Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Bettors Look to Tampa"


Although the handle bump was linked to two major tracks being canceled, there were still upwards of 20 tracks racing Saturday for players to choose from. Tampa over the last several years has been pretty horseplayer centric, moving takeouts lower and ensuring decent field sizes. Although handle in 2010 has started off poorly across North America, it is nice to see that slowly horseplayers (these things never happen overnight, it takes time) are choosing some tracks like Tampa that are listening.

For our look at Tampa with our piece "Tampa Bay Downs - Lowering Takeout and Trying to Build Their Business" click here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Causality Center Stage at the Tables

Last week it was reported that in 2009 the game of blackjack slipped in popularity (and revenue) to Las Vegas casinos.

"blackjack’s share of the casino revenue pie was just 9.7 percent of all revenue, the first time its slice ever dropped below 10 percent. And the win or "hold" percentage last year was just 11.3 percent, the lowest level ever recorded in Nevada." says the article.

It is no shock that revenue would have went down with the economy, but why is blackjack less popular as compared to some other games? Why has their hold percentage gone down?

It appears it is due to changes in the game which has made it more difficult for both professionals and casual players to leave with more money than they came with.

"Casinos in recent years have tightened the rules on blackjack – the payoff for a natural blackjack has been reduced from 3-2 to 6-5 at many tables, dealers often have the option of hitting a soft 17 and the rules governing splits and doubling down are less liberal than in the past – all of which should result in a higher hold percentage for the house."

So, the game was made harder and the "takeout" was increased. The result of that has been the opposite of what was expected.

"In a sense, the casino’s desire to squeeze more money out of the blackjack tables has actually backfired, with the result having an opposite effect," said a floor supervisor at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. "In addition, many casinos have raised the table minimums, which have driven away the casual players, and the tighter rules have pushed high-end players to other games, such as baccarat."

According to the floor supervisor, these changes hit smaller players hard. They did not make a conscious decision to quit, they just quit; and they were important.

"Those players were crucial to the casino’s bottom line," he said. "When you have every seat filled at a table– even if they’re only $5 players – you have a steady income stream subject to the 12 percent hold."

We don't hear much about that in racing, even though we directly parallel the blackjack experience. We know, because mathematics and the laws of economics says so, that the increases in take the past 40 years in racing has slowly driven players away. In addition, we have made the game more difficult to win with subtle changes, as well. Exotics have been pushed hard and those are harder to hit than in the 1970's where win betting was more prevalent, as an example.

Horseplayers did not draw a line in the sand loudly proclaiming they were leaving; they simply had no more money to play. It's the affect to the cause.

While we in racing, with literally hundreds of horsemen groups, governments and tracks, are unable or unwilling to respond to this problem, it will be interesting if the large casino's lead the way and change their blackjack rules to the way they were. After all, one thing we know about casino's: they like money. And right now they are not seeing that from blackjack.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chippin Away

John Pricci:

"A few years ago, something like that quietly occurred in New York when a portion of the parimutuel takeout was redirected by law to pay for Racing and Wagering Board operations. America in action: Create a regulatory agency then eventually allow horseplayers to pay for it."


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Track and Weather Conditions Added to Late Changes Page

Via Press Release:

Horseplayers can now obtain current track conditions, weather information and forecasts throughout the day for all racetracks in the United States and Canada when accessing the Today's Scratches & Program Changes page on, it was announced today by Equibase Company President and COO Hank Zeitlin.

The availability of weather and current track conditions from Equibase will certainly provide horseplayers with another valuable tool as they consider their wagers from off-track locations, said Jeff Platt, president of Horseplayers Association of North America. HANA continues to strongly encourage all racetracks to post their scratches, program changes and track conditions as early as possible on race day.

Current weather and forecast information for racetrack locations is provided through a license agreement with Weather Central LLC, and the track conditions, as with scratches and program changes, are updated live at the track via eBas, Equibases proprietary Internet-based data collection system.

