Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Preliminary Results of the HANA Harness Racing Survey

The first survey by HANA Harness has concluded and the working group is reviewing the results.  Since further surveying will be occurring, partially based on the results of this survey, we would like to share some of the findings of the initial survey.  Once all the surveying has been completed, HANA expects to release the full survey results to its members.

To no one’s surprise, the Meadowlands was the most popular harness track for wagering by survey respondents with 39% of the respondents listing the Meadowlands as their favorite track to wager on.  Following the Meadowlands was Mohawk (10%), Woodbine (6%), and Balmoral Park with (5%).  While not the first choice amongst bettors, other tracks getting sizable support as their second and third favorite tracks are The Meadows, Northfield Park, and Yonkers Raceway.  As for simulcasting programs, over 43% of the respondents indicated the Meadowlands has the best simulcasting show.

Horseplayers also indicated that horse racing is their gaming choice with 83% of their gambling income being wagered on horse racing.  Most horseplayers wager on standardbred and thoroughbred racing, with them gambling approximately 20% more on harness racing.

Respondents indicated they wager 66% of their handle through ADWs, followed by being at the track, and OTW locations.  20% of the respondents wager only at racetracks or simulcast locations while the majority of ADW gamblers have one or two accounts to meet their gambling needs.

When asked what type of races they like to wager on, stakes finals, claiming and conditioned races are the most popular.  Races for green horses - non-winners of two races and maiden events -  are amongst the least popular.   Somewhat surprising is gamblers don’t particularly care for those late closing events that harness tracks tend to use to make up most of their non-overnight programs, as only 6% of the respondents listed late closing events as their favorite wagering propositions.

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with harness racing amongst horseplayers as 54% of the respondents indicate they are less than satisfied with their harness racing experience.    In this part of the survey, respondents were given the opportunity to list why they consider the racing experience less than satisfying.  High takeout rates, tiny pools, drugs, the integrity of trainers (especially the “super trainers”), late odds changes were among the most mentioned complaints.  When attempting to quantify the issues, horseplayers are extremely concerned with public perception, pool integrity, takeout rates, the use of illegal medication and drugs, and small pool sizes.  With regards to gamblers, many respondents feel the trainer, owner and horse should be suspended for drug positives. 

Pool dilution is a major concern of gamblers as well. Using the quiniella as a trial balloon, gamblers rejected it solidly in that it will draw money away from the exacta pools.  The pentafecta (super high five) which has been tried at a few tracks is another wager many harness players have little interest in – possibly again due to pool dilution concerns.   

At this point, we can’t say any new wagers wouldn’t be accepted (HANA will be conducting in a subsequent survey gambler’s responses to wagers offered outside of North America to see if there is interest in some of these wagers sometime soon), but it is clear if some wagers are added to a particular race, another wager must come off the table for that race, which may not be hard to do. The general consensus in the survey is that after WPS, exacta and trifecta wagering, other exotics should be offered on selected races instead of all races.  Respondents also indicate with the exception of WPS wagering, the minimum wager should be $1 (or less when it comes to superfectas, and Pick-x wagers).   
Harness racing players are certainly traditional.  The idea of races over or under a mile doesn’t appeal to them as does having races with two tiers of horses.  There does seem to be some acceptance for a trailer on a half and five-eighths mile track, and possibly two trailers on a seven-eighths or larger oval.  Racing on a mile track is preferred by the majority of respondents but in a somewhat surprising result, half mile racing is slightly preferred over the five-eighths oval. 

With regards to half mile racing, the respondents felt the problems specific to them were, in order, post position bias, low payoffs, no movement, and small pools.  Respondents felt the best way to resolve things would be to handicap races, putting the best horses to the outside.  A staggered starting gate was also ranked highly. At the Meadowlands, questionable trainers, buddy-buddy driving tactics and lack of flow were the top three major issues.  As for the WEG tracks, lack of movement, the buddy-buddy system of driving and questionable trainers were the top three perceived problems with gamblers.

When asked if they prefer conditioned racing over classified racing, the vast majority of people like conditioned racing; however  they have problems with the way conditions are written and feel  the past performance program must better report the extended conditions being used; a program showing nw2cd is not sufficient enough.  While conditioned racing has many supporters, classified racing is basically, a 50-50 proposition with gamblers.

Despite the defeat of the fair start rule in the NJRC, three quarters of all respondents want to see the fair start rule implemented with the fair start pole being 200’ from the finish lin.  Clearly gamblers don’t want to see their wagers going up to smoke before a race really gets started.  Gamblers want to see the tote system revised to prevent late odd changes and feel a lower takeout would increase their wagering and feel the lower takeout rate would reignite and interest of the gambling public.

The demand for exchange wagering is clearly here.  Gamblers are unsatisfied with the existing wagering system with the late odds changes and high takeout rates.  

We were very happy that our survey was well-represented across age-demographics.  40% of our respondents were between the ages of 26 and 49.  As well players across all wagering segments (from under $2000 wagered per year to million dollar plus bettors) were well represented.

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