Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Do Sports Bettors & Poker Players Feel About Horse Racing?

Knowing what other skill-game customers think about us, might allow us to fix some of our sports problems. Below they tell you what they think about betting horse racing - unedited, and in their own words

At various conferences, or in trade papers there is always a discussion on the loss of horse bettors. There are many reasons given by those in the know - lotteries competition, other forms of gambling are more fun, offshore wagering pirating pools, the form is too complicated and it is a very hard game to learn, 25 minutes between races are too much (because young people need action), the lack of "stars", there are not enough people at the track to get introduced to loving our sport and becoming bettors, and so on. Some of them would seem to have some merit.

Many of us believe that a gambling game (i.e. racing) which has a tagline "you can beat a race but you can't beat the races" tells a big part of the story. The price of a wager is too high, and once people found choice (or were not forced to bet racing when we no longer were a monopoly), they left for other games they had a shot to make money on. The numbers bear this out. In 2012, the gambling market (not the underground one) is said to grow to approximately $450B (Canadian Gaming Magazine). Online wagering, as the internet moves the price of a bet lower, is a big part of that growth with 42% increase expected in the US between 2008 and 2012. (KPMG pdf). Meanwhile, horse racing wagering has fallen to near $11B in the US.

What do the growing skill games (i.e. our skill game competition, not games like slots or lotteries) like hold 'em poker and sports betting have on us? Are they easy, fast and more in tune with today's society? Is it because of pocket cams, or pretty people dealing cards? Is it because they are cool, on TV, and they give some good perks like free drinks when you play them? Is it because of all the things we read about them in our racing trade press?

One poster on a chat board set to find out. He's primarily plays horses, but he frequents other boards where they play poker and sports bet.

He asked the following question to those bettors - sports bettors and poker players - on their very own chat board:

Why don't you bet on horse racing?

Feel free to be as brief or as long as you like and as candid as you want.

Thank you in advance for your time and answers.

Here are their responses, in their own words:

> When you see a 4-1 and a 7/2 double pay $26.50 do you think horses are worth playing?

> Track takeout is much too high

> 17% is pretty tough to beat.

> I love the "challenge" of (predicting) capping the races. I live near Santa Anita and go to Hollywood Park and Del Mar every year, but the rake is absurd. Trying to make consistent money betting horses is nearly impossible.

> The 21 or now 23% take out

> Takeout. I quit betting horses about 7-8 years ago when I realized how hard it was to beat simply because of the takeout.

> No way would I ever try and do it seriously with that house edge.

> It just seems impossible to beat. I'll throw a few bucks down on the big races sometimes. But, it's just for fun and I don't really expect to win. I'd love to see someone have a great day at the track. Like "Trotter" in the movie "Let it Ride."
But, that seems like great fiction.

> takeout is ridonkulous

> I live in the free part of the world and can use Betfair that has about 5% rake, so no reason not to bet horses.

> Takeout is certainly a factor. We get 11/10 assured on football if one is smart. And I love the horses!!

> Knowing that the takeout is 18ish pretty much took all the interest away.

> Takeout and my lack of ability or confidence that I could do well are the biggest reasons I'd never think about betting it seriously.

> If there was a lot of head to head matchups between horses with a standard 20 cent lines, I might give spend some time on horse racing. But I'm not going to fight that 18% cut.

> too much take out and too many races

> Takeout is #1, absolutely absurd where 15%- >26% is removed. Besides the lottery where is the rake greater, maybe keno but have no idea on that one? Instead of lowering takeout I read where Cali tracks have increased takeout on exotics by 10%+.

> The take out is too low, thus not providing me enough of a challenge.*
* obviously joking

> Since the UIGEA passed I don't have a good rebate out for horse racing. When Pinnacle had their rebate (I think it was 7%) I bet a bit of horse racing. I coincidentally know one of the DRF's handicappers from outside of gambling so I'd probably bet some of his stuff if I had better outs. As far as why I don't handicap horse racing myself, I think there are smaller, easier markets to beat, although if I had a good rebate out and exhausted other opportunities and had time on my hands, I might tackle horses.

> I grew up a horseplayer. Got to the point where I could pretty well break even. Discovered offshore, where a 4.54% cut [sports betting] is considered excessive. Never looked back.....

> Living in Vegas, I haven't gone to a "live" race in 8 years. I used to sit in the casino and lay down a few bucks but I stopped that practice. The reason is the aforementioned take out (hard vig to beat) and in my case, incompetent writers.

> Seems too hard to quantify my edge.

> Take out is the main reason why I have not ever looked in to betting horses. I can safely say I have never made a bet on horses and doubt I will in the future as I have zero knowledge whatsoever of them.

