I've written about fixing horse racing many times before. Most notably, June 2007, I wrote a post called How To Save Horse Racing, and in February 2007 I wrote a piece called Thoughts On Track Takeout.
In the last year, horse racing has gone even more downhill even more when it comes to the growth and the bettor. Most of this has to do with the current ADW-Horsemen conflict, but in the last year we also saw even more tremendous idiocy when Calder and NYRA raised their track takeouts.
The economy isn't helping right now, but horse racing has been dying for years. The reason is simple. It doesn't even try to compete with other forms of gambling, and no long term winners are produced, so as to attract new players.
Drugs, potential cheating, lack of proper disclosure, fatal injuries, etc. are just secondary problems when it comes to growth. In fact, if racing were to increase their fan/bettor base by competing for more players, the other problems would go away because integrity would actually matter as the game would be taken seriously again, by the masses, and the masses would demand it.
All the marketing in the world won't help grow the game. Sure, it might get someone to come to the track once, but there is absolutely nothing that will hook the person to be a regular customer.
Aside from the fact that it takes years to understand most of the handicapping nuances that allows a player to be better than average, the reality is that being better than average won't make one a winner. Far from it. A handicapper is considered good if he or she only loses 10 cents on the dollar (the collective average takeout at Woodbine, for example, is around 21-22%).
Racing execs have shifted their mentality. And the result: In the 60's and 70's racetracks were hesitant to even bring in exotics because they were worried that fans would lose money too fast and be discouraged.
Now racing is set up under the baseball stadium model: Get as much as you can from the customer as quickly as you can because they might not be back for a while. You will probably not see many of them again.
Why Was Racing So Popular In The 60's and 70's?
It was the only game in town in many places. Players also had lower takeouts to overcome. No exotics. No intertrack. You only had around 40-45 races a week to play.
Sharp handicappers had speed figures, before Beyer figures came along and were published them in the form. There were winners, there were those who were getting a regular return of 95-1.10 on their betting. Those who won attracted many players to at least dabble as well. Friends and family were brought to the track, because quite a few people left with money in their pockets so they could come back again the next day.
Many of players that are still left in the game today are products of home environments that included at least a day at the track each week with their parents. And this was made possible because the game used to be possibly beatable in the long term.
There were no major lotteries to compete with, and in Toronto, it wasn't until the Blue Jays came into town in the mid 70's that the race track realized they were no longer a monopoly.
Still, because racing was still a monopoly when it came to legalized gambling, the stands and the pools attracted a lot of mooch money. Gamblers who didn't even want to bother reading a racing form, who regularly lost 20 to 30 cents on every bet. This created another edge for those who devoted time to handicapping in an attempt to beat the game.
So how did race tracks react to not being the only game in town? They raised takeouts and tried to compete with more and more exotics. Triactors and superfectas with a track takeout of 25% plus are bankroll killers. They pumped in simulcasts, and nowadays an outfit like HPITV show 15 tracks a day.
Intertrack/simulcast wagering made sure that only a few people could go home with money in their pockets. The least they could have done is drastically reduce takeouts so players could last a bit longer each day. But the opposite happened, triactors with their high takeouts are now available in every race that has at least 6 horses. Racing has become like blackjack in the fact that you can play 5 really good hands every 20 minutes. Except blackjacks house edge (takeout) is 15 times lower than the takeout at a race track.
And then came slots and lotteries. Slots made sure that mooch money in the pools has disappeared to almost zero. There is hardly a player left who bets without a form. And family day is dead as well. Slots are way more appealing to those who just want to gamble. No thinking is required. Yet, even those who run slots realize that if they increased their takeout to over 10%, slots would be in trouble too. People keep coming back because it mostly takes time to scoop the players gambling money. Someone going to the track knows that $100 may give you 6-9 minutes of real action depending on how much one bets. If you are lucky enough, you might cash, and be able to win another 6-9 minutes of real action.
The way the game is set up today, it is impossible for winners to be created. Nowadays you have good handicappers facing great handicappers, and the great handicapper isn't a winner unless he or she is getting a very good rebate.
Marketers can't go there. They can't advertise that the only people who win at the track are those who bet offshore, or those who get substantial rebates. Racing has no long term winning poster boys, whereas poker has many. Is it a wonder that online poker, and other forms of gambling have grown, while racing, despite being available all over the place, has gone down the toilet when it comes to growth?
RACING NEEDS TO REDUCE TAKEOUT SUBSTANTIALLY IF THEY WANT TO GROW, NOTHING ELSE WILL WORK
Takeouts need to be in the 10-12% range or forget about it.
Note: This piece is also co-posted at Bloodhorse Blogs