5 March 2016

Horse Racing Should Market The Heck Out Of The Trifecta

For once and for all, new potential horseplayers and fans are not staying away from horse racing because the gambling aspect of it is too hard to understand, or because of drugs, and certainly not because of racetrack jargon.

I think I was 4 years old when I figured out win place and show, maybe I was an exceptionally smart four year old, but you get my drift. I could also read past performances when I was 8, it isn't rocket science. I also don't think that there is a wager easier to understand than win place or show other than coin flipping or roulette, which I think is just as easy to understand. I'd even state that slots is harder to figure out than a show bet. Understanding a horse race bet is even less complicated than betting against a point spread or playing craps. One doesn't even need a Trump U. diploma to figure out how to an exotics wager works either. It is a matter of wanting to figure find out what a superfecta is, not how a superfecta works, and we'll get to this difference shortly.

When it comes to drugs, I don't believe it stops anyone other than animal cruelty warriors, and they would stay away even if horse racing was drug free because horses do break their legs no matter what. The perception of drugging horses as well as potential rigging has always been there, but lets face it, horse racing was a lot more popular and mainstream in the 40's to 60's than it is today, and getting new players involved was much easier back then. Other sports have had their fixing and drug scandals, but popularity for most of these sports have become much stronger as the years go on.

And then there is jargon. Jargon doesn't keep anyone out. All sports have words unique to them, and even a life long sports fan and sometime participant like myself still has trouble figuring out exactly when a balk in baseball or when a zone defense technical in basketball should be called. I'll leave figuring out that stuff up to the umps and refs and still enjoy the game, of course, I'll enjoy the game much more if I have at least one fantasy player participating. As for keeping newbies from getting involved, not knowing what a bug boy is is like not knowing what a sophomore pro is. Does not understanding what a sophomore is keeping any newbie away from football or basketball?

Nah, what keeps new participants away from horse racing is that even if they are drawn to looking these days, they have no interest in learning more. The simple reason is that there is no buzz when it comes to long term winning gamblers. Yes, there is a learning curve, but it isn't anymore difficult than the learning curve for playing fantasy sports. Today's millennials are gambling. They also like skill games. They'd be perfect for horse racing except one thing, they need the right motivation to learn about horse racing, and that motivation would exist if horse racing was perceived as beatable in the long term. The collective average takeout of 21% is twice as a high as it is needed to be in order to grab substantial new players.

Until the industry wakes up and revamps takeout, there are a few band aid solutions that might keep the ship from completely sinking. One is to go after established horse players aren't playing because they don't have access. It is mind boggling that residents of Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Hawaii, the list goes, cannot bet on horses over the internet. Horse racing needs a lobby group that tackles this specific issue. Handle could rise another 33% if these dry states allowed their adult populations to gamble if that is the adult's desire. It makes no sense that someone in Dallas can own an assault rifle but can't bet $2 to show on California Chrome on the internet.

The second suggestion is to get more eyes on the product (though, as stated above, even with more eyes on horse racing, it is near impossible to get the eyes to stick due to pricing). Besides another Triple Crown winner, horse racing should try to take advantage of the word trifecta, a word that has made it big time in the mainstream. Trifecta originated in 1974 when it was strictly a horse racing term (simply and evolved variation of perfecta). Today, a day can't go by without either hearing the word on TV or reading it in the news, and not very often is the word used with respect to horse racing. Check out the Google News Search of "trifecta."

Now check these seven "trifecta" quotes out, none have anything to do with horse racing.
Here are a couple if you didn't bother with the link:

So what should horse racing do? Promote the heck out of the trifecta. Focus on the bigger payouts. House handicappers should focus on the tris. Lower the takeout on trifectas, make it the bet for the millennials. And to Woodbine and all the rest of the Canadian tracks, change the name from triactor to trifecta. Triactor is strictly a horse racing term, and it means a wager with a takeout of 25-29%. Not very attractive, not a great sell.

Early use of the word trifecta outside of horse racing:) :

6 January 2016

Same Old Same Old

Horse racing was up a mere 1% in 2015. Did American Pharoah even matter? Lets hope not.

Applauding contraction as the direction to go is pure willful ignorance. Sure, intuitively contraction seems the only way to go as long as racing feels it can't compete with other forms of gambling, but nothing good can come out of it. It is only a band-aid for those who have the most invested in the game today but it will definitely not grow the game, it will have the opposite effect long term. When you cut dates, you cut exposure, you cut participants as well. Participants have families and friends who are potential customers and potential participants. This is simple stuff.

Owners who have 20-40 horses seem to forget how and why they got started, and that they probably started with 1 horse, two tops.

Race tracks cutting dates severely in Suffolk, for example, or altogether in Virginia only will cause those living in those areas to stop even thinking about horse racing, which included betting on it.
Less participants means governments will care less about horse racing and the economies created by horse racing, which will lead to less monies from alternative gambling in the future.

Another example, Texas cutting online betting on horse racing. Texas is a very large state, and asking Horseplayers to drive 50-100 miles in many cases just so they can bet into an average 21% takeout is ridiculous. Most of those who used to play horse racing online will forget it exists. They'll play offshore or play something else (see DFS).