> I'm sure if they cut the house take down dramatically, many of the individuals in this thread and sharp gamblers all over would enter into the horse racing markets.

Non-takeout responses:

> The total disdain towards the betting public by management of these places. They think people will keep coming back no matter how they are treated. The fiasco on Friday Breeders Cup (was it Ladies Classic?) where Pletcher horse ran, absolute joke. There was at least 3 million to win on that horse, who knows how much in exotics, she was favorite or 2nd choice. No refund of anything. I don't follow it closely anymore so not sure what happened post race.

This stuff continually happens, gate malfunctions, horses breaking 5 lengths behind, jockey's giving horses absolutely horrendous rides, short fields, late odds drops 30 seconds after gate opens, late info on geldings/workouts/medication. Stewards decisions not explained by them.

Obvious drug and medication super trainers who amazingly take a broken down claimer and turn it into a stakes horse.

I'll only play Triple Crown, and Breeders Cup (some races) now and that will be offshore only so the greedy bastards don't see a dime of my money.

> I'm not 75 years old

> If you meant for this to be an academic study, actually I do enjoy going to the race track and try to get there a couple times a year, but I do so with the intention of making $5 exotics for entertainment and have no illusions that I can beat it.

> As someone who knows just the very basics of horses, I shy away because of the idea that it is fixed. Seems to easy for a jock to control an animal to do what they want it to do. Plus, the rewards do not seem to be worth the time. Other than a fun night out with the boys, I have no desire to wager on them at all. Would be a whole different story if I was on the inside or had access to that information.

> No inherent interest in horses. My foray into sports betting stems from my initial interest in sports which later developed into analyzing the betting market to find value. For me, this requires a baseline interest in the betting subject to follow/gauge it over time, which then allows me to anticipate and understand why market participants do what they do.

> I play on the "big days", other than that = it's just too time-consuming to try and fit in. Too many tracks, too many races to try and keep up with.

> Because I grew up playing and watching baseball, basketball and football. I understand those games and they are fun to keep up with. There are all kinds of tv and radio shows covering sports, none covering horse racing.

I did not grow up around a horse track or horses. I don't know anything about them. I wouldn't know where to start capping them. And the races are not nearly as fun to watch as a sports game so it would be really hard to make myself keep up with the sport. Don't the horses change every year too? That is just too much turnover to keep up with.

You have to be too patient. In a horse race you have like 10 horses running. Its like playing long parlays in sports or betting nascar. The wins are few and far between. But the main reason is the first paragraph.

> Politicians treat the customers like retarded degenerates. Therefore some of the customers act like retarded degenerates. There is frequent dishonesty in the 'sport'. Some jocks still insist on punishing the athletes. Unless you have access to big rebates, its a foolish pursuit.

> I used to go to the track quite a bit. There is undeniably a cruelty element with regard to the horses. Horses are run lame to fill cards, drugged to win purses and whipped to win races. I was at the Barbaro Preakness and that was my last live race. The horses are bulked up, trained to the max and the physical elements like bones and tendons can't keep up. There is an occasional ownership element that is exceptionally seedy doing anything to stay in the game even going to the extremes of barn fires to collect insurance. Bryant Gumbel had an HBO special that was quite insightful as to the treatment of less than stellar horses. Absolutely despicable. I loved the sport for a lot of reasons but will never go back.

> I've never really taken it seriously or bet big $ as I learned early that the **** is rigged and with an 18% take the juice is basically unbeatable.

> Ten years ago, I would play two to three days a week. I still love to play the big days, and play when killing time at the sportsbook when we are in Vegas, but I hate beating my head up against a wall, because I normally lose. I really enjoy the handicapping aspect of the sport, but I am just not very good at it. Bob Knight once said "Find out what you are doing wrong and stop doing it." I have taken that approach and stopped playing the ponies, because I rarely would come out a winner.

> I know nothing about it and don't care.


It looks like the score is about 25 or so for takeout, a couple for corruption/treating animals poorly, a couple for liking other sports better, or too many races/too hard to follow, a few for not being treated well by management.

It reads like our organization's mission statement.

We at HANA believe this should not be a shock to any of us, if we even have a rudimentary understanding of gambling. The fastest growing gambling game this century is fantasy football, and it is purely stats driven, hard to figure out and time consuming - so complexity is not an issue. Poker is a game where you can fold hands for a half an hour or more without playing for a pot - so time between races is not an issue. "Offshore wagering", giving lower takeout, was not all 'pirates stealing customers', it was creating customers we were ignoring. As soon as the UIGEA was passed and it was outlawed, these players went back to sports betting, because they would not play into 22% blended takeout, just like bettors told the industry years ago they would (when they were labeling it a panacea).

