Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calling All Tournament Horseplayers - Opinion Wanted

HANA member Mike Mayo is the new player-head of the National Handicapping Championship and NHC Tour. He has compiled some questions via a survey on how to make it a better event. He wants your feedback:

"In an effort to improve the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) and the NHC tour, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Players Committee is soliciting your feedback. This is your chance to have a say in future events. With your help, we can make both the NHC and the NHC Tour bigger and better and capable of attracting and retaining racing fans from all walks of life."

From Mike: "We simply created the survey to find out what the players want. The NHC Tourney and the NHC Tour are the player's events. We are seeking information in order to make improvements to both. We are exploring ways to create more interest and participation."

The survey is right here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Horseplayer Issues Being Discussed - Even on Bloodhorse

Today there was a list of wishes for racing, via Alex Waldrop's blog on Bloodhorse.

Mr. Waldrop's constituency is mainly the industry, i.e. the folks who tax us at 22%, and generally would like us to bet, lose, go the ATM, lose more, and then come back tomorrow and do the same. But a funny thing: There were horseplayer wishes for the next decade in his list, too.

Lower takeout for all bettors
Elimination of tax withholding for players
Effective wagering monitoring technology for tote companies

Three fairly large issues, front and center. This is good news and something we have not seen from insiders, perhaps ever. Heck, the lower takeout message alone is a huge step. For years it has been considered heresy to say such a thing in a trade mag; it is rumored that those that did had to muck stalls as penance (but that is only a rumor).

The message from players (you, me, everyone) is starting to resonate (as well as handle losses I would surmise). Let's hope players speak louder and louder in 2010 and beyond and people like Alex are there to listen, and perhaps make the changes needed for the sport to grow.

Monday, December 28, 2009

11 Things I Really, Really Want to See in 2010 from Racing

As we turn the page from the zeros (I have no idea what the 00's are called) to the 10's I have a horseplayer list that I really, really, really want to see addressed in 2010. Yours may be different, so please let us know below in the comments section below.

Here are my 11 things I would like to see in 2010.

* I really, really want to see stewards inquiries explained to us, on camera. I got home one night last year and I flipped on racing in the middle of the night to see what was happening in Australia. The lights were flashing and there was a steward, on camera, chatting with a jockey. It was covered like a blanket. Another afternoon I flipped it over to Chester Downs in the land of harness. I saw a steward going through his decision on the air. I want to see that at every track in North America in 2010.

* I really, really, want to see a track (not some tiny track, but a big track) offer a takeout reduction with teeth. And I want it to run for a long while, none of this two week business. As Bill, HANA board member says: "It's like telling a fat guy (I wonder how I thought of this) that good diet and exercise is needed for the best health. Now that guy can either come back in a month and say, well I've tried it and I'm still fat and unhealthy and hungrier than before (similar to industry dropping takeout for a bit to "prove" that it won't work) or he can change his lifestyle and come back a year later after proper diet and exercise being as fit and healthy as ever. Long lasting change is needed with lower takeout to fix the industry."

* I'd really, really like Teri Hatcher to join HANA. She is a horseplayer, and I like Teri Hatcher.

* I'd really like our fellow horseplayers in Arizona be able to bet a race over the internet, without wondering if the cops are going to bust down their door saying "drop the mouse, now!"

* I'd really like to see TVG drop the per wager fee thing. For gosh sakes guys you have grown a huge internet betting company on low fees and low takeout. Get rid of it.

* Speaking of TVG, I would really like to see Matt hit like 14 pick 4's in a row. It would make some headlines, and people on would stop calling him names.

* I'd really like to see Philly Park management (or management at any track in PA) take 12 nano-seconds of slot profit and buy a horseplayer a coffee.

* I'd really like to see Twinspires, when they finish taking over Youbet, keep the good stuff Youbet has been doing for horseplayers, and not just swallow up their customers like a whale does plankton.

* I'd really, really like to win more photos in 2010. A few more inquiries would help, too.

* I'd really, really like to see HANA Advisory board member Cary Fotias speak his mind. In his interview in the Saratogian: "And I think vet stats should be published. We all know what’s going on, and the chemists are ahead of the testing labs. If you’re gonna juice horses, let us in on who is doing it." C'mon Cary, tell us what you really think next time.

* I'd really like to see the odds board at one minute to post look somewhat similar to what it looks like at the second call.

..... and I would like to offer my best wishes in 2010 to horseplayers everywhere. Happy New Year everyone.

We'd like to see this HANA-thing grow more in 2010. You can help by signing up here.

This opinion piece is from a HANA member. If you'd like to have your say, or want to add to this list, please do. We are available at info @ We want to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ray Paulick's #1 Story of 2009 - We Were Surprised too

In the recently concluded HANA survey you told us in huge numbers that you were concerned about late odds drops and the security of the tote. We were not overly surprised. However, when we checked a recent post at the Paulick Report where Ray and Brad counted down their highest traffic stories of 2009 we were surprised what was number one.

And so were they.

1. Hollywood Park Past-Posting Incident Under Investigation

At first blush, we were a little shocked that this story was number one. A past-posting incident, while surely problematic, is not the sexiest of topics. But when you consider it potentially hurt the pocketbooks of thousands of horseplayers across the country and the fact that we were first out of the gate with the story, it makes a whole lot more sense. Wouldn’t it be nice if the propeller heads at the tote companies were able to figure out how to stop betting when a race begins?

As you know from reading the blog, HANA VP Mike Maloney broke the story here in May, and Ray (with lightning speed) took it from there and did a whole bunch of digging.

We have heard a lot about past posting from those inside and outside the industry this past year. The insiders believe it is not much of a problem, despite the odd exception. Horseplayers seem to take it seriously, despite the odd exception. It is a dichotomous issue.

However, seeing it the number one traffic story on Paulick this past year should tell us at least a couple of things: Horseplayers have power (after all, you were energized to read and follow the story from here and elsewhere to Ray's site) and it is an issue that the business can not run away from, or gloss over.

In 2010 horseplayers are asking the industry to put forth a plan to overhaul and modernize the tote system. We hope they are listening.

To read the very interesting list at Paulick please click here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The HANA 2009 Year in Review

HANA was incorporated in September of 2008, borne out of a chat room session (or six!) at Our first full year was 2009 and we would like to recap what we have tried to accomplish, and in some cases did accomplish in 2009, as a group of concerned horseplayers.

In 2009, as a fledgling group of around 400 members, we began the year working on our track ratings system. After many meetings, emails, reading studies and so forth we settled on the measurable metrics for the system. Those were, field size, takeout levels and player-friendly bet variety. The University of Louisville study pointed out the benefit of added field size to handle, we all knew about takeouts thanks to numerous studies and common sense, and perusing chat boards and player comments, as well as handle changes, we knew wager variety was also important. After much work by board member, engineer and horseplayer Bill from Texas we released the Top 65 tracks in North America. A few weeks later we came up with version 2.0, which updated several figures, and we added 7 tracks. Keeneland was the number one rated track, and we created a new player resource section on our website whereby all these numbers could be seen by everyone in racing. It is one of the most popular pages on our site. We are very happy that some tracks for 2009 have taken some of the ratings to heart, and have begun to look for ways to improve.

The track rating system was a boon to membership numbers, and generated a lot of interest from members and the press. Being a small organization, funded almost solely by donation, we do not have the cash to promote our group via traditional means. Having the ratings released on Paulick, Bloodhorse and Equidaily helped us immensely. We thank each and every one of them, as well as all those in the blogosphere who helped us get the word out.

With Keeneland number one we decided to head to the Kentucky track for our very first HANA day at the Races. It was great fun to meet a whole whack of horseplayers and Keeneland threw out the red carpet. Everyone had a great time. While there HANA President Jeff Platt was interviewed on TVG. Not having any television experience Jeff was a bit antsy, but he pulled it off. It was interesting watching the signup page during his interview and the time immediately after - about 60 people signed up to HANA. We had reached 1000 members.

Also at Keeneland we got to meet Mike Maloney, the well known horseplayer. We knew Mike was our kind of guy when we saw him handing out HANA flyers all on his own. Mike joined the board as VP of Wagering Compliance in May. It was a welcome addition.

As well, in April at Keeneland, the table was beginning to be set for a change in the way scratches are delivered to horseplayers. Jeff Platt met with Hank at Equibase to start the dialogue on creating a "scratches today" area on the equibase site.