In 2015, we had American Pharoah (which brought many new eyes to the game) and millions of gambling hungry (see DFS) millennials, a slightly improving economy (much much better than 2009 for sure) and handle only went up 1%...and forget about factoring in inflation, of course. Also, handle has been dwindling the past decade+ as well, and the industry can't even get a dead cat bounce:

Gamblers are out (see DFS) there, but the masses want two things: Their gambling fix to be satisfied, and a game that is perceived to be beatable. Simply put, a game with no visible winners that has a 21% average takeout makes both impossible.

DFS can teach horse racing a few things. First, it is palatable to have 1-2% consistent visible winners. Second, a 9-10% takeout is also permissible as a maximum. Third, if the first two things are happening, quality doesn't mean much, games loaded with teams below 500 are just as like as games with that include elite teams. The gamblers horse racing needs want the action, want to think they have a chance long term, and hate to reload their account every day or two.

So what is racing doing to improve the gambling aspect?

More jackpot bets! Really? Yes. Have jackpots bets created more Horseplayers? Doubt it. Do jackpot bets take more churn out of the game? 100% for sure. When gamblers want to fulfill their fix of staying in the game financially, the worst thing you can do is hold back money or take money out of circulation and even worse, distribute it rarely to one gambler who will be subject to massive withholding and is highly unlikely to bet the money back quickly enough to help churn.

More Hi 5's! Jackpot or not, these wagers do for growth, again, the opposite. An industry leader or two has brain farted the idea that putting them in every race is a good business move. The only time anyone should consider betting a Hi 5 is when the Jackpot is over 200k and one can justify throwing a few bucks at it as a lottery play, but to those who built up the Jackpot, how about more cold showers? Two things, people silly enough to play a Hi 5 with less than 10k in the pool aren't attracted to low takeouts, and because there are so few winners, if a track is going to lower takeout, this is the worst wager to lower it on. Second, why not try this, lower takeout on a few exotics instead and see how it goes.

20 cent exotics? Great, if the takeout isn't over 20% for those wagers. But when a 25% tri or super (where the average bet is over $4 to get it) pays the same on average for twenty cents that a 20% takeout ex or dd pays for a deuce, you end up with a disingenuous way of killing churn (the gambler's fix), and you are end up helping the Horseplayer to gradually disappear from the game.

Back 3 years ago, I wrote a piece: Shh! I Know How To Grow Racing I didn't mean for the industry to take the Shh! literally, but so far, it has. See also Location Location Location

Funny thing is that three years ago I also wrote a piece on how the four major league sports could improve: Horse Racing Isn't The Only Game That Can Improve. Guess what, the NHL and NFL make me look like some kind of savant.

10 September 2015

Horse Racing's Two Biggest Obstacles To Growth: Takeout and Drugs

I haven't been blogging much lately. I started off hoping to help the industry change for the better, but looking back at my past posts, I'm safe to say that nothing has changed. If anything it has been one small step forward, one big step back. When it comes to whether I blog or not, I'll quote Hillary Clinton: "what difference does it make?"

This has been a banner year for horse racing with the success of American Pharoah, yet horse racing handle is flat. Until there are visible winners, horse racing cannot attract new players to make for dying Horseplayers and other regulars who have decided to bet less. It is not that the game isn't great. It is. At least in theory. Daily Fantasy Sports simply offers a better bang for the buck when it comes to brain games for money. The rake makes it possible for their industry to get away with focusing on winners in commercials. There may or may not be a lot of long term winners, but the perception is everything. They can focus on WINNING. And guess what? It works:

This type of commercial would not work for horse racing. Horse racing has to focus on "the thrill" (entertainment) only. The problem is that horse racing is about 10% pure entertainment, 90% gambling, and the thrill when it comes to gambling is a) winning b) the ability to keep gambling. Two thing important to all gamblers, the ability to possibly be a long term winner, or at least, the ability to keep gambling without going to the well too frequently. Slots proves that the more you cash without going to the well too much, the more you will tend to come back and play again at a later date, despite losing almost every time you go. It works just as well for roulette and blackjack. The more money tracks take out of the collective Horseplayers hands each and every race, the less fun they will have, plain and simple, and the less likely they will go home, or get up the next day (if they are playing from home), believing the game is beatable.

Has the industry ever toyed with the idea of optimum takeout? 5 letters: NEVER. The concept doesn't seem to exist, thanks to the pie-shrinkers who rule the industry. Most of these pie shrinkers don't want to shrink the pie, but short term thinking and the just plain bad priorities make shrinking the pie inevitable.

The industry keeps tapping its Ruby Slippers together while closing their eyes, repeating "the game is 100% entertainment and people want to just bet on it." Seriously, how much money from those who may have wagered for the first time on American Pharoah in the Belmont is in the pools today, or yesterday, or will be tomorrow?

If horse racing were to have come along after Daily Fantasy Sports, they would enter the market with a takeout of around 8-10% for Win Place and Show, 12% for Exactors and Doubles, and maybe 14-15% for all other exotics tops.
Who knows, in a parallel universe or two or three, maybe that is what is happening right now, but not here on planet Earth.


Super trainers exist. There are only so many ways to train a horse, yet some trainers, even when they have strings at multiple tracks which means it can't possibly be due to superior horsemanship, especially if this special horse whisperer isn't even around, yet they win consistently at around 18% or more using their "special" routine. It is an insult to anyone's intelligence that these outfits aren't using chemicals or supplements that aren't being tested for. I also hate the excuse that 99% of drug tests come back negative. Pretty simple stuff, they are testing for a limited amount of substances, and there are ways to mask certain substances too.

