Friday, August 30, 2013

Shanklin Series Will Be Worth Following

Bill Shanklin has a post up today regarding parimutuel handle changes in the US. In future posts he will be examining the reasons for the decline, which according to his figures, shows handle losses of over 42% in real dollars since 2003's peak. It looks like this series is worth following.

We caught a glimpse on twitter if a graph recently that showed California's handle decline. We had heard rumors handle there was off, with short fields, competition for betting dollars, a takeout bump and so forth, since the early 2000's and this confirms that.

It will be interesting to see if racing can do something to stem the tide, like some other jurisdictions seem to have.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New York Horseplayers Take a Big Hit

It was announced today that New York implemented a 5% surcharge (a signal fee hike) on New York horseplayers who bet with out of state ADW's, like Twinspires, Premier Turf Club and others. 
  •  The law calls the 5 percent fee a “market-origin fee,” and it will be applied to any wager made by a New York customer, regardless of whether the customer is betting on a race at a New York track or an out-of-state track.
If you are a discerning New York state horseplayer who plays at a shop that gives you back cash rewards, these rewards will likely be eaten up by the tax, and you will be the one paying it. It will cut into your winnings and enjoyment of the game.

Plain and simple: This is a huge takeout hike. New York racing punched you in the wallet. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kentucky Downs Readies For Meet. Low Takeout, Big Fields

With low takeout rates and full fields of horses expected to compete in its lucrative races, Kentucky Downs will present enticing wagering opportunities during its 21st season of racing on Sept. 7, 11, 14, 18 and 25.

The $18.25% takeout on Exacta wagers on Kentucky Downs’ races is the lowest in North America. The track will have a low 14% takeout on its new Pick 5 bet. The takeout on Win, Place and Show wagering is 16% and is 19% on the remaining exotic wagers.

“Kentucky Downs offers some of the best betting value anywhere,” said Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), an organization which promotes issues important to racing fans. “Exacta takeout is the lowest in North America. Combine that with a 19% takeout on other exotic bets and great average field size, and I am not surprised that the handle trend is up.”

“HANA’s recognition of our product offering means a great deal, because we want Kentucky Downs to be known as the ‘Horseplayers’ Racetrack,’” Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen said. “Providing value to the betting public drives every decision we make. Our goal is to present quality racing run over a safe, consistent race course with an attractive takeout structure and wagering menu.”

In addition to $2 Win, Place and Show wagering, Kentucky Downs will offer $1 Exacta wagers and $1 Rolling Doubles, while minimum wagers of 50 cents will be available on the Trifecta, Pick 3, Superfecta, Pick 4, Pick 5 and Super Hi-5.

In September, Kentucky Downs will offer 10 races a day, with an average daily purse structure of $900,000. The richest race is the $400,000 Kentucky Turf Cup (G3), the centerpiece of Kentucky Downs Million Day on Sept. 14.

Press Release Courtesy Kentucky Downs

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cary Fotias - Seeking Change and the Ellis Park Pick 4

In Horse Race Insider this morning, "Indy" wrote a wonderful piece summarizing the work, beliefs and views of the recently passed away Cary Fotias.

Cary was a true horseplayer advocate. He rarely got bogged down in minutiae, and always kept his eye on the prize: Horseplayer respect, market driven takeout rates for everyone, and a hopeful growth in the game he not only played daily, but adored.

Cary, who spearheaded the Ellis Pick 4 4% takeout bet way back in '07, was revolutionary. Although some track executives balked when it did not have quadruple or more the handle it did the previous year in week one, the industry was taught an important lesson. Despite the bet not being offered in many jurisdictions, average handles increased from the $15,000 range to an end of meet $42,000; on claiming crown day the bet even approached a $100,000 pool. Players were playing lower takeout bets and were opening up new ADW's who were taking the bet. This had never before been seen in horse racing.

If we fast forward to today, even California (who raised takeout late the previous year and were skewered) offered a low takeout pick 5 to save their hides in 2010.  You can't go to any track (well, maybe not some in Pennsylvania) who do not offer a lower takeout bet on their menu. Each time you cash a low rake pick 3 or double at Lone Star, or a pick 5 at Del Mar, or a new pick 5 at Belmont next meet (they are offering a 15% takeout pick 5 then, if all goes well), or a win bet at Woodbine (they reduced win takeout to the lowest in North America just this year), remember the Ellis Park Pick 4. Remember Cary Fotias. That extra money you get back to enjoy the game more, rebet, and become a happier customer, probably in no small way has his name on it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2009 Survey Results Not Dissimilar On Integrity

The recent Jockey Club survey of dedicated horseplayers found some (most would say not so interesting) thoughts from horseplayers on drugs in racing. Looking back to 2009, when HANA ran their first ever survey on pretty much everything about racing, the results in the drug section were not far off.

