Monday, November 29, 2010

Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) Adds World Bank Economist & Horse Owner Cal MacWilliam to Advisory Board


(November 29, 2010, Charlottesville, VA) - The Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) is very pleased to welcome Mr. Cal MacWilliam to its advisory board

Cal MacWilliam is a small scale Thoroughbred owner-breeder and recreational horseplayer. He holds a Ph.D in Economics and has taught Economics at Vanderbilt University and Carleton University. Cal lives in Bethesda, Maryland, his horses reside at Ghost Ridge Farms in York, Pennsylvania, and he is currently employed at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. as a Senior Economist. He was a running quarter horse trainer during his college and graduate school years and undertook a variety of academically oriented economic analysis of the racing industry at that time.

Having now returned to the industry after some 25 years away, he is currently investigating alternative takeout approaches and improved industry pricing models in close cooperation and collaboration with HANA. The goal of his efforts, being to return racing to its preeminent position as the natural and favored choice for the consumer's gaming dollar.

“After discussing some of Cal’s pricing ideas, and exploring his obvious love for horse racing we thought this would be a great fit. We believe to have someone like Cal, studying and sharing views on takeout and the economics of wagering, will not only be an asset to HANA but to the industry as a whole” said HANA President Jeff Platt.

HANA looks forward to keeping horseplayers (and the industry) updated on Cal's work via our blog in the coming weeks and months where he will be sharing his thoughts. The blog can be accessed here:

The Horseplayers Association of North America is a grassroots group of horseplayers, not affiliated with any organization, who are not pleased with the direction the game has taken. HANA believes that both tracks and horseman groups have become bogged down with industry infighting and have completely forgotten something: The importance of the customer. HANA hopes, through proactive change on several key issues (including but not limited to), open signal access, lower effective takeouts, wagering integrity, affordable data and customer appreciation, the industry’s handle losses can be reversed. HANA is currently made up of over 1700 horseplayers (both harness and thoroughbred) from almost all states and Canadian provinces. It currently represents over $75,000,000 of yearly racing handle.

Our web address is and interested horseplayers can sign up there for free. We are horseplayers, just like you and we are trying to make a difference. We need, appreciate, and ask humbly for your support.


Friday, November 26, 2010

We Tweeted this but.......

.... it is worth a mention on the blog too. Todd's take on the customer, with a video.

"If you talk to the bulk of the knowledgeable customers (the gamblers for those that haven’t figured that out yet), they are pretty universal in what makes them happy. They also are not shy about telling you what makes them unhappy if you take the time to listen.

1) They think takeout is too high.
2) They question the integrity of the pools.
3) They believe drugs are rampant in the sport.
4) They hate being held hostage to tracks, groups of tracks, or the horsemen. They believe they should be able to wager on whatever track/pool they want to … through their preferred outlet for wagering.

Now there are countless other smaller things they would love to see too, but these are the big four for most knowledgeable players. You know the 80-20 rule? Guess where 80% of the handle is coming from? Yep, the customers that care about the big four.

Racing needs to remember who the customer really is, and get to work on these things first. "

Much more at the link

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Life At Ten Debacle

It's Breeders Cup Friday. Horse racing takes center stage. Life At Ten, a mare that has garnered her share of national attention, appears to be tying up during the post parade and pre-race warm ups.

The mare is so noticeably off that Jerry Bailey, who is working as part of ESPN's broadcast crew, decides to ask jockey John Velazquez if Life At Ten is ok.

Velazquez told a worldwide television audience, not once but twice, that Life At Ten was not ok.

Despite this, the horse wasn't scratched. Instead, she was loaded into the starting gate. And when the gate sprang, Life At Ten showed no interest in running and lagged badly behind the field. Fortunately, Velazquez did not persevere, and Life At Ten was eventually pulled up.

Amazingly, after the press started asking questions about the incident, Chief Steward John Veitch allegedly suggested a gag order be implemented going forward, apparently to prevent jockeys from talking about this type of incident - as if a rider answering questions was somehow the root of the problem.

A number of players and HANA members have told me in no uncertain terms that as HANA's President, I should have immediately called for Veitch's head on a plate.

A number of HANA members and players have also asked why HANA has been silent about the Life At Ten debacle. (And make no mistake: It was a debacle.)

It's a valid question. One that deserves an answer.

Please do not take our silence to mean we approve of what happened or the apparent attempt by Veitch to sweep it under the rug. We are every bit as incensed and bewildered over the events surrounding the Life At Ten incident as you are.

Our mission at HANA is to give horseplayers a voice. As a way of achieving that, we strive to shine a very public spotlight on racing's many debacles (and yes, there are many.)

Almost immediately after the Life At Ten debacle, we looked around and noticed that a very public spotlight was indeed pointing out the events surrounding the Life At Ten incident.

Frankly, once we saw that a spotlight was being pointed at events surrounding this incident, we felt that not only was the job being done, but that is was being done well.