I know this isn't politically correct to state at this time, but fixing the drug problem, and yes, it is a real issue, will only create perhaps a small handle bump from regular customers, but it won't create any newbies because the rate that regulars lose their money will not change by much.* *In theory, the backstretch money, lose a little less than outside money. I know the old argument is that backstretch money is dummy money, but really, how can it be. If you know a horse didn't eat up or was feeling kind of sluggish before a race, you are likely not to bet the horse and maybe likely to find something else in the race to bet, and what if you know
that a horse has turned the corner, or just had a shock wave treatment or just came out of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, you may be able to get your ROI to .94 level (which, although won't make you money, it does take away some money and some potential future run ("gambling fix" money) from anyone who has a lower ROI).

Newbies will come and learn the game once there are visible winners. The game could be hay and oats with a 360 hour barn surveillance, and it wouldn't create an extra player, except perhaps through friends of smaller owners who might be in the game a bit more thanks to a higher ROI (because the ROI of drug trainers' outfits will decrease). With B and C racetracks racing less now, even that portal to growth is shutting down and may not swing to positive territory even if there was an equal playing field.

Whipping rules, which I'm all for, don't change handle totals at all.

The fact that fixing the drug problem may be irrelevant to handle, it still should be attempted.

Lasix or no Lasix? I've read and heard many pro and con arguments out there. I'm still learning. For example, by watching the NYRA conference on Youtube, one trainer mentioned that in the old days, they used to prevent bleeding by not allowing the horse to eat or drink 24 hours before the race (I've since heard that some trainers used up to a 72 hour time frame). And of course, the pro-Lasix people state this was more inhumane than using Lasix today, but when it comes to my Columbo instincts, I still have to ask, why did horses used to run twice as much in the 60's or 70's than today, and was it a more cruel backstretch back then? Is it Lasix or a combination of Lasix and all the other chemicals that are pumped into today's horses (It isn't a far cry to believe that the best trainers today are superior junior chemists or have a great junior chemist vet going for them)? Does it affect recovery time that much? Are horses weaker today than they were back then because of breeding horses prone to bleed or the use of well bred sires who retired early due to injury? Does the need to breed speedy 2 year olds to get quicker returns for the buyers the cause? You know, it is probably a combination of lots of things, but it wouldn't shock me that if Lasix was banned horses would be racing more often, fields would be fuller (maybe 5% would have to be retired, but the other 95% would be able to race 50% more times, maybe even greater than that).

With high takeouts, the use of non-detectable designer drugs, the slaps on the wrists given to cheaters who are caught, the use of shock therapy, and so on, the industry has proved it can't price itself and it can't regulate itself either. Something should be done. I use the word "should" be done versus "must" be done, because as we've seen, nothing might be done, and the industry can keep floating in a near purgatory state.

From a bettors standpoint, and I've stated this before: In a perfect world, there would be around 5-10 drugs and supplements (I don't think Cobalt should be on the OK list, for example) combined that can be legally administered. Anything else would be forbidden, and cheaters, when caught would be faced with a minimum 1 year suspension first offense, 3 year suspension second offense, and lifetime ban for a third offense. Vets would be just as liable.

As for any surgeries, shockwave treatments, hyberbaric treatments, and tappings, the public should know. How come we know if an NFL player stubs his toe on Tuesday night while getting out of bed to check on his baby, but Horseplayers are in the dark when comes to an outfit shelling out some good money to tap a joint?

And finally, I still find it perplexing that one can legally bet on Fantasy Sports online in almost every US State, yet the list of States where potential gamblers are shut out altogether from betting the ponies is much greater, and this includes the "free" State of Texas. Racing does not have its act together to even make an attempt to grow their customer base that way.

4 June 2015

Free Past Performance Links For Horse Racing; Science Says No To American Pharoah Winning Belmont

The industry likes to think that Horseplayers aren't value oriented, that takeout doesn't matter, that lowering takeout doesn't work, etc. At best, this is wishful thinking. Horseplayers are like any other consumers. Sure, there are some that will pay the high prices at Quickie Marts for convenience, some regularly, some once in a while, but the majority of consumers have are attracted to Walmart. Maximizing one's bankroll makes for more fun (assuming that many gamble at least partly for the rush, the more bets one can make, the fun one can have) and for the more serious Horseplayer, increases ones chance for profit.

There are betting sites that give out selective free past performances as long as specified thresholds are met. Normally these sites do not give much in the way of player rewards which really can increase one's bang for the buck. Why not have the best of two worlds?

Aside from this, if the industry is really to grow, besides lowering takeout, free past performances should be a must. Sports fans (whether they bet or not) and fantasy sports players can have just about any free stats on players and teams with the click of a mouse. It has been like that since the internet was invented. Some handicapping info sites like Equibase and TimeFormUS give out a freebie race or two each day and if it makes sense, monthly subscriptions can be the way to go.

The best one can do today is mostly free selective past performances. Here are some of the better sites for newbies and smart consumers to check out:

Thoroughbred Graded Stake Races In One Handy Place

Selective Free Past Performances by Stable, Trainer, or Sire For All Thoroughbred Tracks

Selective Free Past Performances By Track and Much More

Free International Past Performances

Japan Racing

Northlands Park might be the only track that has free past performances that have track variant adjusted speed figures in them.