In late April we hit the conference circuit. Board member Dean presented at the Gaming Summit in Windsor Ontario on two panels. One, the future of wagering was about bringing the game to new generations and the second was on betting exchanges, and horseplayer concerns with the pari-mutuel system in general, versus fixed odds and peer to peer wagering.

About this time Ross Gallo and Mike Mayo proposed getting people together to bet some pools and build more of a following. We worked on bringing people together and achieved some excellent handle bumps in the process. More members signed on and we had a little fun doing it. With the summer blahs, and so much to do we discontinued that (it was a ton of work each week), but might revisit it in the future. We thank everyone who participated and helped, including Mike at Paceadvantage, Craig at Trackmaster, Craig at, Jerry Brown at Thorograph, Peter at the Perikan Money sheet, and everyone else we are sure to be forgetting.

In May, Mike Maloney was front and center on the Hollywood Park potential past posting incident. Ray Paulick picked up the story and ran with it. Wagering security, late odds drops and the general problems in the pari-mutuel pools became a big story in 2009. With our help we think the TPRB and others have it on their radar for this year, as was recently announced. We plan to keep the pressure on with this very important item. Also in May, Mike represented HANA in front of the Racing Commissioners panel on wagering integrity.

In June, the CHRB in California was looking at takeout hikes yet again. Jeff Platt put some pressure on them, and wrote an open letter to Kirk Breed. This letter was released on many chat boards and via email, as is the case with many HANA iniatives. We appreciate the support on these and other items.

In July we spoke to the new wagering honcho at Yavapai Downs Greg "Boomer" Wry, about trying to work together to make some changes in Arizona racing, and at Yavapai in particular. Jeff and several HANA members made the trip for the productive set of meetings. Jeff went back in October, and talks are ongoing in Arizona with the track, horsemen, and the state.

In September HANA made two new appointments: Charlie Davis from Seattle was appointed to the HANA board, and John Pricci of was appointed to the Advisory Board, joining Messrs Meadow, Mordin, Ziemba and Fotias. We welcome them both, and since their appointments they have been huge supporters - Charlie with the day to day work and John on his website and with industry contacts.

Thanks to feedback from Andy Asaro and others on Paceadvantage we created "HANA Reports" which is a webpage/blog where member feedback, or any pressing issue we are working on is to be updated. We scan websites, chatboards, facebook, our email, and anywhere else really for ideas on what to look into. When we have something we report it to players on this page.

Also at this time HANA's work with Equibase was made public and "Scratches Today" was borne. For the full story of how this came about Jeff wrote an article which Ray Paulick printed here. It took many months, but we thank Hank and crew for turning this idea into a reality. Some kinks need to be worked out, for example, NYRA is currently not participating, but we hope this grows and is perfected in the coming months.

In November we finally completed our 50 question HANA member survey. Well over 500 of you answered the questions on the survey. We have been a little lax in getting a lot of it out, but more and more will be released over the coming months. We would like to publicly thank Dan Needham for offering his expertise on this. He worked tirelessly to make it a reality and it was no small feat. For his work he was paid the princely sum of nothing; we can not possibly thank him enough.

For the first quarter of 2010 we are working on several items, which we hope to have some news for. One, the 2010 HANA track ratings are in the works. Two, we will continue working with Arizona to make some hopeful improvements there. Three, we are trying to set up a handicapping seminar/HANA day at Keeneland for the spring. In addition we will be doing what we always do: Keeping in contact with industry insiders on improvements (and letting them know when you are upset about something), blogging, issuing press releases and trying to grow.

At the beginning of 2009 we were very small and virtually unnoticed. At the end of the year we are growing larger, as well over 1400 of you have signed up and lent a hand, and we have been written about, too. The Bloodhorse, Equidaily, The Paulick Report, The Thoroughbred Daily News, Horseplayer Magazine, myriad blogs and many other places have carried letters, pieces, or linked to HANA. We thank each and every one of them for helping.

We received an email from someone influential in this business recently. In the email we thanked him for a mention and he replied "everyone should take HANA seriously. You are doing great work." It was high praise, and we hope to continue to earn that trust and respect in 2010 and beyond.

To the silent ones who we have not mentioned who have helped, through donations, work, or just lending support, you know who you are and we offer our sincere thanks.

To everyone who took time to sign-up for HANA, thank you for your continued support.

Have a happy holidays and a wonderful New Year,

The HANA Board of Directors, Jeff, Dean, Theresia, Bill, Mike, Maury and Charlie

If you would like to join us at HANA you can here. It's free.

If you would like to get involved, or join the conversation we can be found in plenty of spots:



Email: info @



Thanks again!

Monday, December 21, 2009

One Step Backwards, Two Steps Back

One would think it is 1910, not coming up on 2010. In New York the head of the Catskill OTB wants to ban out of state ADW's from the state. "Groth said out-of-state account wagering firms such as should not be allowed to accept bets from New York residents."

It of course, is all about the slice of a dwindling pie, and taking more money off of horseplayers (as well as inconveniencing them) through a de-facto takeout increase.

"Such ADWs offer New York residents rebates that OTB cannot afford and at the same time are not subject to the same statutory fees as OTB, he said."

So instead of asking for changes to compete and grow business, we run back to the protectionist dogma. Racing has a long way to go before we start growing the pie instead of fighting over it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Walk Through Takeout's Past

The Internet affords us plenty of opportunities to learn. We set up google alerts here at HANA. When HANA is mentioned, or if horseplayers are chatting about what they like or do not like about playing the horses, we are alerted. We got something interesting that popped up this morning.

I am not sure if the Baltimore Sun reindexed or what, but we got several alerts on "takeout rates" added to the inbox. It was a walk down memory lane.

First, in 1993 there was a story on the opening of Hialeah - and some takeout hikes. "Only this year will be different. Hialeah owner John Brunetti will do the unimaginable; he will make Hialeah the worst place on earth to play horses. Hialeah opens April 1, April Fools' Day for South Florida bettors. Brunetti plans to institute what is believed to be the highest takeout structure in the history of U.S. thoroughbred racing. The take on win, place and show bets will be 23.1 percent and there will be a 28 percent take on all other wagers. Winning money -- never easy at the track -- will be impossible at Hialeah."

16 years later I wonder how they are doing.

Second, another takeout hike in a story, this time in 2000, at Laurel. This price hike was to raise more money from horseplayers to fix up the track. I think it would have been better to lend a few folks at the simo-center a hammer and a nail and get them to pitch in that way. "The world's toughest game is about to get tougher. Betting on thoroughbred racing becomes more expensive today for fans in Maryland. With the blessing of the governor and General Assembly, the Maryland Jockey Club has raised the takeout - the money withheld from every wager."

The hilarious - some would call it sad - part about the above hike? Laurel came out with a press release 28 days later saying that takeout did not kill handle. "In my opinion, it's had zero impact so far," Mango said. Anyone - a bettor, an economist, heck a student with some decent math skills - will tell you takeout increases or decreases, based on churn, will take years to show its force. But the folks who ran this, based their measurable metric on what happened in less than a month.

We spoke about Tampa below, lowering takes each year, hoping to build a following and some on track churn. Their takeouts are becoming less and less. It was an interesting note in the above column about Tampa in the early nineties: "Tampa Bay also passed the cost on to its fans, now taking 20 percent from all straight bets and 28 percent on exotics.

Those numbers were insane. Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed at Tampa (not through altruism, through common sense and a loss of business) and they are surviving.

That's a trip through takeout memory lane. It seems we have not learned much over the years.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TRPB Promotes New Tote Initiative

The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau unveiled a tote security initiative designed to ensure that wagering ends before the start of a race.

The initiative would facilitate stop-betting across the entire pari-mutuel network at the start of every race.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Notes

John Pricci weighs in on Tampa Bay at his website. On Saturday, Tampa had a record opening day handle. It is nice to see tracks who are lowering takeout get supported by horseplayers.

Stan Bergstien has an opine up on Betfair. ".... but never touched a central issue: How betting on horses to lose endangered the very spirit and purpose of the game - winning." I never quite understand this argument. If I want to fade the chalk and he loses, I am winning.

Via Equispace on Twitter, Four guys lose their job at Fidelity for talking fantasy football.

Monday, December 14, 2009

When Takeout was 5%

There is a fascinating post up on Colins Ghost (in my opinion one of the best, well written blogs out there) on how the pari-mutuel system came to be. It is an amazing account on how it was not embraced immediately, and how it became mainstream.

Back in 1908: "The public is gradually becoming impressed with the fact that the average of odds returned through the machines is better than formerly, when the books were in operation."

