“… Churchill Downs meet was down 11.5%, and opening-day handle at Del Mar was off 9% -- including a 14% drop in on-track wagering despite a record crowd of more than 43,000 on hand.”
Speculation as to causes is rampant.
“Take your pick of reasons for the decline … the national economy and oil/gas prices headline pressures working over the industry from the outside; signal disruptions from revenue disputes and integrity issues are among many taking a toll from the inside.”
Save the whales?
“There is an ongoing concern that the “whales” of the industry – those high-volume players that annually bet upwards to $1 million or more – have left outlets contributing to purse-feeding pari-mutuel pools because of restrictions in wagering offerings. Signals to such ADW giants as TVG and Youbet.com, among others, have been curtailed in recent months by a well-publicized national dispute between racetracks and horsemen groups on how revenue from those wagering dollars should be shared.
But [Chris] Scherf discounts the theory that whales are leaving the pari-mutuel pools.”
Lack of interest?
“But he agrees that handle may be an accurate reflection of general interest in the sport."
"If the handle is going down, that is not a good sign,” he said. “There is less interest. What underlies that, though, is that it may not be as bad as what it looks for a particular racetrack, or that it could be way worse for another racetrack.”’
The Derby tragedy?
"It could be related to the Eight Belles tragedy, the integrity issues, the health and safety issues," he said of the recent declining numbers. "While we certainly can't ignore all of the factors, including the economy and others, it’s probably too soon to separate the issues.”
“Instead, he said there is concern over the loss of wagering dollars to alternative forms of gambling.”
“… one of the organizers of the new Horseplayers Association of North America feels some bettors have indeed departed the pools for friendlier environments."
“There is no doubt that some players have left the traditional pari-mutuel wagering platforms,” said John Swetye, a Connecticut entrepreneur who helped launch HANA, an advocacy organization for bettors. “Some left because they can't get a bet down with their ADW because it doesn't offer a particular track, or because the player can't have an account with a certain ADW because of where they live.”
“… he said some perceptions are going to have to change.
“Right now, horseplayers get too little respect -- especially among some racetrack executives,” he said. “Horseplayers can not understand why the customer is given so little respect. Without horseplayers, would racetracks exist?”
While my own thoughts mirror those of the last category, I believe the Congressional hearings were a factor as well.
Prior to those hearings, there was hope on the part of many that the racing industry would at last be forced into dealing with all its issues. The initial uncertainty as to what problems would be exposed -- and what steps might be taken to correct them -- may have temporarily distracted some players from their past performance data. However, once the hearings made it clear to the customers that business would still be conducted at the whim of the usual suspects -- while givng the appearance, at least, of meeting new Federal standards for medication use -- hope started to evaporatie and bettors began to bet less.
Should this trend continue, the changes advocated by HANA and others may be required to turn increasing bettor apathy and resistance into enthusiastic participation. Toward that end, HANA will continue to present its case to horseplayers with the expectation that the industry will be willing to turn the situation around sooner than later.
Because let's face it, when arguably racing's most ardent supporters -- the members of HANA -- can't or won't bet anymore, racing may be in more serious trouble than anyone realizes.