Harness Racing:

USTA Strategic Wagering has a page specifically for selective Pick 4 and Pick 5 sequences for specific US tracks each day. The TrackMaster numbers are very good, especially for thoroughbred guys like me who needs to see a track variant adjusted speed figure. I need a number for reference or I find it hard to even make a fun wager.

Many Canadian harness tracks have free past performances available at their websites (a few even have track variant adjusted speed figures).

Century Downs (*Has speed figs)

Clinton Raceway

Flamboro Downs

Fraser Downs (*Has speed figs)

Georgian Downs

Grand River Raceway

Mohawk Raceway

Rideau Carleton (*Has speed figs)

Western Fair

Woodbine Thoroughbred and Harness (no speed figs)

HANA's (Horseplayers Association of North America) free online magazine Horseplayer Monthly is out. Belmont Stakes edition. Lots of handicapping insight, always a must read.

Will we have a Triple Crown winner tomorrow in American Pharoah? Science says no. Science has evolution and the age of the earth right, maybe science is due for a loser?

27 May 2015

Great Handicapping Videos With A Touch Of Nostalgia

Sure, some things have changed but much as remained the same when it comes handicapping horses.

Here is a handicapping video from 1993, Playing To Win, with Bob Neumeier. Andy Beyer makes a cameo appearance as well (he plays himself making a $300 wager at Philly Park while in Vegas):

Trainer's Edge, also produced in the 90's, will definitely improve your game. The focus is on body language. For today's multi-track gambler, eliminating a horse who doesn't look so good in the post parade, or throwing in a horse that looks
good could be the difference when it comes to building a bankroll:

For a lot more nostalgia, check out "PartyManners" video channel "Horse Racing" on Youtube.

6 May 2015

What Should Be Done About Drugs In Horse Racing?

I can't believe it has been almost 6 and a half years since I wrote the blog piece "Drugs In Horse Racing 101." Time certainly flies, but the sordid stuff in horse is like a moon rock, it can stay in the same exact place for 3 billion years, it seems.

Meanwhile, handle continues to fall, especially when you factor in inflation and population increases. Competition is increasing as Fantasy Sports continues to gain momentum and can be played in many jurisdictions where internet horse race betting is illegal (I still can't figure that one out).

Threats are getting louder though as grandstanding politicians are now lobbying to get rid of the Interstate Horse Racing Act (which will all but finish off horse racing), if horse racing doesn't do a complete 180 on drug reform (180 means less studying and more implementing).

Right now, Ohio is taking on a major study regarding cobalt, while continuing to allow cobalt. Why is it in horse racing everything seems to be ass backwards from bet pricing all the way to drugs? I'm pretty sure that the FDA tests drugs first, then legalizes them if they are deemed safe. In horse racing, a substance or procedure usually is allowed (by allowed, many are untested and therefore do not show up in tests), as there is a list of banned substances, but not a list of substance one can only use.

Horse racing needs a universal "ALLOWED SUBSTANCE AND PROCEDURE LIST," and anything used not on the approved list has to be dealt with severely. If caught, horsemen need to lose their license for at least a year on first offense, and a third offense should be a harsh lifetime sentence. And I don't see why prison sentences for defrauding the public and other horsemen shouldn't be on the table too. And I really would limit the list to very few procedures, drugs and supplements.

Why doesn't this happen? The answer is simple, those with the loudest clout have the biggest stables and the largest success. They don't want chance, either would I, if I were them. They don't want an equal playing field or anything close.

Meanwhile, I'm tired of watching races where super trainer horses rebrake (or is it rebreak, who cares?) in the stretch. Before horsemen became junior chemists, there was very little rebraking in the stretch. It is almost like the jockey turns on an oxygen valve. It might have to do with "legal" use of hyperbaric oxygen chamber use or it could be as insidious as EPO or DPO or offshoots of these two drugs which don't show up as positives in post race analysis.

Where do we draw the line? I still contend that all procedures should be documented on the racing form, there is no reason in today's day and age to hide this type of info from either the Horseplayer or other horsemen. It isn't condoned in the stock market, it shouldn't be condoned in horse racing, to hide info like that.

In a perfect world, it would be hay and oats. Who knows, the breed might improve, as horses will be bred for durability and endurance. And maybe a horse will actually be able to pull off a sub 2:01 in the Kentucky Derby once more.

Supplements also need to be addressed. That is tricky, because it means that there has to be an allowable feed list as well. Why? There seems to be a grey market where anything goes:

No worries yet high percentage horsemen, horse racing industry leaders and horsemen groups bow down to you guys/gals while they focus on the more pressing issue of implementing laws and actions geared towards getting a bigger piece of a shrinking pie at the expense of the Horseplayer, causing the pie to shrink even more. So experiment away, while the industry still exists.

9 March 2015

Maybe Churchill Downs Could Have Won Texas ADW Lawsuit If.....

Texas Horseplayers cannot bet on horses legally online.  So much for land of the free.
The chronology of events to date:

Texas Racing Act in 1986 which predated internet states that horse betting can only take place if wagers are made at a track.

Texas amends Act in 2011 to specifically make wagering online on horses illegal.

Churchill Downs sues, and is allowed to take online wagers until case is decided upon.

Churchill Downs loses suit in September 2013, and suspends all online activity in Texas.

Churchill Downs appeals case and loses appeal in September 2014.

Churchill Downs most likely lost because they were fighting the wrong battle.  Their biggest argument was that their business was being discriminated against and cited the interstate commerce law.  They were not allowed to take bets through their bet taking business (Twinspires), yet racetracks were still allowed to take bets.