The Today's Scratches & Program Changes webpage is accessible via a link on the homepage as well as on The information is also available for electronic retrieval, which enables value-added resellers, tracks and other industry organizations to provide timely changes and scratches to their respective customers.

Horseplayers can also register to receive an RSS feed for each track they are playing, enabling instant delivery of information to their mobile device.

Equibase Company is a partnership between The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and serves as the Thoroughbred industry's official database for racing information. Its website,, features a comprehensive menu of free entries, results and race charts as well as premium handicapping products from past performances to selections for handicappers of every skill level. The site is also home to Virtual Stable, which provides free e-mail notification of entry, result and workout information for horses that fans want to follow. Virtual Stable also offers seasonal race series notifications, a once-daily report of activity for contenders for the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Weather Central LLC is an industry-leading developer of personalized weather and traffic digital content, providing solutions to hundreds of television stations, websites and newspapers nationwide and to over 2 million consumers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Big Squeeze

"Short-sighted policies, like raising slot takeout, blamed for much of casino revenue losses" - Stratton

Las Vegas casinos have had a tough time lately, and all of it is not economic related. According to a three part study on gaming today, a good deal is self-inflicted, because of poor customer service, and squeezing customers out of more and more money, inhibiting their enjoyment.

"Casinos are far more interested in getting the money as quickly as possible, to satisfy Wall Street projections or make interest payments on overvalued loans," said Michael Meczka, president of Los Angeles-based MM/R/C Inc. and a 30-year member of the American Marketing Association.

Just like in racing, where we have seen signal fee squeeze from places like Tracknet, and takeout increases at places like Los Alamitos, casinos are treading on dangerous ground according to Meczka:

"How can we extract more revenue from our customers?" he believes is a wrong headed policy.

One of the major items was an increase in takeout on slots.

"Increas[ing] the hold percentage by 1 percent, decreases the playing time by 17.5 percent"

Although a short term bump can occur, in the long term this hurts customers.

The "success" of these policies, however, will eventually doom the casinos, Meczka said. "Ultimately, customers will have less satisfaction with the casino experience," he said, adding that customers will eventually reduce their frequency of visits, cut back on the amount spent and, eventually, stop coming to the casino altogether.

Sound familiar?

Interestingly, these losses have not hit the poker tables; but a couple casinos have tried to mess that up, by charging more. In time, it backfired. One casino tried to increase limits and it failed. They had to go back to old limits.

The author contends that gambling should follow poker, and make sure the squeeze does not happen any longer; customers can be brought back if so. It is all based on one simple premise - that customers have to win money, think they can win money, and if they do they will come back and play.

He recommends: 'The hold on slot machines should be reduced, so that players have "more time on the device." he said. "Implementing these strategies will positively reinforce the player’s experience, resulting in greater satisfaction, a higher likelihood of returning."

Help people win by offering them a chance to win, you will thrive. Do the opposite (i.e. raising takeout) and over time you will fail. Simple isn't it? So why does racing keep squeezing customers in the face of 35-40% handle losses the last decade?

Your guess is as good as ours.

(ht to John G at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pizza Pie

At times we are critical of racing at HANA. But it is for a reason. We hope those who are making decisions for racing will take a few moments to watch these two clips. We sincerely hope they think of the grand history of racing, their place in it, and their passionate customers while they are.

Part II

ht Jeff Porchak at Standardbred Canada.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Ways to Do Business

Two items this morning.

Ray Paulick has a post up from Barry Irwin, titled "Racings value, Where's the Beef?". In the item, Irwin asks for tracks and horseman to get together on medication (the high costs are murder), feed (there has to be a cheaper way) and takeout - he calls for 12%.

He is one of several lately calling for a takeout at that level - and they are not the usual suspects, i.e. bettors. They are industry insiders.