73% of HANA members polled in 2009 said takeout was their number one issue. Sports bettors and poker players seem to agree, but it appears in even higher numbers. With them representing a multi-hundred billion dollar market we need and crave, that is not good news, especially since horse racing takeout has been going up, not down.

We clearly have many problems in racing, but to deny that the price of our product is a big one of them, is denying reality.

To join HANA and try and work on some of the changes needed to grow our sport, please click here. It's free and confidential.


Anonymous said...

Spot on.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Mr. Haines will understand this blog article?

I found myself nodding on almost every response. It is a shame - a crying shame - that a bunch of horseplayers with a blog have to point out the obvious.


Anonymous said...

I'll file this in the "things you won't read in the racing press" file.

Charli125 said...

I started out as a sports bettor, and then got into horses. The reason I made the switch is because I couldn't legally bet on sports unless I was in Vegas. In my opinion this is the biggest advantage racing has right now, and if we don't take advantage of it now, we're going to be screwed once sports betting becomes legal.

I'm not at all surprised at these comments, and it just shows that we do have potential players out there if we just fix the game. Gamblers love a good challenge, and if we just make it worth their time, this game could grow exponentially.

Anonymous said...

"I'll file this in the "things you won't read in the racing press" file."

This way my first thought as well. It's way too obvious and straight to the point and honest.

Glad to see it, sad for our industry that I have to see it here.

Anonymous said...

My big laugh for the day: Those bettors keep talking about the juice being 17 or 18%. Where have they been, in a time warp? In another curious and backwards horse racing management move, take is now 22%, not 17.

It's the only business in the history of the world who LOST a monopoly and UPPED their takeout.


PTP said...


That made me chuckle, as well.

The fact that our prices have gone up while we have lost our monopoly is not overly unexpected to me, however. The people in charge have believed that when takeout goes up, revenue goes up. No, it does not make sense, it is not accurate, and it is not backed up by any piece of long-term empirical data, or economic literature but that's the thinking.


Anonymous said...

I'm gald you posted this because I have been going to gambling forums for years. I get called 'nuts' for betting horse racing when there are so many other pursuits with a shot to win. No surprise; but racing needs to hear it.

Anonymous said...

The people love horse racing, they do not like the self serving way the race managers,regulators and politics have taken the game away from the people.

The people who love it have been run off.


roger said...

Your mistake is asking bettors of other sports what they think. Screw the bettors!

Sure they bet billions and if we can entice even a few of them to bet racing we will grow...... we are entertainment! We need to concentrate on getting families to come to the track for fie and a half hours and buy popcorn and grab a hat on the way out. That is the market we must attack!

Hat sales will help racing. No doubt about it, so we must start selling more hats.


Anonymous said...

You don't know what you're talking about. We could never make enough from hat sales. But we could charge more to get in and to park. Look what it costs for a ticket to a Yankees , Knicks or Giants game. Now, I'm not saying racing is as popular as those sports, but that doesn't mean we can't get $30 or $40 a pop for a ticket and $10 bucks for parking.

That Blog Guy said...

I asked a friend of mine who plays poker regarding why he doesn't play the horses and here is his answer:

"Watching horses run in a circle (or arc) is only a little more exciting than watching NASCAR make left turns. Also, I don’t believe it is 100% legit. Races are pre-determined either to set up a horse for the future or to bring an owner money now."

Anonymous said...

I know how we can fix racing,It's something that has never been done before.
We give away hats or calenders.

Anonymous said...

As far as gambling on the ponies, I do not because years ago I went to the Meadowlands regularly and mostly went home a loser.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't appeal to me that much. I've bet on horses on occasion, probably less than 5 times in my life. It's never interested me enough to attempt to learn enough about it so that I can bet intelligently. At least with craps and blackjack I can try to figure out odds.

Anonymous said...

My current finances kept me from gambling the last few years, however, the 60's, 70's and much of the 80's
I would bet on the horses. I would go 2 or 3 times a week. I don't think there was a track within 100 miles that I hadn't been to a lot .
Then there was the Atlantic City casinos. I would go there a few time per month. One day I took a trip to Las Vegas and loved the place.
I would go to Vegas once or twice a year up until I lost my job at Bank of America

Anonymous said...

Where was HANNA during the scratch/entry incident at GP? Oh yeah, no where.

Anonymous said...

It's HANA.

and it is in the last blog piece.

Gail Shores said...

That was an excellent article. You made some great points and I am thankful for your information! Thanks Again.