The problem with that is that no company is allowed to take bets online in Texas, not even racetracks.  Think of it like this, it is as if a state legalizes marijuana sales but only if it bought at designated locations which meet stringent standards, and of course, internet sales would not be legal in that state.  Tough to argue against.  The State of Texas pretty much used this type of reasoning to defend the gambling law, but their arguments can easily be shot down when it comes to horse racing.

Argument 1. Minors can use daddy's credit card to bet online:

If this is done without the parents knowledge, the parent will know within a month and the kid will be denied access very quickly by the parent.  If it is with the parents consent, it is no different than when I was 14 and gave my dad or a friend of his a couple of bucks to bet on the 3 to win (and this was at the track).

Argument 2. Money laundering and fake IDs:

Money laundering is probably much easier to achieve these days by either offshore bookies (which still take Texas residents I believe) or at the track (betting a large sum to show and cashing the wager with complete anonymity).  There is simply too much of trail for money launderers to do this online with a legal ADW these days.  As for fake IDs, one doesn't even need to show ID at a track unless they look underage or they cash a signer, etc.   In Canada, one only has to show ID if are asking for a check at the track.  Besides, ADWs are at the forefront of  both fraud prevention and catching fraud as presented at the Global Symposium  On Racing in Arizona in December. 

Argument 3.  A problem gamble can gamble 24/7 without leaving the home:

Besides the right of freedom of choice being ripped away, most, if not all ADWs have strict policies when dealing with admitted problem gamblers, it is my understanding, they are generally banned for life.  Similar to Ontario's casino program.  Again, I'm not sure if the racetracks themselves have identification programs that are successful in preventing self confessed problem gamblers from wagering, but I think not.  The other thing is that the problem with gambling addicts is they still need to be able to have funds to wager, and if they do, but can't play horses online, they still have other options from going to a casino, betting with a Texas bookie or offshore bookie online 24/7, going to friendly illegal poker game and wait......play Daily Fantasy Sports online in Texas, something that really appeals to the younger generation these days.

If I were to bet, the ADW rule was enforced by a group that wanted to force gamblers to go to the track and they pulled some political favors in.  Just a guess.

The results are still not in, but I doubt this enforced law has created one purse increase in Texas, in fact, inevitably it will cause the regular Horseplayer to play less, become less involved, and find other games to play instead of horse racing.  As for Newbies, forget it, if high takeouts (lack of visible winners) are the main reason horse racing can't a substantial amount to replace newly deceased players, in Texas, Newbies just will become totally extinct, it is after all, the internet age.

Anyway, Churchill Downs lost.

Had Churchill Downs argued for the the Horseplayer/consumer instead, the results may have been different.

The Horseplayer in Texas is at a distinct disadvantage.  Not to fellow Texans, but against other players in most every other state.  And is very simple argument could be made that Texans who have to now go to a track or simulcast center to wager is betting not only against fellow Texans but against players from all over the US, Canada, and even other countries, most of whom can wager online.

Here is a simple one.  Someone in Texas either handicaps a horse or gets a hot tip on a horse and that person either lives too far from a simulcast center or track or something comes up where they just can't leave their home.  That person cannot place a wager, yet someone in another state can go on their computer and make the bet on their "sure thing."

There are pros and cons for a Horseplayer to be at a live venue.  They might be able to get better information at the track (I don't believe in tips, but many do) and/or they also have full access of the walking ring and post parade, more than someone on a computer might have, which can help make a better gambling decision if one is into reading the body language of horses.

One of the biggest cons of being at a live venue is the ability to cancel a wager if a horse acts up at the gate, for instance.  Someone on a computer can do this in the matter of seconds, while there is no guarantee that someone at a track will be able to get their ticket cancelled let alone have time to make a different wager.

The thing is that in most other jurisdictions, there is a choice, but not in Texas.  The Horseplayer is at a distinct disadvantage.

Arguing for the consumer is somewhat a slippery slope for Churchill Downs as they have a policy of denying racetrack content they control to many competing ADWs which results in giving the consumer less choice.  Maybe they just didn't want to go there.

11 February 2015

Popcorn Time

Here is my latest contribution to Horseplayer Monthly, HANA's  (Horseplayers Association of North America) free online magazine.  I figure that it would be the thing to do to have these videos embedded somewhere on the internet, so why not here?:

If you are a fan of horse racing related movies you may be surprised at what one can find on Youtube.  Here is a taste:

Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936)
IMdb description:  When a friend of Charlie's is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.
Here is a rare gem:  Two Dollar Bettor (1951)
IMBd description:  An honest bank employee gets hooked on horse racing, and starts to embezzle bank funds in an attempt to recoup his losses. 
Watch for Barbara Billingsley (The mom on Leave It To Beaver, who appears in the credits missing the "g" in her last name) and Carl Switzer, who was Alfalfa in the original Little Rascals series.

The Last Night of a Jockey (1962) from the Twilight Zone series starring Mickey Rooney
IMBd description:  A washed-up jockey gets his wish while waiting for the results of his race fixing hearing. 

