Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Voting With Your Dollars Earns You Respect"

As we are growing we are seeing more and more member feedback, regarding myriad issues. One such email recently was offered by a Northern California HANA member, who has been helping out from day one, and one of the groups biggest supporters. He reflects on the HANA ratings, the Mike Mayo and Ross Gallo idea (read it here), and horseplayers in general.

Talking Amongst Ourselves

With a new proposal for collective horseplayer action having been put on the table just recently, before HANA and its members proceed I thought it might be a good time to reflect on something first.

I would have to say that in my mind the HANA track ratings were a full success. They generated a lot of publicity for the group, they were carried by major media outlets, and they generated much debate amongst horseplayers as the Top 20 rated tracks were revealed.

Something very important though was lost amongst the debate of “this track should have been rated above that track”, and “why wasn’t this track rated higher?”, and “are you kidding me that that track was rated that high!”, and the chants of “TOGA! TOGA!” – and that was the letter grade given to each track. While it is human nature for us to want to pay a lot of attention to who is at the head of the class, to see who is #1, and to debate relative rankings, there is a group that did not get a lot of attention – the tracks who received failing grades.

On the Version 2.0 ratings which are soon to be released, there are 29 tracks that received a D or below. Taken as a group they are ghastly – they have some of the worst racing in the nation, at some of the worst facilities, and at almost universally the highest prices. To add insult to injury, many of them receive generous slots subsidies.

Now HANA giving these failing tracks failing grades is not going to be a big media story carried on some of the well known Thoroughbred news sites, and they probably aren’t going to receive the same kind of horseplayer scrutiny that the Top 20 list did. This is a shame, because they should receive the most attention of all.

Let’s take Philadelphia as an example. They have one of the most onerous takeouts in the country at 26-30% on all exotics. There are lotteries available that pay out at higher rates. And yet, depressingly, they pull in over $110,000 per race in exotic bets. As the customers to the industry we must come to grips with the fact that we vote with our dollars. And there is no question that every dollar bet into a 30% rake undercuts the message we are trying to send to the tracks.

If we want the respect of the industry, if we want them to treat us as anything other than degenerates (which, let’s be honest with ourselves, is by and large how we are perceived) – then we must be conscious of how and with whom we wager. We must remember that every dollar we bet sends a message. Every time a track takes in a wager they see that as an “Atta boy. See -- we’re doing a good job. Another happy customer”.

So before you make your next bet at one of these tracks, think long and hard if that is precisely the message you wish to send them – because that is how they take it.

One other thing that must be brought up when takeout is the subject is rebates. Some HANA members I am certain are receiving healthy rebates at even the worst rated takeout tracks – likely enough in many cases to make them quite playable. So far as I can tell there is just no way around it – without some solidarity things are not going to change. So long as tracks are seeing their pools flush (even though we would argue they could be much larger) they aren’t going to be inclined to make the changes they need to make. And that won’t happen without rebate players standing up and voting with their dollars as if they were paying full takeout prices. At least until rebates are available on a much broader basis than they are now – there needs to be some solidarity on this front.

I am not necessarily calling or suggesting that HANA should call for an across the board boycott of these tracks, although I have to say I wouldn’t be unhappy if they did so. What I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be necessary for HANA to call for it.

This is not about being negative, or trying to hurt any tracks. I will not play Philly Park, or Assanoibia, or Laurel, or Fort Erie, or quite a few others – because 26% takeouts are not ok. They are bad for you and they are bad for me. They are also bad for the tracks, and bad for the horsemen. They are bad for everyone. By betting I would be telling them that it is ok. The decision not to play is not about a token protest, or something to be done for a limited duration, or about an action that draws in press coverage.

If we want change, we must systematically and consciously move our wagers to those venues that offer us more of the things we want. We must vote with our dollars, they are and always will be the most potent form of clout we have in this industry.

If you choose to wager at tracks that charge outrageous prices for a below average product – don’t be surprised if they don’t give you a lot of respect. You prove to them, with every wager you make – that they don’t have to.


Anonymous said...

Agree 100%

Some of these takeouts are a joke. It's a hard enough game without taxing 25-30% right off the top! I'm taking a look at the HANA ratings, and see who is offering me the best deals.

Anonymous said...

Bravo to the author. I'm far from a big player, but, since I'm primarily a win bettor, I've made a personal policy to play only lower vig tracks, e.g. NYRA and California tracks, Churchill, Keeneland, and, at times, Gulfstream, Monmouth and Woodbine. Like others, I do this to reduce the tax that I have to pay to play. BTW, where is the best, most consistent source for correct track takeouts? (Some sites that claim this still have NYRA at 14%.)

HANA said...

Hi Anon,

"where is the best, most consistent source for correct track takeouts? "

We are working on getting that up. Right now there is no published area on the web with up to date takeouts. HANA Track Ratings Ver 2.0 will have up to date takeouts, field sizes and several other categories that you can use. We hope to have it sortable. Also, since January we have received numbers on several smaller tracks as well. When we get it up we will note that on the blog.

Thanks for the comment.


Anonymous said...

Anon 9:50, Woodbine has some of the highest takeouts in the industry on exotics, and their win takeout isn't that good at 16.95%.

As for the post, in my case, I know it is a dilemma when you are advocating low takeouts and then turn around and bet on tracks where you can get a high rebate because it has a high takeout to begin with.