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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Guest Post: California Racing

Sometimes we get a HANA member who is frustrated and wants to have their say. So they send us an email. This one caught our eye. Roger is a horseplayer and has been so since the early 1970's. He does not like the way things have gone in California (where he lives and bets) and he expresses some of the thoughts that get his back up. He calls his piece "A Three Legged Stool".

Three-Legged Stool

California horseracing is like a three-legged stool. The first leg is the State. The second leg is the people who put on the show, the racetrack, associations and the horsemen. The third leg is the customer.

The traditional primary mission of any business is to put out a product designed to attract and grow the customer base to insure a healthy return for all involved.

California horseracing has focused on two legs of the stool at the expense of the third leg, the customers.

The racetrack and the horsemen’s organizations are the loudest voices heard at industry meetings. They all have multiple demands that take more from a shrinking pie instead of making proposals that would increase fan interest and participation. The only proposals you hear is how they plan to get more money from the remaining fan base though increased take out or new, near impossible, high take exotic wagers designed to create carryovers.

Take out fees have skyrocketed from 10% to 20%over time and more for exotics. Carryovers are a Band-Aid for a hole in the bottom line. Many California tracks would be in the red ink if it were not for the carryover attraction. It is no accident that there is more carryovers today than ever before, despite more handicap information available to the public and smaller field size. The racing managers have learned all too fast how to encourage a carryover. The average loyal patron must lose to build a pot for the deep pocket patron to come in and swoop up the pot with high value tickets, with little handicapping skill involved.

Because of the emphasis on exotics and carryovers the quality of the product has been declining. We get a lot of small fields designed for the horsemen, not the public, and they become mostly Jockey strategy dominated races. In the exotics we get a lot of full field bottom level claimers with spot or no records. It is undeniable that quality has taken a back seat, so has handicapping.

The racing managers used to say, “We do not care who wins”. The racing managers make no pretense these days and cannot tell you with a straight face that they do not care who wins. They prefer long shots that create carryovers.

It seems obvious to this long time horseplayer that plenty could be done to grow the fan base if the racing managers would concentrate on what the customers wanted, instead of the first two legs of the stool.

Card races that customers want rather than what the horsemen want.

Require 8 horse fields.

Reduce take out to allow more customer winners and churn and return.

Create a National Central Office to coordinate regulations, and allow customers to participate and have a say. After a hundred years or so, it is time.

My father told me never to participate in a game that the house has an interest in who wins. I think the public perception is that they agree with my father. We need to change that perception.

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