If you need a good chuckle:
The Longshot (1986)
IMBd description:  Four losers borrow money from gangsters to bet on a "sure thing", but lose. The gangsters go after them to get their money.
This one teams up Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
If you've watched the first four videos, you are probably itching to make a bet.  Wait.  Watch The Trainer's Edge first. It could be the best video guide to horse racing body language ever made.  Even though it was produced in the 90's, it is a wealth of timeless information.  This might even make you a more efficient Horseplayer

Don't forget to check out the latest Horseplayer Monthly, lots of useful handicapping information and much more.  And it is free!  And if you haven't done so already, join HANA (free to join).  Why join and why use your real name?

"Please understand something:   At some point we are going to sit down at the table with track management and horsemen's groups and negotiate on your behalf. If nothing else we plan on making them painfully aware how their antics are hurting the game and alienating the customer. Having the names of real people in our member database serves two purposes. First, it gives us a way to keep you updated with our goals and progress towards those goals. Second, when we do sit down to negotiate, having real names puts us in a much better bargaining position than if we had a list composed of people's internet handles only."

6 February 2015

Location Location Location

It seems that one of horse racing's largest entities has given up on the idea of pari-mutuel growth in North America.   It is probably realistic given the direction the industry leaders are heading, especially when it comes to the effects of their actions on price sensitive players (the 25% of Horseplayers who wager more than 75% of the collective handle).

It is a good thing that there is an acknowledgement that handle can be increased if foreign markets start participating in North American pools.

But what is overlooked is that there are quite a few markets in the USA that doesn't allow parimutuel wagering.  Why not push for those markets?   One would expect that states that don't allow parimutuel wagering and/or online horse race wagering like Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, DC, and Texas would have more interest in the North American racing product than countries in South America, for example.

Texas has 9% of the US population, and internet horse race wagering is somehow banned there.  It is unclear who is to blame for the law, but it needs to change.

There is a coalition in Georgia looking to bring horse racing to the state, including online wagering, and they believe that they can add over half a billion in handle the very first year they get the green light.

What is really mind boggling is that you can wager on play Daily Fantasy Sports online in every state mentioned above.  Currently, it appears that Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington are taboo states for DFS companies.  By the way, Arizona just started allowing phone betting on horses, so it is the only state with a consistent no "playing" online rule.

Seriously, what is wrong with this picture?   Not that most gamblers, especially young ones, in states like North Carolina would choose a 21% takeout game over an 8% takeout game if given the opportunity, the problem is they don't even have the choice to bet on horses.

Still, expanding into states and/or countries is only a band aid solution in the big scheme of thing, and until pricing is dealt with directly, horse racing will continue to spin its wheels at best.

I'm convinced that if horse racing adopted a universal takeout maximum of 15% 10 years ago, this guy would be handicapping horse races on Youtube today instead of fantasy basketball games:

The similarities between handicapping a few races and handicapping a fantasy basketball lineup are shockingly similar (so much for horse racing's learning curve excuse).  The similarity ends when it comes to discussing industry growth as the North American horse racing industry has all but thrown in the towel (they know their current philosophies will mean no handle growth), while the Daily Fantasy Sports industry is thinking a bad year would mean it grows by less than 50% in 2015.

Horse racing needs a few Jake Sanders in order to grow, but with a 21% average takeout, that is an impossibility.

7 January 2015

Is Horse Racing Really Aware Of Daily Fantasy Sports?

After starting to look into Daily Fantasy Sports the past year and now playing it somewhat regularly the past month and a half,  I'm starting to feel that potentially there could be an unprecedented decline in horse racing in the very near future that would make the recent 3% decline in yearly handle look like a lottery win.

It is bad enough that handle keeps falling, even a red cent, from year to year, when you take into account that the majority of people in North America can now bet on the majority of tracks at any time from the convenience of their own home, 7 days a week, 18 hours a day (though many need multiple online accounts to get their best bang for the buck and full content).  Lets not forget about factoring in inflation and population increases when putting horse racing's numbers in perspective.  Nor should we forget about the online poker ban either.

Something is very wrong, and hint: it has nothing to do with lack of technology or people not exposed enough to the majesty of the horse.  Nope, it stems from realizing who the customer is, who the potential customer is, and most importantly, catering to what the customer wants.

Who is the customer?  The customer is the Horseplayer, it always has been.  Today's Horseplayer is a dying breed, as most were brought into the game back when it was a monopoly and at that time, the only way to gamble was to physically be at track.  Those days are long gone, but instead of addressing the real problem, many in the industry believe they can grow racing by getting or forcing (see Texas) people to go to the track on regular basis.  The reality is, that going forward, this line of thinking is as inane as the idea of starting a company that makes rotary phones.

We're in a technological age and an age where other forms of gambling, from casino to fantasy sports to lotteries and other forms of at-home entertainment are growing, and not going away (the NBA recently embraced Daily Fantasy Sports).  Going to the track on a regular or semi-regular basis makes no sense anymore for almost everyone, especially potential new gamblers.

Who is the potential customer?  These are the people who day-trade, who play daily fantasy sports, poker, blackjack (not slots or lottery players)...people who like to make decisions based on information and gut, looking for value in game that at least has a few perceived winners.  They are not stupid.  Not even the potential new dummy money is as stupid to try to learn a thinking persons game that has zero perceived long term upside.

Gamblers also crave action, but their bankroll can't be depleted too fast or many wake up in a hurry and find something else to do.  It is pretty nervy to ask a gambler to keep going to the well for significant dollar amounts in order to stay in a game that takes brains when there is no long term reason to.