It seems that bookmakers, if you were out to bet $2, would not give you a very good price (probably not unlike today in the UK and elsewhere, where bookies have a high take on longshots). It does appear that way back over 100 years ago, bettors were looking at prices as a part of their wagering.

Of particular significance, was that price. Yes folks, the takeout was 5%.

"When Kentucky initiated the mutuel system after 1906, the takeout stood at 5% — a figure that seems quaint today."

Oh my, what we'd be betting with 5% takeout. I have spot plays that are 0.90ROI and are red light plays. They would become immediate green light plays with a low takeout. Instead I don't bet.

Gambling expert Wil Cummings said in his report to the industry in 2003: "the racing industry fails to understand that when raising takeout the $100 bet will not be $100 anymore." In 1908 they knew what to do. It is a damn shame we got "progressive".

I'll leave it to a talented scribe to sum it up. From Colins Ghost: "As wagering evolves in places where peer-to-peer wagering and bookmaking is permissible, the U.S. remains tied to a system that is conceptually brilliant but has become rigid and stultifying by the political forces that insist on sucking it dry."

Colin has the original DRF story linked, so for a bit of history, check it out!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Pie

Handle Pie

One myth that the racing industry repeatedly expresses is that the customer’s wagering dollar is like a pie, and every threat to racing is a threat to pilfer away some of our precious pie. Arguments supporting new ideas are immediately met with an accusation that it will take a big greedy bite.

The problem with this mentality is that it assumes the pie is fixed at a certain point, and that the status quo owns that much pie at any given point in time.

Racing though - like any industry - will rise and fall like a balloon based on simple economics; how many customers they have and how much money each spends. Economists call this demand. As most readers of this blog know, the primary demand influencer is price (in this case takeout) and the price of substitutes (in racing these would primarily be poker and sports betting).

I love logic so here’s a simple equation:

P1. The price of a good or service is inversely proportional to quantity demanded

P2. The price in the racing industry is the price of your bet, which is takeout


C. Increasing takeout will decrease wagering

For years the racing industry has acted as though takeout has minimal effect on demand. In other words the pie is fixed. In the past this would have been fairly true, because another influencer of demand is the price and availability of substitutes. Nowadays however, access to poker and sports betting is as simple as turning on your computer. The price of poker: 5%. (And you can even get a rebate on that.)

The racing industry talks in terms of takeout and customers, but it’s often as if they’re not even connected. If Betfair moves to a country and lowers the price, it not only results in more customers, but means an existing customer’s wagering dollar lasts longer. Getting hung up over a reduced price and not taking into account an increase in demand makes no sense.

And for those that say that most horseplayers don’t know or care about takeout, here’s this from CanGamble:
Horseplayers, like all gamblers realize when they come home with less money or more money. Lower the takeout, and bettors will come home with more money more often. This will be less discouraging than it is today with takeouts that average around 21% in the industry.

Lowering takeout allows bettors to last longer, and their desire to come back more often and play more often will increase.
If that increases, the likelihood that they expose friends, family, and/or coworkers to horse racing greatly increases.

This post isn’t saying lowering takeout or letting Betfair into new markets will be racing’s savior. Simply that the current attitude (looking at racing in terms of fixed revenue) is flawed.

Jules Boven is the Marketing Manager for Harnesslink and also runs a search engine marketing firm

Thursday Items

A big horseplayer thumbs up to NYRA for the Anti-slaughter policy announced today. You would not believe how horseplayers are behind such horse-centric issues. We hear from them all the time here at HANA.

Any owner or trainer stabled at a NYRA-operated track found to have directly or indirectly sold a horse for slaughter will have his or her stalls permanently revoked from all NYRA tracks.

Techno-talk: Twinspires is looking into apps and rolling out some new techno items for their internet platform in 2010.

Techno-talk II: Apps and new internet platforms will not succeed unless data is offered as free use, or affordable free use.

Community stuff: A member pointed out the Tampa Bay betting group online and working away at making some money at the meet that starts tomorrow. It's here if you are interested. To read our interview with Tampa's Peter Berube about lowering takeout and the upcoming meet, click here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Notes

Sign of the times? Mountaineer is chopping their schedule. h/t to Equidaily.

There are some good "tweets" coming from the Arizona conference. In real time you can follow some of the sessions. Overall you can see some by searching, like here. If you would like to follow someone, UShorseman is doing some fine reporting.

HANA Advisory board member John Pricci has a kick-butt column on late odds drops today. It is a neat discussion piece between two HANA board members, actually, as Cary was one of the first to lend us a hand here at HANA.

Jessica at Raceday360 links for us a piece: "I've spent time with companies that are shrinking their way to greatness. It doesn't work." Betfair exec at #RTIP More here.

Power Cap, in his usual no nonsense style, looks at NYRA versus Philly in this article. Nice illustration on how absurd some of the slots stuff has made the game of racing, from a fan and ROI standpoint.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Block Signals, Lose Customers

The current signal dispute between Tracknet and the Mid-Atlantic tracks seems to be at a standstill (note- we are reporting this at HANA Reports, as we get news).

One poster who is asking questions, hoping to be able to play racing and be a customer again is Mike. Mike writes:

"The player either goes offshore, enjoys his/her rebate and uninterrupted wagering signals and probably does not return to onshore pools. Or the player says screw this, I'm tired of the bs and decides to spend his/her dollar on something other than racing. Neither option is good for the game and the industry has no one to blame but themselves. That will of course be a problem being that the motto of this industry should be "It's not us, it's them!!!"

I've stated before that I'm a 30 year old horseplayer that wagers a considerable amount of money. You'd think racing would want to keep me around. They say they do, but their actions speak otherwise. This impasse is the final straw for me personally. If it doesn't get resolved by the time Gulfstream and Santa Anita begin, I walk away. It's actually not walking away, but more like being pushed out the door. Simple as that."

Maybe when we in racing complain we are not adding new fans to this grand game we can point not to an economy, or drugs in racing, or television time; we only need point to ourselves.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Trend Continues

"If the current trends hold, betting this year will be approximately $12.3 billion, the lowest figure since 1997. Racing hit a highwater mark in 2003, when handle was $15.2 billion. After hitting that mark, the figures slowly eroded for several years but then plummeted 7.3 percent in 2008."

More here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tampa Bay Downs - Lowering Take, Trying to Build Their Business

HANA had a phone chat with Tampa Bay Downs' Peter Berube about everything Tampa

A track lowering takeout? A track catering with on-track rewards programs? A track where the customer feels like he is wanted? These appear to be all things being tried at the Florida oval that is Tampa bay Downs.

Reaching Peter Berube by phone was not at all difficult. He is a player, and wants to talk racing. It is no secret that thoroughbred racing is going through tough times. If we had only held inflation since 1998 our overall handle would be approaching $19B. Instead, we are approaching $12B in 2009.

"We like many have lost the bigger player and they are tough to get back", says Berube.

At HANA this is no secret as our players have said they are playing less, or not playing much at all as compared to yesteryear. Bankroll growth, and interest in the game from the serious players perspective has lessened.

Despite this loss, Tampa is holding their own, and are doing so with good old fashioned price cutting and customer service. This year they have lowered takeout yet again. Only five years ago their takeout was almost 26% blended on exotics and close to 19% in WPS. This year, takeout on WPS pools is 17.5%, doubles 18%, horizontals 19%, exactas 20.5% and tris and supers 25.9%.

"I'm a player so I know about churn and takeout. Right now we are not seeing any major change in revenues, so if we can we will keep lowering it to find the right spot." says Peter.

In addition Tampa has added 50 cent pick 4's and tris, which as part of the HANA track ratings system was welcomed by horseplayers.

"I know that is something you [HANA] have asked for. I measure this and have for years, so we should be able to see if those bets help us", said Peter.

It does not stop there. Tampa has an ontrack player rewards program which is excellent. If you bet $8000 over the meet, for example, expect a 1.25% rebate. This places their effective takeout with the best overall tracks to play in North America in terms of price.

The exotics (pick 3 and pick 4) make for an interesting case study, and HANA believes that horseplayers should be well aware of how these lower prices can help him/her.

Let's do a simulation:

Player A plays $24 pick 3's at Tampa. He is a losing player and gets $110 back for each $120 bet in the pick 3's.

Player B plays at a track those same pick 3's in $24 bets, but at this track, the pick 3's have a 25% takeout.

What happens?

Player "A" at Tampa with the local rebate and lower takeout bets $118.50 for a return of $110, therefore experiencing bankroll shrinkage of $8.50 for each 5 bet sequence. Player "B" bets a full $120 for a return of $101.85 @ a 25% rake therefore loses $18.15 for each 5 bet sequence.

