Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is America Going Betless?

In his Blood-Horse article, “Wagering Plummets Since Triple Crown” Ryan Conley reported that Wagering has dropped 11% on North American Thoroughbred racing since the end of the Triple Crown series …”

“… 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, 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.”

Gambling elsewhere?

“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."

Bettor dissatisfaction?

“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.


Anonymous said...

Way to go John! HANA will make a difference, let's keep doing what we're doing. I expect membership to be dramatically impacted by this article.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ray,

HANA is trying to help get the handle up. It's not going to happen overnight.

Just a note, though -- I don't know if you were cheering me on for the getting quoted in Bloodhorse or for the opinion piece above. For the record, that piece was written by someone else -- not me.

Twindouble said...

Buy one, get one free.

Under the current economic conditions many businesses are being effected and horse racing isn't exempt from it all. The concern is racing has been limping along prior to the downturn,for reasons mentioned here. GM is also a good example. As a horse player I've seen and been through this before. Racing will survive but the fall out could be staggering.

There will be no love lost on my part if the whales go by the wayside if things get real tight and they will. Who ever comes out standing it will be because their attention will be put where it hasn't been, that's on us players. "buy one get one free". My freezer is full and I hope to with the right moves cut my fuel bill in half this winter. So as players we have the power, we could determine who survives and who doesn't. Well, that may be exaggerated to some degree but when bad times come around opportunity comes about and I'm sure those in the racing industry will take advantage of it.

Everything improves when things reach the crisis point. I agree with Raybo. Then like always when we are humming along greed and corruption takes over. What's new? That's the American way, sorry to say.

To be honest, over the years I've been very skeptical that anyone or group could organize horse players to be effective in anyway. I will say this, if it can't be done under the prevailing conditions, it will never happen. Your timing could be right on.

The war room is to hectic for me, I have to spell check anything I post. Besides my attention span is at it's best reading the racing form.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Twindouble. Absence of a spelling checker is no excuse. Some time ago, someone in the war room asked me if my keyboard was stuck. I did get a new one, but nobody can tell the difference.

There’s an old saying, “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.” The industry needs to be proactive about attracting new players betting through ADWs. The whales are already in the game. Significant rebates offered to smaller players will get new ones, keep old ones, and provide the first indication that the industry is listening to its customers instead of ignoring them, possibly stemming the flow of continued ill will.