Until the price (takeout) is lowered enough to allow for long term winners to be visible (sans rebate), horse racing has a zero shot of attracting enough newbies to make up for the old-timers who have stopped breathing and now are unable to bet, or have had enough of losing too quickly.

What does the customer wants?  You need a game that is perceived to be beatable in the long run by at least a few,  and you need a game where a bankroll has a chance to last.  Enter Daily Fantasy Sports.  Takeout is less than 10%.  The more one plays, the more efficient one gets.  The learning curve to be good can be surprisingly high, but not very expensive, as one can get a night's worth of action for the cost of a lottery ticket.

Right now, it is pretty much a gimme that there are consistent winners (this might not be the case a couple of years from now, but if handle starts to dwindle, I have a feeling they might lower takeout, not increase it, making the game beatable by at least a few again).  

The game right now also attracts a share of dumb money because it is perceived as beatable and that in itself adds to the popularity.  Almost every night you can see lineups by DFS players where a player on that team is out (and there was enough time and fantasy website/media/twitter write ups to know the player wasn't dressing);

"Large scale participation in a game always brings the possibility of overconfident and unsophisticated people you will be betting against."  from a must read article, Racing Gets A Run For Its Money From Daily Fantasy by Nick Willet

Since I started dabbling, I've found that I'm getting better at it, and my handle has increased (still, nowhere near my horse racing handle in times when I believed the game to be beatable), but more importantly, I'm finding the fix I get from handicapping horses presently is identical to the fix I get from handicapping a basketball lineup.  The rush I get from watching a game in action while monitoring the scoring in other games is similar to the rush I get from a card of horse racing.  And the bang for my buck seems astronomically better when it comes to Fantasy Sports than it does from horse racing these days.  Oh, and mounds and mounds of information needed to make well educated guesses is free free free.  The rushes I speak of might also have to do with knowing the game is possibly beatable so I'm not handicapping and watching for nothing.

Optimistically to me, this proves how good things could be if horse racing were to adopt takeouts in the range of 8-12% and past performance info outside of maybe premium info was free.  I still believe strongly that horse racing is best thinking person's game out there, and has the greatest potential (big reason is you can paid in race that takes two minutes versus a game that takes upwards of 5 hours to complete), but it is priced too high, especially since the dummies have left the building, and that has contributed greatly to the lack of long term winners.

Currently, lower takeout seems like an impossible dream, especially with Churchill Downs Inc. and the Stronach Group wagging the dog.  

For lower takeout to work, all tracks are needed to be on board with today's "I just cashed, what track is going off next" internet/simulcast gambler.  In other words, horse racing may need to blow itself up and start over again in order to grow....I think it will inevitably happen, but I may not live to see it.

Another important point is that I don't think too many Daily Fantasy Sports players understand the ramifications or even care about the takeout, but they understand how much is in their account to churn......just like most Horseplayers.   Yet one game with a 21% average takeout is on the decline, and the other is growing exponentially.  I also don't think DFS has explored optimal takeout yet as it is still in uncharted waters, but by the time the dust clears, it will, and I wouldn't be surprised to see takeout rates drop a bit in the near future, especially if there is even a sign of bottom line decline.

14 November 2014

Short Term Pain Tolerance Needed To Fix Horse Racing

Horse racing is dying (but it doesn't have to).  Handle and interest keeps sinking year after year as Horseplayers are literally dying off or just get fed up, and they are not getting replaced.  This is reality, and large statues of horses or giant infield screens won't change this trend at all.

Meanwhile, Fantasy Sports has absolutely caught fire, especially with the young gamblers that horse racing desperately needs in order for growth to occur.  If things remain status quo when it comes to horse racing failing to realize they are in serious competition for gambling dollars (by serious, I mean that the horse racing industry address the onerous cost to play the game), the bottom still has a long way to go, as it is inevitable that legalized sports gambling will be available throughout North America, and the Fantasy Sports crowd will be lost when it comes to being potential Horseplayers.

Why has Fantasy Sports caught fire?  Long term leagues give one action that can last the season for a modest investment.  Daily games offer decent prize monies, some on par with big Pick 6 carryovers, and the takeout is less than 10% (when you include reward points for playing).  The games are set up so that there is a lot of churn money available the next day to keep players interested, and to keep players thinking the games are beatable if one really knows what they are doing.

That is the key, gamblers like to gamble.  They like to stay in action without going to the well too much.  Gamblers of games that require brain power and statistic analysis need to believe the game is beatable by at least a few, no longer the case when it comes to horse racing as it impossible to find enough edges to consistently beat a 21% average takeout.  It was hard enough when racing was at its height of popularity, and average takeout was hovering around 15-16% and there was plenty of dummy money in the pools.  There is literally no dummy money out there anymore thanks to slots and lotteries.


So how does horse fix itself?  First off, aggressively search for optimal takeout rates (these are the rates that bring in the top bottom dollar to the track, which in turn can search for optimal purse amounts to distribute in purses).   True, this is complicated when factoring things like field size and racing dates, but it must be done.  Every successful business inevitably works this way, not horse racing.

Hopefully, the optimal takeout rates will leave enough meat on the bone for at least a few Horseplayers to be able to beat the game in the long run.  If this doesn't happen, the game is doomed, something I highly doubt if done right.