Jeremy Plonk's column at about this incident is an excellent read:

Here are some other links to coverage of the incident:

Thoroughbred Times:

Paulick Report:

NY Post:

Turf N Sport:

In closing, we would like to ask racing's decision makers the following (obvious) questions:

What assurances do we as bettors have that measures will be taken so that an incident of this type will not be repeated?

Can you not see that racing is a gambling game?

Do you not understand that integrity is one of the requirements for running a successful gambling game?

In the hearts and minds of thousands of bettors everywhere, failure to scratch Life At Ten was a breach of the public trust, as was failure to test the horse after the race. If ever a horse should have been subjected to a full battery of drug tests, it was Life at Ten after the 2010 Breeders Cup Ladies Classic.

Jeff Platt
President, HANA

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If Racing Was Pogo Sticks

A HANA member sent us along a note about a recent article on The article relayed how slots are helping horse racing. Helping how? Well, supply factors are up. Of course, sales and demand are down. Regardless, this clever member changed the word "racing" or "horse racing" in the article to another industry to see if he could become objective.

This reads like it is supposed to read. Putting all slots money into supply to "reinvigorate horse racing" by increasing purses (salaries) only, and ignoring demand (i.e. the long forgotten customer/takeout rewards etc) seems like a terrible business model for a subsidy, and it is.

Seriously, what business on earth would put ALL their subsidy into employee wages and supply, and zero to marketing and price lowering and expect to grow?

They are producing a whole lot of pogo sticks, but no one is buying. Gee, we wonder why.

Please keep in mind this is an actual horse racing article. There is one small edit, for continuity, in square brackets

Slots saving pogo sticks

Pogo stick sales are down 25 percent from 2006, according to the Pennsylvania Pogo Stick Board.

Gambling on slot machines in Pennsylvania provided $236 million in subsidies to the Pogo Stick industry in 2009, yet total sales of Pogo Sticks continued to fall, according to statistics released by the state.

The Pennsylvania Pogo Stick Makers Association said Wednesday that the statistics prove slot machines are a "lifeline," sustaining operations at Pogo Stick factories across the state.

"We would not have Pogo Sticks in Pennsylvania if not for the slot machines," said Michael Bounce, executive director of the Pogo Stick association. "The slot machines have saved our industry."

The organization remains hopeful Pogo Stick sales will improve with the economy.

Since 2006, when casinos in the state began operating, total sales of Pogo sticks have dropped 25 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Pogo Stick Board.

Jumping fans in Pennsylvania spent $734 million on Pogo sticks in 2009. That's down from $975 million in 2006.

Across the nation, Stick manufacturers have suffered. Pogo stick sales at all U.S. toy stores are down 16 percent from 2006, according to Pogobase, official supplier of Pogo stick statistics for ESPN.

The decline in sales in Pennsylvania comes despite a multi-pronged effort to invigorate the appeal of the Pogo.

A portion of all slots revenue goes to the Pennsylvania Pogo Stick Development Fund.

Of the $236 million generated for the Pogo fund last year, 80 percent must be spent on higher wages for factory workers [purses], and 16 percent must benefit the people who make the springs for the pogo sticks [breeders]. Another 4 percent helps pay for health care benefits and pension plans for Pogo employees.

Salaries paid to Pogo assembly line workers have doubled since slots were legalized, according to the state. Total salaries paid to Pogo producers were $134 million in 2009. Pogo producers received $62 million in 2006.

Pennsylvania Pogo manufactuers produced 11,539 Pogo sticks last year. That's up from 7,958 Pogo sticks in 2006.

In September, the Pogo factory unveiled renovations to its facility. The company said it hopes new Pogo themed sitting areas, entertainment centers and restaurants will draw more people to become Pogo enthusiasts.

A 24-table poker room, which opened inside toy stores on Nov. 3, should also spur more interest in the Pogo, Bounce said.

"We agreed to have table games in toy stores because we believe this will attract possible Pogo jumpers," Bounce added. "Unlike the slots, we believe that table games have a similar complexity to Pogo."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Delaware Park Handle Up; Looks to Extend Exacta Bonus

A bit of good news, in a betting industry fairly deviod of it this year - Delaware Park had a bump in handle this past meet. According to WDEL-AM, the 10% exacta bonus might be continuing.

The Stanton track also says they are considering extending the "on-track exacta bonus" where bettors on-site had less money taken out by the track, increasing their winnings by over 10% compared to simulcast wagerers.

In addition, this might not be the end of the takeout reductions at the track. According to the DRF "Mike Vild, Delaware’s senior vice president. “We intend to evaluate the program during the off-season with the goal of expanding the promotion to other ontrack wagering pools next year.”"

In terms of pure churn (we all know now that churn is the real metric of takeout reductions, not gimmicks) handle would have been up about $6000-$12,000 a day because of this reduction. Small potatoes perhaps, but in a business who has lost almost half its handle in ten years, it is certainly something to be happy about.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

D'Oh Canada

HANA is committed to giving horseplayers a voice. Part of our job entails shining a spotlight on industry practices that are anti-player.

Every player I have spoken with this week is excited about the Breeders Cup. This year it is held at Churchill Downs, one of the most takeout friendly tracks in North America.

