and this year’s cast of handicappers have made the following selections: Russ Adams, Heart of Phoenix; Michael Carter, New Vocations; Ray Cotolo, Changing Fates Equine Rescue; Mark Deutsch, Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals; Ray Garnett, Rockin T Equine Rescue; Sally Hinckley, Rainhill Sanctuary; Jay Hochstetler, Central Virginia Horse Rescue; Rusty Nash, Racer Placers; Dennis O’Hara, Sunshine Horse Rescue; Bryan Owen, Standardbred Retirement Foundation; Matt Rose, Starting Gaits Standardbred Transition Program; Anne Stepien, Heading For Home; Gordon Waterstone, Horse Lovers United.

The Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge begins next weekend, March 18-19 with the first legs of the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial Series at Yonkers Raceway.  You may follow this year’s contest at


Note: We at HANA are proud of the efforts of Alan and the HANA Harness Handicappers in raising funds and awareness for their horse charities. We would also like to thank the sponsors who have been amazingly supportive over the years, culminating in this year's record funding.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Barry Meadow: "Innovation"

Barry Meadow let loose on wagering and the industry in general in his last column titled "Innovation".

You can read what he thinks about the RTIP innovation award, what drives customers, and what attitudinal shift racing executives need to help the wagering side of the business.

pdf here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"In-Running" Betting Passed in New Jersey. Here's What That Is.

According to reports, New Jersey bettors will have the opportunity as early as this spring to bet "in-running" on horse racing (in-running has been currently passed for the Meadowlands, Monmouth has not been finalized.)

What exactly is that and how does it work? A Horseplayers Association board member penned an article last year on exactly that topic for Trot Magazine, a Canadian harness racing monthly. Here's that article, reprinted with permission. 


Betting in running tool

 “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. One day, in fact, the competition will pass you and the satisfied customers will quietly leave.

Your growth will come instead from the dissatisfied and unsatisfied. The dissatisfied know they want a solution, but are not happy with the solution they’ve got. The unsatisfied are the folks who do not even realize they have a problem that needs solving. That is why focus groups are often so useless. The people you really need to hear from are the great unwashed, the people who are not even looking at you. That is where you will find the customers you need when your current line becomes obsolete.”

- Seth Godin from Free Prize Inside, The Next Big Marketing Idea

I was getting ready to start my work day this winter when I got a message from a friend. 

It went something like, “1:54.81 will hold up here and you’re getting three to five. There’s no one left that was even close to that time the last time these girls raced on the Sochi track.”

My immediate response was “what is he talking about”, until I realized he was betting the women’s speed skating final at the Sochi Winter Olympics, while the event was going on. It’s called in-running betting, mostly made popular by British betting exchange betfair, but also utilized in Las Vegas and offshore books for sports like football.  It’s a new form of wagering, and it certainly – in this new connected world – here to stay.

In-running betting does not only happen with popular human sports, as women’s speed skating markets can surely attest, it’s also in use for Thoroughbred racing and has been for some time. Just last year the great Black Caviar raced a short five furlong affair in Australia and she, and she alone, had $40 million matched on her to win; most of it at about 12 cents on the dollar (in decimal odds this is 1.12. In North American racing odds it would be near 1-9). A fair portion of it was bet while the short 55 second race was being run. That’s where the action took hold.  

Black Caviar broke well but seemed to be not quite as keen as she usually is. This prompted bettors – on laptops and desktops at home, iPads or iPhones or Blackberry’s at the track – to start letting her price out a notch. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were passing through cyberspace and cell phone towers as she rose from 1.12 to 1.25 to 1.33 to 1.45. As she approached the wire, her lead diminishing in every foot of turf, her nostrils flaring with her equally game opponent bearing down on her, she rose to 1.90 as the wire finally came. She was beaten, or was she? Another several hundred thousand traded on her because no one was sure; it was a photo. Yes, megabucks were still humming, betting on a photo. The backers at 1.90 (almost even money) were rewarded, because the photo sign was removed and the strapping black racemare was still undefeated. 

This could not have happened even ten years ago; maybe even five. But it’s happening today. 

Josh Nelms, an Australian harness racing player believes that racing has everything going for it. 

Writing on his blog “In-Play Analysis of Australian Racing” he says,

“Harness racing is still the premium in-play product. Due to the fact it will take approximately 2 minutes to run a race there's so much time to get set or get off. I only wish it would increase its. It's a winner for everyone! 