After lowering takeout across the board everywhere, the next step is to market the game to gamblers and potential gamblers.  This is when a nation wide lottery could help immensely.  Life changing scores are attractive to the masses so a Pick 8,9 or 10 with races that have large field sizes would e required.  It may need a parimutuel element to it in order to make it available in as many jurisdictions as possible.  Takeout can be as 40% as takeout doesn't matter much when people are buying the dream.  The lottery proceeds can be used to pay for drug testing, pool surveillance, jockey disability and horse retirement among other things.  Most importantly, it will get more people interested in horse racing.....but again, to attract growth, the game needs to be perceived beatable first.


By far, the second most factor when it comes to making the game perceived to be beatable (the bigger the field size, the more value to be found).

4-6 horse races are very attractive to horsemen, but that is where the buck stops.  Most serious horseplayers who wager serious money would rather bet a 12 horse non winner of two 5 claimer than than an allowance non winners of $60,000 in the past two months that usually attracts just enough horses to get the race to go.  These races do nothing to grow the customer base, but they are needed to keep the elite owners and trainers happy and keep breeding prices artificially higher than they should be.

Short fields are plaguing horse racing not only when it comes to high level races but low level as well.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that horses don't run as much as they used to, and the culprit is most likely a combination of the drug culture in the backstretch and the breeding of shooting stars which includes retiring good horses too early.

If the above was fixed, there wouldn't be the cry of too many horses and race dates.  Without race dates and races, horse racing will end up going away because it will lead to a few A tracks, few owners, few horses bred, as there will be no outs for horses who are inferior in any way.

Fixing field size can be done.  First, races with the least amount of horses should be running for significantly lesser scaled down purses.  More horses means more money bet, which means more money for the tracks.  Have races with 6 horses or less run for 60% of the base purse for that class. For every additional parimutuel starter, add 10-12% to the base purse.

Second, clamp down on drug usage.  Make a list of drugs that are allowed, any violations need to be dealt with severe punishment, perhaps even criminal punishment (defrauding the bettors and other horsemen comes to mind).  Yeah, most horses test clean, but the big problem is what is being used that isn't being tested for or what is being masked, and everyone knows it.  The problem isn't what is being tested for, but what isn't being tested for and the only way to hinder this is with huge fines and suspensions.

Cleaning up the drug culture will not create more Horseplayers, it might slow those who have a foot out the door.  But it seems reasonable that horses will bounce back quicker if they have less drugs in their system and that will lead to bigger field size, and more value.

The third thing that needs to be dealt with is to breed a sturdier race horse.  Horses should not be able to stand as a stallion until they are 6.  Mares should be at least 5 before they are bred.  Horses who hurt themselves early, will have an opportunity to get better and race again.  If they don't race as good before their injury, so be it.   They might not make it as stud material, which will be good for the game long term.  Meanwhile, we might end up seeing more Cigars and Foregos.  This will be a good thing.  Horse racing doesn't have too many household names when it comes to actual horses.  There are no Peyton Mannings in the game.  Household names can only help horse racing's growth.


If you want just about any stat for any major league player or team it takes about 2 seconds on Google to find it....FOR FREE.   Would Fantasy Sports be nearly as successful as it right now if gamblers had to pay for Kyle Lowry's complete last three game stat lines?  Almost certainly not.
Horse racing needs to get with the program and give the basic past performances with decent speed figures out for free everywhere they possibly can, including racetracks, OTBs, online, you name it.  The idea is to make it as easy for someone to make a decision that leads to them wagering money.  There will still be room for premium past performances, because of the lure of potential less sophisticated money in the pools.  


It is almost 2015.  Why can football tell us how far exactly a player ran on a specific play, but we can't get this information universally in horse racing.  Run up times as well, need to go.  If it means changing the way races are timed, good!  Lets see the real information, and let the customer decide what is important.  Of course, accurate information should be required in the past performances when it comes to drugs, the use of supplements, and hyperbaric oxygen chambers and any operations or treatments being used on horses to get them to the next race.  Sure, horsemen won't like it, again, too bad, the mindset needs to change.

When a football player stubs his toe on a bed post, I can find out about it, but it is a mystery when a horse is tapped before a race.   The idea of insider information should disappear as much as possible, not only for the Horseplayer but potential horse claimers and buyers.


If a horse is given three steps at the start to do anything to the rest of the field, fine.  But it should be that way in every jurisdiction.  My feeling is that most Horseplayers would rather have less horses thrown out.  I've stated this before, give Stewards three minutes under the hood, if they have enough to throw a horse out, throw it out, if they don't, let it stand.  Worst thing to me is a close call throw out, followed by a reversal two months later.  I'd rather have a questionable infraction stand and have a reversal, though I'd rather not have any reversals period.

Uniform drug rules are a no-brainer.  If you've read this post down to here, I don't need to tell you why.


Racetracks and Horsemen groups should be lobbying to get horse race betting allowed in states like Georgia and Alaska, oh and online in Texas, etc.   There are gamblers and potential gamblers everywhere.  In most jurisdictions gamblers can play fantasy sports, lotteries, and of course, they can wager offshore or with bookies.  Also, pissing off Horseplayers, who for whatever reason can't bet their favourite track at another track, OTB or ADW because the track is not on the betting menu only gets players to collectively quit sooner.  Nobody should jump through hoops if they want to be a Horseplayer.  Horse racing can't afford to lose anyone else and it should be looking to add whoever they can get.

For some extra insight on handle woes and more, read Pull The Pocket: Here's the Unvarnished 2014 Horse Racing Handle Story