The Tampa player can churn $2808 (118 bets) before hitting ruin. Player "B" at the high takeout track will churn $1320 (55 bets) before going broke. The track nets $491.40 from player "A" (17.5% of $2808) and $330.00 from player "B" (25% of 1320).

In effect, you can play twice as long at Tampa with your bankroll as you can at the high takeout track!

This is not lost on players. It is a long held customer service contention that if you can turn your most ardent critics, you are doing something right. Rich Bauer is a player who takes his game very seriously. He after all, is the creator of, a website which informs players that racetracks are not doing what needs to be done for their customers. He is very dedicated to playing tracks that only he feels respect him, as we all should. When contacted, this often times vocal critic had this to say about Tampa:

"I've been going to Tampa since the winter of 2004. This year I will be there for all of January. It's about a 12-hour drive from where I live which can be done in a day although I usually break the trip into 2 days. I never really considered South Florida or SoCal for a racing vacation since I retired in 2004. Although we now stay on the Gulf, so it's about a 35-minute drive to the track, there are plenty of reasonable motel/hotel accommodations within a mile or two of the track. The place is clean and well kept. The employees are exceptionally friendly. The racing has improved every year and the turf course is as good as it gets. Valet parking is two bucks. So, what's not to like?

Tampa has been reducing takeout selectively and permanently for what I believe is now four years. Can you point to ANY OTHER RACETRACK that has done that? They do not have the luxury of being part of a major circuit. They do not have the luxury of significant purse supplements from alternative gaming. The management has a record of making measured changes in the betting platform as well as takeout and then monitoring how those changes affect their business. From a business perspective, it's hard to argue with their approach or their results."

In our recently conducted HANA survey, 59.6% of you said you would move a good portion of your play to a track that caters to your takeout needs. Tampa appears to be that track, so we encourage members to give this place a look. Nice weather, pretty deep fields, low takeout as compared to others where you will keep more in your pocket.

As Rich said "What's not to like?"

To sign up for HANA please click this link. We need your help. Please keep following the blog for more Tampa news as we hope to have some blog pieces up about playing the Florida track, from players who do.

To visit Tampa Bay's website you can here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Who is HANA? Member Demographics

Age- Gender - Term of Participation - Education - Location

As part of our recent HANA member survey, we captured some demographic data for the group, something we've all long wanted -- which goes some ways to answering "Who is HANA, anyway?". Not surprisingly, much of it closely aligns with the known demographics of horseplayers nationwide, but some things might be more unique to HANA.

Go to any track on an average day and two things will likely be immediately evident -- most people there will be male, and most will be middle aged or better. Attracting women and younger patrons has long been a concern for the sport, it's likewise a point of interest for HANA.


18-25: 1%
26-34: 3%
35-49: 27%
50-64: 49%


Male: 96%
Female: 3%
Decline to answer: 1%

From the age numbers, you could guess that there is a strong correlation with how long our members have been horseplayers, and you'd be right, more than 75% of our members have been horseplayers for more than 20 years.

Years of playing

0-5: 6%
6-10: 5%
11-20: 12%
21-30: 24%
30+: 54%

HANA members are the backbone of the sport, long time bettors that have put untold dollars through the windows over the years. They know the industry very well. However, these demographics also reflect upon a fundamental truth for the industry -- racing has simply not attracted a younger generation of players, and desperately needs to broaden and strengthen its customer base.

We appreciate all members tremendously, regardless of age or gender, and will continue full force to try to attract all types of members, but this does make one wonder if we could be doing more to attract some of the under-represented groups. We've recently experimented with some targeted advertisements on sites like Facebook in an effort to get the group in front of a different demographic, and we're open to any ideas and suggestions from members towards that end. We know that there simply aren't as many females and younger folks involved in racing, but we'd like to get as many of them as possible, their feedback is vital for everyone.

One really interesting thing that stood out in the demographic data was the education level of our group. I'm not sure what the results are for the entire population of horseplayers, but HANA members as a group are very well educated. For the US at large, roughly 30% of the population has a Bachelor Degree or more, HANA clocks in almost double that rate.

Education Level

No College: 8%
Some College: 33%
Bachelors or Higher: 58%

Those are pretty impressive stats, folks, likely reflective of many things -- among them the type of person who is attracted to handicapping in the first place, the above age demographics, and, possibly, some things about HANA specifically.


HANA is very pleased to have a very broad geographic distribution of members. We seek to represent members on the issues in every state, province, and locale in North America, and the data proves this out. They are so broad based that I'm not going to report them all, but here are the top locations:

11%: California
11%: New York
6%: Ontario
6%: Florida
6%: Kentucky
5%: New Jersey
5%: Pennsylvania
5%: Texas
4%: Massachusetts
4%: Illinois
3%: Maryland
3%: Minnesota

Overall, slightly more than 9% of our members reside in Canada, with the remainder being US based.

Next up we will look at betting stats. How often do members play, what do they like and don't like, how often do they play and how much do they bet?

If you would like to join 1400 concerned horseplayers and have your voice heard please click this link. It's free and you can help change racing for the better.

The HANA member survey was done last month, and contained 50 questions for horseplayers. The response to sample size ratio allows us to say that the survey results are statistically valid with 95% confidence.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Late Money

As we reported some of the survey results below, almost nine in ten members say that the industry must clean up the tote system. It seems late odds changes are beginning to wear on the fan base. Friday's race 5 at Hollywood Park seems to illustrate this well.

The eventual winner, Spirit of Cochise was 6-1 for almost all of the betting - until the very end.

That is (the green line is the money on Spirit of Cochise) a boatload of cash folks. All other horses lines move down, and Spirit's is like an Intel stock chart when announcing they beat earnings estimates by a football field.

What track execs do not seem to understand about this, is that we as horseplayers bet horses based on our perceived value. At 6-1 a horse is a green light or red light bet based on our thoughts about a 14% or so hit rate. The other horses are handicapped the same way. When a 14% chance horse is transformed into a 28% chance horse in one flash, it causes us serious difficulties as horseplayers.

The tote system in racing needs an overhaul. It is failing racings customers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Takeout Hike That Went According to Plan?

We are stumbling about researching some takeout data and we came across this.

It was a senate vote in Connecticut for "AN ACT INCREASING THE PARI-MUTUEL TAKEOUT RATE FOR OFF-TRACK BETTING AND DOG RACING EVENTS". And it is a little curious. They apparently upped the takeout rate on WPS one percent, and on exotics three percent.

They then say the effect of it is the following:

"The bill is anticipated to result in a decrease in General Fund revenue of $27,000 per year and a decrease in revenue of $23,000 per year to the municipalities that host pari-mutuel and off-track betting facilities. This revenue loss is due to an expected decrease in handle of 4% from the Plainfield Dog Track, the Bridgeport Dog Track, and Connecticut OTB. Total handle is anticipated to decrease as a result of an increased takeout rate because there will be less money returned to bettors for re-wagering."

This apparently passed 18 to 3.

We have no idea what happened with this, but we do know one thing: Dog Racing was discontinued a little under two years after this proposed, and very odd, legislation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Past Predicts the Future

Often times in the past eight or ten months we have read that racing might be willing to change. This change is hard to come by, however, and even today some people say our problems are only linked to the economy, and once that recovers everything will be good again.

I doubt that very much. Looking back at an article written in early 2008, it shows just how much our problems in racing are fundamental, and systemic. The losses in handle we going on long before bailouts, government spending, deficits and declining GDP.

From "We Need Change - And Fast" written early last year we can see how the fundmental problems in racing have hurt us, and continue to hurt us.

First, the author takes a look at an article from a Canadian newspaper, who is urging the government to stop supporting a sport (harness racing.... thoroughbred racing long died in that province) that can't seem to get out of its own way.

To see Quebec's harness-racing industry become a financial disaster brings both relief and exasperation.

Relief because the industry had hitched its fortunes to building racetracks in conjunction with video-lottery terminals, devices that have already wrecked countless lives. That the industry's VLT revenues are far below projections means the machines are sucking fewer people dry.

But even more irritating is that this was so predictable. Harness-racing here is as out of step with the times as is dancing the Charleston.

Update: Last month the government, despite efforts pulled the plug on any racing funding in that province. Racing is now dead in Quebec.