Racing is made for this type of wagering. As Josh noted, the races take approximately two minutes – more if the sport embraces longer distance racing – and that allows for betting to take place with some flow. Harness racing is also blessed with tightly grouped fields, which result in close finishes, where just about every entry could take action while the race is going off. 

It seems to have a following. At harness tracks in Australia, in-play wagering makes up about one-quarter of the total handle that’s bet before the event. That’s significant. 

How would this model work here? Would it work? I think, if done correctly, it could. Let’s look at it through a crystal ball. 

The first race is the 2 mile trot, with 14 entrants. Instead of a win pool odds board, there is an exchange where buyers and sellers can choose the horses they like, or do not like. The market makers assure liquidity, and one would hope, partnerships and interest have aroused the betting customer enough to create the volume needed for the exchange to work. There are people still betting win tickets at the windows, but they can choose a market price (where they are filled immediately and get a ticket with a locked in price) or a limit order, by choosing their odds. 

When the race goes off, the market gets started. Randy Waples, on the pre-race favorite from the 9 post, gets shoved out four wide and settles in dead last. Phil Hudon on the four, the second choice, gets the lead easily. At home or at simulcast centres the feed shows the odds tick down on Phil to 8-5, while Randy’s horse rises to 12-1, as bettors make their bets. They’re not the only ones, though. Sylvain Filion on the six has second over cover, and several other horses are in contention. Those horses tick down a notch, too.

Past the mile and a half marker, Randy who has toiled in obscurity near the back of the bus suddenly makes a sweeping move. It seems the pace has taken its toll on the leaders and his charge is fresh as a daisy. His price plunges in an instant, as smartphones and computers send in their bets. In the middle of the Georgian homestretch, Randy is home. His price falls to 1.01. Race over. 

Is that an unlikely scenario? No. In fact, almost the exact thing happened in an Australian race with a horse named Splitzer last July. 

Splitzer, who was a short priced favorite before the race began, broke slow and settled last in the field of fourteen. After spiking to 12-1 with thousands of dollars traded, he circled the field and won the race. 

This is not fantasy. It’s very real. 

“The people you really need to hear from are the great unwashed, the people who are not even looking at you........”

This form of betting, if you speak to a traditionalist, might be met with a blank stare. Current bettors want to make their superfecta bet and cheer that home. They don’t mind what racing has been serving them. However, that’s not really relevant and it won’t affect them in anything but a positive way. For example, win betting could still be done in the system with an added bonus: A price is locked-in , so instead of watching their odds change after the bell - a long held complaint in small pool harness racing – they get what they pay for. 

The biggest boost though, is with the “people who are not even looking at you”. 

People often complain racing is too complex to learn. They have a point. What 25 year old wants to study a program with numbers they don’t understand, to bet horses he or she does not know by standing up at a wicket, and to likely lose money doing it. It’s like harness racing is selling root canals. 

I know nothing about NASCAR racing, but I was watching a race a couple of weeks ago and could see that the #4 car of Kevin Harvick was moving really well. While some of his opponents were plagued with a shaking chassis on the turns, his car was smooth as glass and he “looked live”. If I could’ve bet him in the race at that point I would’ve, even though I am a complete newbie NASCAR fan. 

It’s not hard to envision the same thing with in-running harness betting:

You don’t have to be Pittsburgh Phil to notice what horse is traveling well at the half mile pole. It’s not difficult to notice that the horse on the lead has a good chance to hold on if the pace is slow; or the horse sweeping three high with a fast half has a good chance. 

You don’t need form cycles, or trainer change notes, or statistics to play a race in-running. For people who are intimidated by racing, this might be a perfect tonic. 

The market expands further, when we include the statistics guys and computer modelers. Those betting characters love numbers, and the thrill of figuring out the win percentages and related betting returns at each points in the mile is something they crave. 

“One day, in fact, the competition will pass you and the satisfied customers will quietly leave..... “

If I told you that in a few years hence harness racing could deliver a system that gives added excitement with bells and whistles like a slot machine, reduces down time between races, makes each race a unique betting event, could attract a technologically savvy younger audience by allowing them to use their smartphones and tablets to bet, that would make headlines around North American racing that scream “hey, look what they’re doing in harness racing in little track in Ontario, it looks like a blast!”, and that attacks the scourge of small pools and odds that change after the bell, you’d think we were looking at a game changer. 

I’d have to agree with you, In-running betting, done right, can be exactly that.