Secondly, a harness fan pointed us to this interesting article on This is the site for the "Harness Eye" a very good past performance sheet available throughout many parts of the US. They have proprietary speed figs, trip notes and a ton else. Several players have been asking for these to be available online. The editor of the site offers this about those questions (bolded part mine):

..... inquiries on the status of our past performances are something I simply will not be able to answer with any certainty. In fact, I’ll clear the air on that subject right now. In the early stages of 2009 we began supplying FREE past performances on our site for select Meadowlands and Yonkers cards to help promote the sport and increase the scope of our product. Unfortunately, we were asked to cease these postings by the United States Trotting Association. While we maintain a contract to utilize data from the USTA to produce our print products, any electronic distribution of our past performances is forbidden. I would certainly encourage our customers or anyone out of our print area to contact the USTA at 877-800-8782 or e-mail Executive VP Mike Tanner at Mike is a great guy who is committed to the sport. Let him know you would like a choice when purchasing electronic past performances. Voice your opinion that Harness Eye offers a superior product. We want to be able to offer you our past performances when you want them and in the most convenient method possible. Help us help you by making your voice heard.

It's a problem when an entrepreneur can't offer promo past performances for a card of racing, to up the bet, and maybe get a few people energized about the product. We have said it before and we will say it again: Data deals signed and constructed before the internet was introduced should be thrown in the trash can and we should start over.

It's a new world out there and we have to stop acting like we are still living in the old one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

HANA/Arizona Stakeholder Meetings - Is Online Wagering For Arizona Horseplayers a Step Closer to Reality?

On September 19th 2007, Arizona House Bill 2694 became state law. This bill "made any individual outside of a licensed racetrack or off-track betting facility that accepts a wager or bets on the results of a race is guilty of a class six felony, which can bring imprisonment." Immediately, ADW's like Youbet pulled out of Arizona, and horseplayers could no longer enjoy the sport of horse racing over the internet. Arizona racing fans were understandably upset, and they spoke with their dollars.

Two and a half years later, we are happy to report this might be changing.

On Monday January 25, 2010 the Arizona Department of Racing held a meeting termed an Internal Industry Discussion Forum. Present at this meeting were representatives from Yavapai Downs, Turf Paradise, The Arizona HBPA, The Arizona Racing Commission, The Arizona Department of Racing, The Arizona Attorney General's Office, and several members of the Horseplayers Association of North America, led by President Jeff Platt. HANA had first met with Arizona stakeholders in August of 2009 to present the idea of agency wagering as an alternative to the present lockout, and this was our third such meeting.

The meeting was held at the request of Yavapai Downs General Manager Gary Spiker and Director of Racing Greg "Boomer" Wry. The purpose of the meeting was to allow representatives from Yavapai Downs to present a proposal to the Department for Agency Wagering and to allow for questions and comments from various interested parties among Arizona's Racing Industry.

Agency Wagering is very similar to Account Deposit Wagering - the key difference being that under the proposal Yavapai Downs would be acting as the agent as opposed to an outside vendor. If adopted, the proposal would allow Arizona's tracks and horsemen to operate their own ADW and retain a revenue share similar to what they retain when wagers are made at a track or otb. Players who are currently shut out because of Arizona's ADW Law would have a way to wager on races over the internet.

HANA representatives spoke up in favor of the proposal, not because we think it represents the ideal model (it doesn't) - but because we see it as a complete reversal from the thought process that led to creation of Arizona's ADW Law making it a felony for players to wager on races online or by telephone.

The proposal appears to have the support of Yavapai Downs, The Arizona HBPA, The Arizona Department of Racing, and Arizona players, but not the support of Turf Paradise.

The proposal is still in its infancy and faces significant hurdles before it can be enacted. Arizona's ADW Law states that wagers can only be accepted if they are made "within the racing enclosure"; the implication being that wagers made outside the racing enclosure constitute criminal activity.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office will need to examine the proposal and decide whether or not wagers submitted over the internet to equipment located at Yavapai Downs owned by Arizona's Tracks and Horsemen would in fact be wagers made "within the racing enclosure." If a favorable ruling is given, then look for the proposal to move forward.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office will also need to examine the proposal in light of the Indian Gaming Compacts between the State of Arizona and Arizona's many Indian Tribes. The Compacts give the Tribes exclusive rights to "Expansion of Class III Gaming" within the State Of Arizona. If Yavapai's proposal for Agency Wagering is determined to be "Expansion of Class III Gaming" as defined in the Tribal Gaming Compacts, "poison pill" provisions in the Compacts provide for significant reductions in annual revenue paid by the Tribes to the State of Arizona along with unlimited "Expansion of Class III Gaming" on the part of the tribes. The political climate in Arizona remains conservative. Nobody holding a public office in Arizona wants to be known as the one who allowed the Tribes to trigger the "poison pill" clauses in their compacts.