"Let us not forget that the horse racing industry started its decline several years ago. Since 1995, the government poured more than $450 million in subsidies to support this industry. In spite of this aid, the industry continued to regress. The evolution of wagering on horse racing proves this. In 1990, $315 million was wagered and fell to $136 million in 2008. More than 80% of the money wagered on horse racing is money wagered on horse racing that takes place outside of Quebec at Hippo Clubs."

Then we had this piece on the Bloodhorse - keep in mind this is long before any TARP funds, or declining stock markets. It asked questions of bettors upset with signal impasses and high takeouts. It was about this time that the Thoroughbred Horseman Group was asking for more and more money from signal fees, money that is usually passed on to bettors - a de facto raise in takeout.

“They have taken a great game and (expletive) on it,” said a bettor from New Jersey who also owns horses. “And they think the players will take whatever they give us. But if they don’t get it now, with the way things are going, they will find out later.”

A bettor from Canada, who estimates he wagered $3 million on horse racing last year, said about half of his money now goes through offshore outlets, which for now are spared the wrath of the signal war combatants, or bookmakers, which don’t process money through pari-mutuel pools.

“How many American businesses operate like this?” he asked. “It’s unbelievable: They don’t want my money. Getting a higher percentage of nothing is not a good return.”

He said he wants to support the racing industry, but may consider a return to sports book betting if he sees trends continuing to head south. “They’ve never had any respect for the bettors,” he said of racing. “Horse racing is so bad they don’t even know who their own customers are. Some places have lost my business.”

Players either want rebates, or have track takeout lowered closer to levels of casino betting, where the “rake” is often 10% or less.

“When online poker becomes legal, people are going to split,” the New Jersey bettor said. “The amount that the track takes out is already ridiculous. And the horsemen want more?”

The Massachusetts bettor, who feels only a powerful national commissioner’s office can rectify racing’s problems, squarely places fault at the feet of the warring horsemen and racetracks.

“I blame them both,” he said. “I blame the whole game. It’s gone too far and gotten too far out of hand. Handle will go down. And racetracks will go down.”

Today handle for 2009 should come in around $12.5B. If we just would have held inflation - plugged the holes in the ship and bailed as much water as was coming in - we would be about $19B in wagering. Those horseplayers quoted in the article were not "disgruntled gamblers", they were Nostradamus.

The writing was on the wall for years. This is not new, it is not the economy. It is racings unwillingness to change and make tough decisions on the systemic problems that it faces. The especially sad thing is that often we are not only unwilling to change, we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. For evidence of that all we have to do is look at the current signal dispute between Tracknet and the Mid-Atlantic tracks. Doing virtually the same thing to bettors they did in the Bloodhorse article long ago and not expecting to lose customers is not considered insanity in racing, it seems to be policy.

Oh and lastly, speaking of Quebec, with horse racing out of the way and culled from the gambling landscape, they are looking now to legalize online poker. "If all goes according to plan, Quebecers will be able to play poker online at a secure, government-regulated site by next summer."

If we are looking at the past to predict the future, maybe we should be buying a Phil Hellmuth book, rather than an Andy Beyer one. After all, as the New Jersey bettor said “When online poker becomes legal, people are going to split." They seem to be right on quite a few things.

Monday, November 23, 2009

HANA Survey - Tote, Rake and Poly

Nine in ten want tote problems addressed; Huge Majority worried about higher takeout, No consensus on artificial surfaces

We at HANA recently commissioned a comprehensive horseplayer survey of HANA members that we think might be the largest survey of its type done to date. It was constructed by a professional surveyor and it touched on myriad horseplayer issues. We are compiling much of it and it has been eye-opening to say the least. We’d like to share a few general themes. More will be reported later.

Overall we were extremely happy with both the response rate and the demographic breadth. Virtually every state and province had at least one responder and the response to sample size ratio allows us to say that the survey results are statistically valid with 95% confidence. Both standardbred and thoroughbred players were represented, and we noticed a lot of cross breed play. The average HANA member - like most horseplayers - is dedicated, older, bets or watches several times a week and has been playing and watching racing for many years. We were happy to have representation of the under 49 set though, and were equally happy to see both smaller players and larger players having a say.

For those that took the 50 question survey you know we touched on a great many issues (the questions themselves took us a couple of months to construct), and here are some highlights of your responses.

When we asked what your greatest concern was, and prompted you with six or seven possible answers, you chose “pari-mutuel takeout rates”. Only 3% of you said you were “not concerned at all” about this issue.

Your passion and love for the sport came through in question 14, where we gave you another list of things that you may or may not be concerned with. Six in ten of you were very or moderately concerned about the failings of the sport in capturing less and less of a national television audience. You want to see this sport grow, and to see it not growing, makes you very concerned.

For a couple of the other questions on the issues of the day, you showed you are solidly behind one thing, and completely split on another at the margins (we think this is not surprising when you read what they are):

For the question where you had to choose levels of agreement or disagreement: “The industry should spend the money to acquire a secure tote system fast enough to render odds in real time,” you spoke loudly and clearly. Almost 9 in 10 of you believe that this should be done. Years and years of betting a 7-2 or 3-1 shot at two minutes to post and seeing 9-5 or 5-2 at the half seems to have worn on us as horseplayers.

For the section on artificial surfaces it made for an interesting read. When we asked if you’d like us to do something about the issue and "make artificial surface racing a thing of the past", about one in four said “no”, one in four said “yes” and about half said they did not feel strongly either way.

We will be reporting more and more about the survey as time goes on here on the blog and at industry conferences, and we thank every one of you who took time out of your busy days to complete the survey.

As well, we will be coming back from time to time with questions to help us and we hope you participate again. Your voice is being heard- that we can guarantee.

If you would like to be a part of upcoming survey's it's easy. Join us at HANA here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Video

Mary Forney, blogmistress (I hope that is a word) supreme took some time to interview HANA Treasurer Theresia this past week at the Breeders Cup. She placed the interview up on her very fine blog, which encompasses pretty much everything when it comes to Cali racing.

If you would like to watch the interview where Theresia touches on many of the subjects near and dear to HANA you can here. I would submit she was the only woman there toting a workout and trip note binder but I could be wrong. We'll keep our eye out for that in the future.

Theresia will be at Hollywood Park again for the Turf Festival on the 28th and 29th. If you are a HANA member in the neighborhood please give us a mail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Melbourne Cup vs Breeders Cup - Choice and Price?

We were going through the wagering for the Breeders Cup - the news was good (about flat) - but then decided to check this years Melbourne Cup downunder for some comparisons.

It is difficult to get total turnover numbers, but this year our Aussie friends bet over $40M on the event at the "tabs" alone, which was up over 9%. The past 18 months or so as most know, competition and price breaks have been heating up downunder, beginning with the introduction of betfair. This has resulted in more choice and better takeouts for punters.

Takeouts on the tab are held at 16% overall (although with increases in exotic wagering/breakage it usually lies around 18%). As you may know, for many years if takeout over the course of the year is over 16% the overage had to be returned to bettors, not kept by authorities. To achieve that, often times zero percent takeout bets have been offered to horseplayers. In addition, at corporate, fixed odds bookmakers the competition does one thing - help the player. Takeouts can be as low as 6% or 7% on shorter shots as these firms scramble for business the old fashioned way.

There is a culture of fostering customer growth in Australia which is very different than here in North America.

Over US$130M has been bet on the Melbourne Cup in Australia alone, and this is growing.

Conversely, about US$150M was bet on the Breeders Cup this year, mostly at traditional 22% takeouts, and it has generally been only steady.

If Australia can bet $130M should we over here not do a whole lot better? Australia's GDP is about 30% smaller than Canada's. The US and Canada's GDP together are about $16 trillion, or 16 times more than Australia's.

It is pretty clear that consumer choice, more competition and the resulting lower prices are a good thing for turnover (and many would argue the sport of horse racing) there, and has made betting on horses something people "do". Will we in North America ever give it a shot?

Note: Final numbers are in - the Festival downunder set an all time record this year.

Photo courtesy

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Harness Bettors Getting the Message Through

At HANA we have upwards of 150 harness players, some large some small, and their passion for the sport is huge. Racing is racing, and racing has problems; the largest component of which according to many is the price of the product.

Over the last few years there has been a sea-change in thinking. Mention takeout in 2006 and you might be met with "how will we pay for purses with a lower takeout?". In 2009 this discussion is met with "we do not know our optimal price to maximize revenue, so we should be looking into it." This is no small change.

From time to time we see this discussion on industry sites for the most part. Almost always comments on these articles are from insiders. This is not surprising as industry trade websites are frequented by insiders - trainers, grooms, track executives and so on. Bettors, as we all know are on chat boards, gambling boards and betting blogs.