Here's a set of questions regarding drugs and how you answered them in 2009 (click to enlarge):

And here were the betting demo's of that survey:

It's interesting how you, the discerning horseplayer, look differently at illegal and legal drugs. It's also interesting that smaller bettors and bigger bettors are on the same page on the issue.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jockey Club Round Table Focuses on The Game We Love

Yesterday the annual Jockey Club round table spoke a whole lot about you the betting customer and how you feel about drugs in horse racing. 

A couple of weeks ago, HANA and Jerry Brown at Thorograph were contacted and asked if both of us could distribute the survey to our members. We did and many of you responded, and with the survey being longer than an average one, it was appreciated.

From Ray Paulick who tweeted out the round table yesterday:

— 86% of the biggest bettors avoid certain tracks and states because of concerns over medication/integrity
— 79% of horseplayers factor in illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks
— By a margin of 9 to 1, horseplayers say they bet less, not more, because they have to factor the possibility of illegal drug use
— 91% of horseplayers are “tired of waiting” for medication reform and want it now
— 82% of big bettors want to see all drug testing results published, 79% strongly support out-of-competition testing, and 73% think a horse’s attending veterinarian’s name should be made public.

Your answers mirror much of what you answered in the HANA Survey in 2008. As time goes on, much stays the same.

People may ask why are bettors concerned so much about drugs in horse racing? Don't we just want to cash a ticket and be outta here?

The answer to that is simple.

The art of handicapping, whether we are a small player or a large player, is a life long pursuit. We study pedigree, and pace scenarios and form cycles. We study second off layoffs, turnbacks, surface switches, Tomlinson's and form.

We read books and listen to podcasts. We chat on chat boards about big races and argue about their outcome on twitter or at our local racetrack. We live, breathe and eat horse race handicapping. It's what we love to do.

As Andy Beyer once said, some trainers have sabotaged the art of handicapping, and (sorry to not mince words here) that pisses us off.  Those trainers aren't just sullying the game for owners and others who participate in it, they sully our game. The game we spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours enjoying and studying. The game with memories of learning to handicap with our parent. The game we enjoy to no end.

Handicapping is the greatest gambling game ever invented. It's a puzzle that stretches the mind, keeps us sharp and engaged and it's what we do. It's a part of our lives. With that, why would we expect answers to that survey to be anything what they were? If you attack our great game and the horses who allow us to facilitate it, you are not going to be considered to be anything but a detriment.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cary Fotias - State of the Game Address

Cary, who recently passed away, penned a state of the game address some time ago now. We reprint it here. Has much changed?

State of the Game Address
By Cary Fotias

This Saturday, over 100,000 racing fans will gather at majestic Belmont Park as I’ll Have Another seeks to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. 

I have seen every Belmont Stakes since I moved to New York in 1986 - from Woody’s fifth straight with Danzig Connection through Ruler on Ice.  In that span, nine horses have taken aim at the Triple Crown, only to come up short.  Believe me when I tell you, there is no sound in all the world of sports like the “New York roar” that builds to a climax as a potential Triple Crown winner enters the final furlongs.

Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Smarty Jones – some really good horses have failed the Test of the Champion.  Will I’ll Have Another become our twelfth Triple Crown winner?  I guess we’ll have to see what Dullahan, Union Rags, Paynter and Street Life have to say about that. So, get out to Big Sandy on Saturday and see some history.

With all the excitement over the Triple Crown grabbing the headlines, some ominous signs for thoroughbred racing continue to lurk “below the fold”. 

Item:  In 2004, I was part of the NTRA Players Panel at the Handicapping Expo in Las Vegas that made over 60 recommendations (one of which was implemented) to the industry to improve the game.  Number one on MY list was to lower the takeout dramatically.  Unfortunately, this has not happened.  The only meaningful takeout reductions have been in Pick-3, Pick-4 and Pick-5 pools.  Reducing the takeout in these pools does little to increase “churn” as the usually large payoffs are shared by only a few bettors who are unlikely to quickly plow back their profits.

It would be much better to lower the take on WPS.  Almost everyone would benefit from this, including the tracks.  Churn would increase significantly and casual players would get more “value” for their entertainment dollar.  It’s so simple an economic concept that it probably has no chance of happening considering the panjandrums that control the game. 

Item:  In the last few years, total handle on thoroughbred racing in the US has dwindled to $10.6 million from $15 million.  That’s a 30% decline in just a few years.  As the powers that be continue to fight for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie, they should be looking to get a smaller piece of a much, much bigger pie.  The industry has taken the greatest gambling game ever invented and trashed it.  It is a testament to “what the outside of a horse does to the inside of a man” that the game has survived the egregious and almost unconscionable decisions of its management.

Item: The aforementioned decline in handle has led to a severe liquidity crisis in the wagering pools.  With money spread across so many exotic pools in addition to WPS, the effects of the overall decline are exacerbated.  To wit, in Saturday’s first race at Monmouth Park (supposedly a top-shelf track), My Place Anytime was 3/5 entering the gate.  He won and paid $2.60.  In the second race at Monmouth on Sunday, Quiet Tiara was 8/5 entering the gate and paid $3.40. 