Despite these and possibly other hurdles - we expect Yavapai's proposal for Agency Wagering to be submitted to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for review sometime in the very near future.

No matter what the outcome of the opinion handed down by the State Attorney General's Office, at least one track in Arizona, Yavapai Downs, is making an effort to reach out to players. HANA sees this as a player friendly first step -- hopefully the first of many to come.

We have had continual discussions with Yavapai and we hope to make further announcements as those steps are taken.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tampa HANA Day Getting Closer

On February 6th several of us are visiting Tampa Bay Downs for a HANA Day at the races. At 11:15 sharp Tampa has given us a venue to hold a meeting, then let the winning (or in my case losing) begin.

For those who have not contacted our point woman on this, you can by emailing Theresia @ (no spaces).

We will send out a reminder later in the week should you be in the area and want to spend some time with horseplayers.

Everyone is looking forward to it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Savin' Me

The great philosopher Locke, no not him, Plato.... no..... it was Chad Kroeger from Nickelback, wrote in Savin' Me:

Show me what it's like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I'll show you what I can be

Thanks to a tweet from Jessica at r2, Frank Mitchell pointed us to this poignant, all-too-true post titled "Who Will Save Us" from a marketer to compare to racing.

If by save you mean, "what will keep things just as they are?" then the answer is nothing will. It's over.

We need to get past this idea of saving, because the status quo is leaving the building, and quickly. Not just in print of course, but in your industry too.

In racing, if many of the things needed to be done are done, there will be losers. It might be a feed man at a small slots track who will have less or no business. It might come in the form of lower betting revenues as we reprice the product. There will be job losses, purse losses and some tracks might close. Life will be very different. When you save yourself, rather than having someone save you, life is never the same.

As the author closes: "Every revolution destroys the average middle first and most savagely."

If he is indeed correct, does racing have the stomach for that?

Related Posts: Frank Mitchell on the breeding end of "Saving Us".

Monday, February 1, 2010

He is Correct!

Alex Waldrop is correct. 100% correct.

In his new column he relays what he heard this past weekend at the NHC Championship (congrats Brian!) from horseplayers.

- Their message to tracks: Price matters. According to one very knowledgeable race and sports book operator I spoke with in Vegas, they are seeing a steady migration of players from horse racing to sports betting and other gaming. Why? Lower takeout on casino games and sports betting are a big part of the reason.

- Their Safety and integrity matter. If you think the way you treat your horse is a private matter between you and your vet, think again

- Their message to regulators: Be tough but fair in regulating the game. And be consistent.

We at HANA have surveyed horseplayers, written hundreds of blog pieces, attended dozens of meetings. We have conveyed this now for some time.

It is not a me versus you debate, it is an us debate.

We don't want lower takeout because we are greedy - we want lower takeout so we can bet more and encourage others to bet more by saying to new people "you have a shot to beat the races, so come join us".

We don't want safety concerns looked at because we really like to see tracks be regulated. We want safety and integrity because we feel with it we will have a better sport, and if we have a better sport, we can grow.

We don't want drug policy because we are zealots. We want a consistent drug policy because we love horses and want them treated well. We want cheaters to be charged because they hurt the game. We don't want honest horsemen charged and thrown out for making a minor mistake. We want a good policy with teeth to grow the sport of horse racing, for bettors and horse owners. Heck, almost 20% of HANA are horse owners.

Very well done regardless Alex. You summed it up pretty well.