But a funny thing has happened of late. More and more we are seeing insiders themselves speak out about takeout and other issues that are important to the customer. One such example is on Standardbred Canada. That website is the record keeping one for harness racing - you can get entries, condition sheets, fines and suspensions, industry notices and more. It is the central destination for insiders.

Jack Darling, a stakes trainer who has had huge success over the years recently spoke out in an article - talking directly to his brothers and sisters in arms:

I have read some great ideas on this site and others. One is with regard to reducing the percentage of the take substantially from each bet to return more of the winnings back to the gamblers. I think this would be worth a try. Most of our purse money comes from the slots so I don't think it would cost us that much out of the purse account. If this was widely advertised to the gamblers and the betting public and they did respond by betting substantially more on the races we might even be dollars ahead as we attract new customers.

This piece spawned over 52 comments; and not your usual ones.

Jeff Gural, the New York real estate mogul responded directl to Jack's writing. As did Jason Settlemoir from Tioga - all in support of change.

Bettors in kind came to play - asking for price changes and more. They spoke with respect for this great game and with an eloquence that this is not about us, it is about the sport they love.

We need more dialogue like this on trade websites. We need to stoke the fires that change is not an option we should look at, change is vital to the survival of the game.

Give the article and the comments a read. You do not have to be a harness fan, you can be a racing fan of any type. The issues are all the same, and change is needed everywhere. By reading that piece, maybe harness racing will be the leader in this change.

Here is a comment on the piece from a management rep from two New York tracks. This is very good to see from management and we need more of it.

Hello Everyone,
I hope you will take some time to read this. Over the last month it has really started to sink into me that harness racing is dying and will never be the same within the next few years.

Those of you that know me personally know that I am an eternal optimist. My glass is always half full rather than half empty. I have devoted my life to harness racing since the age of thirteen when I called my first harness race. Today I find myself doing what I love best, promoting our sport at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs and I can't think of doing anything other than working in this industry. Our sport of harness racing has so many great aspects from the great horses to the wonderful people involved in our business, it is hard for me to sit idly and watch our great sport crumble and do nothing.

I hope you read the October 15th “Michigan governor vetoes funding for racing” article on Fortunately the Michigan Governor stepped in at the eleventh hour and saved the day, for the time being. “Harness racing in Quebec at a seeming end” appeared on the USTA website on October 20th and the recent article “Slots Revenue to Purses Reduced in Pennsylvania” on page thirteen of The Horseman and Fair World from the October 14th edition. I have to believe that other states will be reducing money to the horsemen in the very near future, like Pennsylvania has done.

Many of the recent yearling sales have seen declines. An exception is Ohio, which in my estimation, was up only because the number of horses being offered was down from previous years. The Morrisville Sale was down, the Lexington Select Sale was down (Wednesday down 13%, Thursday down 14%, Friday down 16.8%, Saturday down 11.2% and Sunday was down 24.6%). One bright spot was the Harrisburg Sale that saw an increase this year after falling last year.

One of the greatest racetracks to ever exist (in my opinion), The Meadowlands, is on the balls of their feet and is losing money each year. I can’t see the taxpayers of New Jersey footing the bill much longer, I could be wrong though. Have you seen the handle results from the Breeders Crown at Woodbine? In 2008 the Meadowlands $ 5,020,659 on 13 races, and in 2009 Woodbine on 12 races $ 2,686,982, over $ 2.3 million dollars down, and in 2006 when Woodbine hosted the Breeders Crown the handle was $ 3,813,910, down over $ 1.1 million dollars when comparing the event at the same place.

I think our customers have begun to speak loud and clear and they are telling us to change. Do we really believe that this sport would exist as it does now without expanded gaming in these jurisdictions? Is there a future in harness racing? Does anyone even care anymore? I have started to hear some chatter recently about moving forward and doing “something”, but actions speak louder than words. The time is now. I read somewhere once that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

These are the issues I believe we need to work on; first and foremost we need to fix the problems within our industry. First, we need to quit arguing amongst ourselves. Who is correct and who is incorrect will not amount to a hill of beans if we don’t have an industry to work in or on. We need to work on and with our number one people, the “customer”.

There is a newly formed group you may have heard of known as “Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA). We need to sit down with them as I believe our customer must come first. This group, in my opinion, has a realistic view on how to solve some of our problems in the industry. They identify one of the biggest problems as being the “takeout rate” at each track and "rebating". We must embrace the concept of the “takeout rate” being too much and we must also embrace “rebating”. Both of these topics come up numerous times on the HANA website . Please take a look at their website with a keen eye focused on what they are saying about the “takeout rates” and “rebating”.

We also need to address racing dates. Why should Pocono Downs and Chester Downs go at the same time of the year and why should Chester race right along with the Meadowlands and Yonkers, Are we not defeating our purpose? The Meadowlands pools are the only ones large enough to accommodate a “big bettor” in the United States, as far as harness racing is concerned. This issue needs to be addressed. We race way too much and to add insult to injury everyone races at virtually the same time. We are diluting our wagering pools to small amounts, offering the high players nowhere to bet the big money. The glut of racing results in horse shortages that cause small fields and produce an inferior product for the gambler, which in turn they don’t want to bet.

Next, I believe we need a marketing plan, but only after we fix our “inside the industry problems” like takeout rates, rebating, race dates, our integrity situations, cleanliness of racetracks, small wagering pools and programs being too complicated for beginners. Speaking of programs for beginners, I found it hard to believe (not really) that Tioga and Vernon were the only two regular users of the “beginners program” that the Marketing Committee at the USTA came up with.

Dr. Joan Zilinksi has again been commissioned by the United States Trotting Association (USTA) to report on the problems in harness racing. Her first report was released on August 19th, 1991, now it is almost 2010 and I bet when this next report comes out it will say many of the same things it said back then. It may very well report that the state of harness racing is much worse than in 1991.

From her report in 1991 I took this part about marketing “in fact, the best way to kill a poor product is through a lot of good advertising”. I simply think what she is saying we must fix our internal problems before marketing to the masses and I could not agree more. After we fix our “woes” we will need to address having a marketing campaign and I believe it needs to be not only grassroots but also nationally done through mass media, social networks and so forth.

We also need to keep our stars (horses) on the track. It’s no secret I am a big fan of the drivers in our sport and the work they do, but let’s face it, people love the horses and that’s why they come to the track. We often retire our great horses far too early, just as fans get to watching them and giving the fan no chance to get involved and watch them race year after year to create a following. Look at horses like Somebeachsomewhere, Deweycheatumnhowe, Muscle Hill, Explosive Matter, Well Said, and Vintage Master. Would it not be awesome to see Well Said, Vintage Master, Somebeachsomewhere, Mister Big, Art Official, Shadow Play, Won the West, and Shark Gesture battling it out against each other, at least for one year? If I had those horses at Tioga Downs or Vernon Downs we would pack the place with anxious customers who love the racing game.

Do you know what the sad part about this is? Casino operators don’t care one thing about horse racing and that seems ridiculous to me. At Tioga Downs we promoted the last night of racing in 2009 on Saturday, September 12th and we packed the place, and you know something, it was the biggest night we ever had on our gaming floor as well. The one thing casino operators don’t get or don’t understand is that 50% of the racing customers will play on their gaming floor.

There are so many things I would like to address to everyone but these are only a few of my observations and thoughts on the future of harness racing. I am certainly not trying to upset anyone and be negative as I said my glass is always half full and it will continue to be but sometimes I think it is just about to get knocked over. What I am trying to do is get the industry to wake up and encourage change. Seems like we have been in a deep coma for quite sometime and we need to encourage everyone and encourage change in our sport that we all know and care about. If you have any comments or suggestions or if you have ideas you would like me to explore I would be more than willing to at least try them if nothing more than at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. I am fortunate enough to work for a guy like Jeff Gural who has essentially taken the gloves off me and allows me to market and promote the racing side of our business. We welcome new ideas and thoughts at anytime.

I certainly do have to say that the recent Blog written by Jack Darling “We Must Act Now”; Jack Darling certainly does get it. I am ready to step forward and encourage change. Who else is ready? Hope to see everyone in the winners circle!

Best regards,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life Ain't Too Bad

No, those two Zenyatta fans are not Brian Urlacher and Kevin Bacon. They are of course, Ray Paulick and Brad Cummings. Ray and Brad on the drive across America raised a whole whack of money for injured jockeys. With all the bad news we see in racing - the fighting, the sometimes-not-so-nice arguing - there is news like this and that has to make one smile.