There’s nothing fishy going on here.  It’s just that a few big bettors (or one really big one) can cause these dramatic changes due to the paucity of money in the win pools.

Again, the solution is simple.  LESS IS MORE.  We need a lot less racing (and maybe less betting options on every race) so that pools can attract large bettors with differing opinions.  If we ran half the dates we do now, I guarantee you overall handle would improve.  Why? Because people will bet more than twice as much on big, competitive fields than they will on a steady diet of five and six horse affairs you always see in Northern California, and recently in Southern California and Churchill Downs (without slot money) as well.

Item:  Preposterous is the word that comes to mind when describing Churchill Downs handling of the “late odds drop” phenomenon.  Although the industry promised years ago that odds cycling would be reduced to 15 seconds, it has not happened.  So, the bozos at Churchill decided that rather invest money to keep their promise, they will just “blank out the odds” until they are final.  That way, no one can complain about odds drops during the race.  So when you watch Arlington, Calder and Churchill, you won’t see odds until mid-race. 

I have recommended for years that all final WPS pools and exacta payoff grids should be posted on the tracks’ onsite monitors and websites BEFORE the race goes off.  Now, THAT would insure the integrity of the pools.  After awhile, players would adjust to the earlier cutoff times and consider it more than a fair tradeoff.

Item:  After all the shenanigans at NYRA, the new board will consist of appointments from Gov Cuomo and NYRA along with non-voting members for owners and breeders.  Hello!  Has anyone ever heard of HORSEPLAYERS?  It disgusts me that the most vital constituency in the game is consistently given such short shrift.

Item:  The NYSRWB (New York State Racing and Wagering Board)  seems to just make up the rules as it chooses.  I wouldn’t have a problem with the detention barn for the Belmont Stakes horses if it was also used for $20,000 maiden claimers.  I want to be betting on a “fair” game ALL THE TIME.  The money is just as green in the first race on Wednesday as it is for the Belmont.

And, if you can change the rules on a whim, why not allow I’ll Have Another to race with the nasal strip that is permitted in every other US racing jurisdiction.  Lasix is OK, but not a nasal strip?  Get real, already.

Item:  Dateline - North Randall, Ohio –

Check out this beauty below.  Talk about manipulating the pools. I guess the perpetrators inflated the price of the favorite so they could collect more from bookmakers than they invested to drive up the price at the track.

The intentions of the bettor or bettors who targeted Monday's (May 21) fifth race on Thistledown in Cleveland for $90,000 in late win bets remained unknown on Wednesday, according to officials who are familiar with the investigation into the wagers.

Investigators have failed to determine how the bettor or bettors figured they would profit from the $15,000 win bets, which were placed on every other horse in the seven-horse maiden race but the 1-5 favorite within 90 seconds of the race going off. The bets drove the odds on the favorite up to 14-1 before a robotic wagering program targeted the favorite with an $8,359 win bet placed just before the race went off.
The horse who had been the favorite, Eye Look the Part, won the six-furlong maiden race by 16 1/2 lengths. He paid $12.80.

Sixteen and-a-half lengths! I guess they weren’t taking any chances. These guys better be careful.  Bookies don’t take kindly to this type of activity. Baseball bats, anyone?  Even worse than this type of coup, is the fact that most tracks allow the cancellation of large bets.  This creates a “license to steal” for larcenous operators who pound a horse early (getting others off the horse due to deflated odds) and then pull money out at the last second to inflate the price.  This is beyond chicanery, and tracks should be very vigilant about this.  But sadly, they are not.

Item:  The Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) have shelved a betting exchange trial for at least a year.  That’s right, these myopic morons are fine with 5-horse fields where it’s easy to collect purse money, but refuse to allow Betfair to begin an experiment with exchange betting in the US.  Betfair purchased Hollywood Park and TVG (Television Games Network) a while back, with the obvious intention of introducing exchange betting.  Exchange betting has proved wildly successful in Europe.  As win betting accounts for only 20% of US handle, why not give it a try here?  The game is dying, and a betting exchange might just revitalize the industry by attracting that “younger” demographic it is constantly seeking.

In addition, a betting exchange solves pool manipulation issues (if you open a horse at 1/9, everyone will short it) and also solves the late odds drop problem.  On the exchange, the price you “deal” at is locked in. Winning at horseracing is all about getting the right price.  Serious players only bet when they are “getting the best of it”.  But, when odds fluctuate so dramatically (except in the largest of pools), a very tough game becomes almost impossible to beat.  Imagine that you thought you were buying Apple at $550 only to find out you actually bought it at $600.  You might also flee to the safety of 10-year Treasuries yielding 1.47%.

So, there you have it, race fans.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  

Let’s hope the racing industry gets a brain, the state racing commissions get some courage, and the fans have the heart to keep playing.