With this year’s Breeders Cup fast approaching, I’d be remiss as HANA’s President if I didn’t point out a decidedly player unfriendly policy being carried out by Woodbine against Canadian players.

If you play this year's Breeders Cup through HPI and are fortunate enough to hit a trifecta or superfecta for example, you can expect Woodbine to pay you off as if the takeout rate was between 25% and 27%, despite the fact that the takeout for these wagers at Churchill Downs is 19%.

That's right. If you bet this year's Breeders Cup through HPI and hit one of these wagers, you can expect to be paid significantly less than if you had made the same wager at Churchill Downs or through a pari-mutuel ADW in the US. For example, if a trifecta pays $2200 at Churchill, the Canadian customer will only receive a little more than $2000.

We at HANA find this policy deplorable. We know that you as players feel exactly the same way.

Rather than just call attention to this in a write up, we at HANA would ask you to let track management at Woodbine know how you feel.

Why not take the time to write them an email - or better yet an old fashioned letter - voicing your thoughts? Phoning them is also an option.

Woodbine’s contact info is shown below:

Woodbine Entertainment Group
P.O. Box 156, 555 Rexdale Boulevard
Toronto, Ontario, M9W 5L2
Telephone: (416) 675-7223 (RACE)
Toll Free: 1-888-675-7223 (RACE)
Internet Comment Page:

Jeff Platt
President, HANA

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Western Fair: Lower Takeout

Western Fair Raceway, a harness track in London ONT, joins a growing list of harness tracks trying to gain customers and grow their business. This meet (starting November 5th) they are offering a 15% takeout on both their pick 4's. We contacted Greg Blanchard, Assistant Race Manager and Announcer, and he was kind enough to answer some questions. Many of you would know Greg from his work with Woodbine as an on-air handicapper and host for both thoroughbred and harness events. Two months ago, Greg moved to Western Fair

HANA: What have you done for this meet that is different than before?

GB: We have added a late double, a second pick 4 and have made both pick 4's a 15% takeout, which is down from 26.3% takeout

HANA: What was the impetus?

GB: We are trying to find ways of enhancing our product for the horseplayers and wanted to do something we could promote effectively. Offering a large guarantee wasn’t a good option for us and we realize that pricing is very important to today’s horseplayer, so we thought this was a good way to go.

HANA: Is it hard for a small track to get noticed?

GB: No question; at least on certain days of the week. There are times when you can get absolutely buried in product so I think it’s very important for a track like ours to be placed in the optimal time slot, like Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (3:35 p.m. post) and to do our best to offer the customers a solid betting option.

HANA: How is the pool size now and what would you consider a success?

GB: Currently, the pick-4 isn’t one of our largest pools, but I think that will change with some focus placed on it. I’m confident it will become our signature bet and that we can easily double, maybe even triple the existing pool size with strong promotion and good, competitive racing within those pick-4 wagers.

HANA: Will you be picking the pick 4's on the pre game show? And will you be promoting it on screen/anywhere else? Is it starting today?

GB: Yes, I’ve started doing an enhanced pre-game show on Mondays and Tuesdays, where we are featured on HPI TV. We’ll be doing the same on Thursdays now that we’ve added that day. I’ve been focusing on the pick-4 already and obviously will continue to make that the focal point of our shows. I’ve always believed that looking at those four specific races in the pick-4 can also encourage wagering within those races themselves.

We have already added the late win-4 and a late double to the wagering menu. The new rate of 15 per cent does not go into effect until This Friday, November 5. We wanted to start this long before now but there were regulatory issues we had to take care of first.


It is very nice to see people like Greg, and Western Fair, working their product. It is good for them (increased handle over time) and good for horseplayers (more money in their pockets so they can enjoy the game more). It also can attack - in even a small way - the thousands upon thousands of horseplayers who have left racing for other gaming pursuits. In a game with the tagline for gamblers of "you can beat a race, but you can't beat the races" such initiatives are vital to its long-term success.

Western Fair joins several other venues (like Tampa Bay Downs, Balmoral, Pinnacle, Pompano Park, Portland Meadows, Retama, Tioga, Maywood Park) on the HANA "support" list, who have all lowered takeout in the recent past. We encourage all harness players to give this new low takeout bet a look.

Track: Western Fair Raceway
Website/Free Programs (pdf): Western Fair
Where: London, Ontario, CAN
Signature Race: $300k Molson Pace
Available: At simo centers & many ADWs
Track size: Half Mile
Post Times: M, T, Th at 3:35. F and S at 7:05E
Best Bet: 15% takeout pick 4's
Handicapping note: The outside post (seven) this season has the highest win percentage at any half mile track at an amazing 7.3%
Two year PP stats below

Monday, November 1, 2010

False Advertising?

Well, it is not false, but this sports' customers will certainly take exception to the following banner ad running by Cal Racing:

Make no mistake - with a 15% takeout increase on two and three horse exotics in California starting December 26th, you will (as a group) definitely not make more money this winter betting thoroughbreds in the Golden State.

Is there any business in the world where the customer has been placed so low in terms of priority?