And clearly, Ray and Brad are Ray and Brad. They are not afraid to speak bluntly about some of their travels during the trip. I must say, I had a laugh when reading the piece for the Turf Paradise incident. Good news is good news and bad news is bad. Kudos to them for giving us the straight goods on their swing through Arizona. HANA is not the only place holding people accountable.

To read the synopsis from Brad, please click here.

Clicking around the interweb, we see another person giving it her all in racing. I don't know about you, but I find new fans infectious; maybe because I have been one since I was a wee lad and forget those days now. Dana Byerly is one such fan. Starting a blog called "Green But Game" which is emblematic of her newness to racing she commanded quite a following. She also got involved. She was on, for example, the Breeders Cup fan committee. She has always believed that racing can breed new fans if they work at it and she in part created a brand new website called "Hello Race Fans". This site, now in beta, is for the new horseplayer and fan. They can get answers to questions and in time should have everything they need in one spot to enjoy the sport as a newbie.

HANA works on the problems of the game. Most of our members are long-time fans. But we fully support the Dana's of the world - we need to bring this fine sport to a new fan base. We urge our members and readers with websites to link that site up, or alternatively if you have a friend that you have been trying to get interested in racing, send them that link. We can grow the sport at the grassroots fan level if we band together.

Well done Brad, Ray and Dana. It is a good news Friday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

HANA Newsletter Fall 2009

HANANews Volume 2 Edition 3

Welcome to this edition of HANANews – the Newsletter of the Horseplayers Association of North America

We have been busy here at HANA, blogging, meeting, organizing survey’s…… and it took us awhile to get this quarter’s newsletter out; but here is hoping it’s better late than never!

In this edition –

HANA Meetings at Yavapai

HANA Featured in Thoroughbred Daily News

HANA Welcomes Charlie Davis to the Board and John Pricci to the Advisory Board

HANA & Equibase, Working Together on Late Scratches

Cary Fotias - Pulling No Punches

The Maloney Report - Past Posting at Golden Gate? And Kentucky closing pools early

Survey, Survey and Survey

Tell a Friend & Shameless Plugs!

Arizona Bound – Twice!

In early August Jeff Platt was invited to Yavapai Downs by new Director of Racing Greg “Boomer”Wry. Boomer is a horseplayer and handicapping author and he wanted input from Jeff and all HANA members about racing in Arizona and what Yavapai could do to make it a better place for horseplayers. With a few HANA members in tow, the meeting took place in early August. Discussed at the meeting were the following, as Jeff stated on the HANABlog: “The topic of discussion will be horseplayer concerns: takeout, signal availability, pool integrity, drugs, quality of the product, and AZ's ADW law. HANA will be presenting suggestions for improving each of these critical areas. Track management and horsemen have promised us they will be listening.”

Jeff reported back that the dialogue was good and the track and horsemen did in fact listen. Jeff was invited back in late September and he hopped back into the car and headed there. He reported this next meeting was equally productive and both Yavapai and their horsemen are eager to work on some horseplayer-centric changes detailed by Jeff and crew. Jeff will have a full-report and more news as he receives it.

Bob Evans, Alex Waldrop, other heavy hitters…… and HANA?

HANA was contacted by ESPN’s Bill Finley in late July for a encompassing piece in the Thoroughbred Times entitled “A Prescription for Racing”. Jeff was interviewed along with Bob Evans, Steve Crist, Alex Waldrop, Charles Hayward among others. In the interview Jeff stressed the HANA vision of growing racing by being more receptive to lower prices, bigger fields, better choice and more interesting racing. If you get your hands on a copy or click this link (free registration required) I think you will enjoy the read.

Charlie Davis and John Pricci Join the Group!

Charlie Davis of Seattle Washington was named to HANA’s Board of Directors. Charlie, being a twenty-something horseplayer, brings a slightly different perspective to the HANA group, who have all been playing racing since they were old enough to bet. He has only been playing the races for five years, after being a sports bettor. We think that is a tremendous asset, as fresh new ideas from a newer generation is paramount to racings success, and it is a cornerstone of the HANA mission statement.

The duty of a HANA board member involves attending weekly meetings, championing new areas to expand the group, offering new ideas, member interaction, attending conferences as well as general duties. As board member Bill likes to say sometimes, "the pay is nothing, and you will probably get yelled at now and again". Despite that, Charlie agreed to help out. We are very fortunate to have him aboard.

We were so happy to have John Pricci join us as well in an advisory capacity. John is well-known in the racing industry. He spent 18 years at New York Newsday as an award winning journalist. He is currently the executive editor of Horse Race Insider, a popular website. John joins horseplayer's Cary Fotias, Barry Meadow, Dr. William Ziemba and Nick Mordin on the HANA Advisory Board

Mr. Pricci has been a member of HANA since almost its inception in late 2008, and was happy to join the organization in this advisory role: "It's become clear in a very short time that HANA, as a horseplayer's organization, is a serious handicapper's last best hope for their future, and the industry's!"

HANA & Equibase

In April, 2009 while we were in Lexington, Ky., for the first HANA Day at the Races at Keeneland, we met with Equibase CEO Hank Zeitlin and his management team. We talked about several issues that are critical to racing and we were given a tour of the Equibase facility.

When the subject of scratches and changes came up, everyone in the room admitted the current system in place was lacking. Reporting of scratches and changes had always been a point of player frustration. More so for players following and wagering multiple tracks online than for players following a single track while wagering at the track live.

While chatting with Hank that morning we let him know just how strongly we felt that there needed to be a reliable web-based source for scratches and changes information. While sitting at the table in one of Equibase’s conference rooms, I "white boarded" a design for a web-based system capable of getting the job done on a legal pad and showed it to Hank. I even volunteered to stay on in Lexington for the next several weeks (or the entire summer if necessary) to do software development work on the project for free.

I guess Hank must have seen how passionate we were about the need for the industry to do a better job in this one area. He agreed to a follow-up meeting which was held a few days later. From that beginning the idea of Scratches and Changes in Real Time became a reality.

In the end that is exactly what occurred. Equibase worked on it and achieved this for horseplayers. If you have not checked out the new system and want to you can at

Also, the above was taken from a feature story on the Paulick Report. Jeff wrote out exactly what happened, and how the system is to be used. You can read the entire piece on Paulick here

Cary Fotias – No Punches

HANA Advisory Board member Cary Fotias was recently interviewed in the Saratogian and it was quite a read. An example:

For a person such as yourself, what is the first thing you would correct, or effect, if you had the power?

“Lower the takeout, dramatically! The game will never grow without a lower takeout. And anyone who doesn’t understand that didn’t pass Economics 101. This industry has never been run in a free-market environment. The politicians and bureaucrats that are stifling this game have no idea where the laws of supply and demand meet to maximize profit for owners, trainers, the state and local government. They don’t have a clue. They just don’t get it, and the people who do get it don’t have the power to make it change.”

To read the whole story click here

The Maloney Report

HANA VP Mike Maloney has been following two stories - the potential past posting incident at Golden Gate, and the discussions surrounding closing the betting when the first horse enters the gate in Kentucky.

On Golden Gate: Here

"HANA's sources have confirmed that betting continued at least 40 seconds into the race in question. We've also learned that Golden Gate Fields, the CHRB, and the TRPB were unaware of the past-posting until it was reported by a player TEN DAYS after the race."

"Do racing leaders really believe that handle will grow under this level of security and oversight? "

On Kentucky Mike is sitting in on meetings where this is discussed. For background, click this blog piece.

If you have questions or comments on either of these two issues Mike will read them, so please email!

Survey, Survey, Survey!

Thank you all!

As you know, we recently sent out a link to our first ever member survey, and boy did you respond. Because we are horseplayers and we follow the sport, your emails, stories on industry sites and betting magazines, and chat boards, we have a good idea what we face and what issues are important. But nothing can be a substitute for hearing from you directly.

In August, at the behest of a member (thanks Dan) who does surveying as part of his job, it was relayed that we have reached critical mass and a member survey would have to be done. We constructed the questions over the next two months, and with Dan’s help and your support it was a success.

We are currently compiling the data, but right now be sure that you have spoken loud and clear and there are definitive themes that you all share. We’ll be updating you more and more on this, and we'll be continuing to structure policy based on your concerns.

Tell a Friend and Shameless Plugs

We asked you this once before and many of you helped, but we need you again. Please, if you all told one friend, just one, to sign up with your horseplayer group we will double our size. Those who have already done this, thanks, but can we ask those who have not to give it a try? Without monetary resources our only chance to grow is from you. We need your help!

In addition we are thrilled that some of you have helped out with donations and are wearing your HANA Member Pins. For those that have not and wish to help you can donate $20 or more and you receive your pin. They are pretty cool and we get comments on them all the time. You can get yours right here.

Bonus offer: The first twenty members who donate $20 or more, we will throw in a HANA Highlighter with your pin. It's perfect for marking up a racing form or program. Mine does not pick winners, unfortunately, because apparently you have to be a decent horseplayer for it to work.

Of course the HANA Store is always open. Hats, shirts and much more right here.

These are our two main areas to raise money for the group. In the next quarter we would like to run DRF ads, for example, and the cost at over $600 for a small ad is not cheap. We hope you can hit a tri or a super, think of HANA and maybe get yourself a pin or some HANA Gear to allow us to do more for HANA.

Want to Get Involved?

Contact Information:

Email:, or any of our first names followed by





Please visit us at our blog. We update that virtually every day and we love your feedback.

Thanks again to everyone for reading, and good luck and good racing. We’ll see you again soon.

Your HANA Team

Thank you John!

Original HANA member John Swetye recently, with life getting in the way, has left the HANA board. His work on getting this organization off the ground, attending meetings (for example, John who is from Connecticut actually came to Arizona to the Yavapai meetings!) and much, much more are appreciated by everyone. We would not be where we currently are without the hard work of John and we can not thank him enough for that.

Good luck John.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Magic Of The Daily Double

By Cangamble

Intuitively, if you make bets into a pool that offers a lower takeout, you would expect to do better in the long run. But when we are dealing with win bets versus multi-leg or other exotic bets, this is not always the case.

The takeout on daily doubles averages around 20% across North America, while the takeout on win bets averages around 16%.

I wanted to devise a way to prove without a doubt that a gambler should expect a better return on daily doubles over the parlaying of two consecutive winners. I think I've found the way using a very simple example.

In my example, there are four horses in 2 consecutive races and each horse has attracted the exact same money bet on them, and each daily double combination has also attracted the same exact money bet on them as well. Each pool has also attracted exactly $10,000 bet.

In the win pool, $2,500 has been bet on each horse. The total amount the track will payout is $8,400 (taking the 16% or $1,600 the track takes out). 8,400 divided by 2,500 equals 3.36, which means the odds on each horse will show up as 2-1, but the payoff odds would be 2.35-1. Without breakage it would be 2.36-1, and jurisdictions where they pay off to the dime instead of the nickel, the payoff would be 2.30-1.

So for a $20 win bet, you would get back $67. Now if you parlayed the $67 onto the winner of the second race, you would get back $224.40 (actually $224.45 without breakage, but even if you could parlay without breakage, you would be parlaying $67.20 onto a horse that paid $6.72, you would get back $225.79)

Now for the Daily Double. There are 16 combinations, which means that there is $625 bet on each combination. The track will pay out only $8,000 ($10,000 minus the 20% takeout). 8,000 divided by 625 equals 12.8, which means that each daily double has a probable payoff of $25.60. So if you took a $20 daily double, you would get back $256.00.

$256.00 is more than 13% higher what you would get by parlaying both horses breakage or no breakage.

It is like magic.

Lets see what would happen if you took a $20 wheel versus an $80 straight be in the first race.

You would get back $256.00 for your daily double bet, but you would get back $268 if you bet the $80 to win (4.6% higher than the daily double return).

Confusing? You bet.

Regarding daily doubles, generally you can get better than the 13% overlay if you stay away from program picks or newspaper selections. You could also expect an underlay when one or more of the horses wins at over 20-1 and the pools are on the small side, or if one of the top two leading jockeys win both parts.

Double probables can also be useful in finding live horses in the second leg most of the time due to the fact that doubles generally pay off as overlays. It is a great way to detect smart money.

Take the Breeders Cup Special Double bet:

#2 Life Is Sweet with: #1 Mine That Bird, $324; #2 Colonel John, $173; #3 Summer Bird, $166; #4 Zenyatta, $99; #5 Twice Over, $369; #6 Richard’s Kid, $164; #7 Gio Ponti, $176; #8 Einstein, $143; #9 Girolamo, $543; #10 Rip Van Winkle, $168; #11 Regal Ransom, $623; #12 Quality Road, $269; #13 Awesome Gem, $769

Total Double pool: $403,316

Life is Sweet paid $18, so based on double parlays paying a bit of a premium (so I assumed a $20 payoff for Life Is Sweet), the predicted odds were:
1 15-1
2 7-1
3 7-1
4 4-1
5 17-1
6 7-1
7 7-1
8 6-1
9 25-1
10 7-1
11 30-1
12 12-1
13 37-1

Zenyatta was a live horse as she was bet down to 5-2. Had Gio Ponte have won, the double would have been a big underlay. However, the third finisher (Twice Over) really took a lot of "smart" money.

It is easy to do the double calculations. Take the first leg payoff (round it up around 5%), and then divide that into the $2 probable payoff that is posted in the second leg for each horse. Subtract 1 and you have the probable odds. If the odds look like they are much lower than they should be, the horse is worth considering.

Again, these type of double calculations only work best on pools that have at least $7,000 in them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maloney on Golden Gate Incident

Yesterday the DRF reported that "Golden Gate Fields has forwarded information to the California Horse Racing Board and other racing investigatory agencies about a possible past-posting incident on its third race on the Sept. 26 card.."

HANA's VP of Wagering Compliance, Mike Maloney shares some thoughts:

A report in Wednesday's DRF provided more disconcerting news for horseplayers.

According to the report, past-posting possibly occurred on Golden Gate's third race on the September 26 card. The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau is investigating but is not able to determine when the race went off. Golden Gate general manager Robert Hartman said the track had already known a stop-betting command issued by Golden Gate's stewards had malfunctioned for the race, but the track was not previously aware that any wagers had been placed after the race started.

After reading this report, two questions occur to horseplayers. First, nearly two years after the Fair Grounds past-posting incident, how can Golden Gate and/or the TRPB justify not recording when the races begin? Second, If Golden Gate management knows the stop-betting command has malfunctioned, why not begin an immediate internal investigation to determine if past-posting occurred?

HANA's sources have confirmed that betting continued at least 40 seconds into the race in question. We've also learned that Golden Gate Fields, the CHRB, and the TRPB were unaware of the past-posting until it was reported by a player TEN DAYS after the race.

Do racing leaders really believe that handle will grow under this level of security and oversight?

If you think the industry needs to do more to protect the bettor's interests, please join us at HANA and make a difference.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Slots in PA - The Disconnect

A recent story today focused on slot machines at Pennsylvania racetracks.

Thanks to more than $500 million in state slot machine taxes, a Pennsylvania horse-racing industry that was dying only a few years ago is now the envy of the nation.

The infusion of cash has nearly quadrupled purse money and put the Keystone State on the map.

Good news there. But how about for customers?

For our members who play harness racing they are not overly thrilled are they? When the tri and superfecta takeouts at Pocono are 35% why would they - that takeout is more than the Massachusetts state lottery!

How about for the thoroughbred tracks. Maybe they helped the customer with this massive influx of cash.

Well, Philadelphia Park is rated 63rd out of 72 tracks rated in North America in the HANA 2009 ratings. They received a takeout grade of "D".

Presque Isle must have done better so let's scan that sheet again. Whoops, no they did not. They are ranked 68th.

So a huge amount of slot cash and a "success story", huh? For HANA members who are horse owners it is a pretty good thing, for HANA members who are customers, it appears they have been left out.

Total handle in Pennsylvania fell 15.3% or almost $100 million between 2006 and 2008.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Are Racing Execs Ready For Change?

John Berry the Publicity Director at Pompano Park in Florida penned a column recently, where he sounds not like an industry insider, but like a horseplayer, or wagering economist.

Like one of our members when he was the Kentucky Racing Czar for a day, John asks the question we have been asking for years - why in heavens name are we not using slot money to lower takeout? He is calling for an 8% win takeout.

I believe that just a tinge of the money that has gone for higher purses could be used to put racing on a competitive field for the bettors.

The “New Deal” begins with the thought that racing would be well served to lower the take-out to roughly the same as slots. That would mean a 92 percent payback

This article is a must read for everyone in racing. Mr. Berry has the math right and shows he has a good grasp on churn, takeouts and what our business needs to do to survive and grow.

Hat tip to View from the Grandstand.