Bill Finley just did a piece Constructive, Realistic Fixes. In the article he suggests 7 very doable things that horse racing can do to help improve horse racing's growth. You may not agree with all 7 of his suggestions, but he does make a good case for each. Personally, I think microbets make sense for many betting types, I don't think they are good for all types of bets. When it comes to creating a carryover, microbets are a negative, and I think pick 3's and pick 4's are most attractive and create the optimum pool size when they have a dollar or 50 cent base tops.
He didn't mention uniform drug rules or slapping drug violators with huge suspensions and fines. But then again, he was talking realistic fixes.
When it comes to his stance on rebates, again, he is being realistic. It is much easier to change the rules in a few states that make it difficult for their residents to get rebates then it is to get takeout lowered everywhere to optimum levels (every State, track, and Horseman's group would need to agree to it....good luck). One thing is for sure, whether it is done with lower takeout or rebates, players get to last longer, and the longer they last, the more likely are to play more often, play other games less often, and they are more likely to expose family members and friends to their hobby.
This brings me to my realistic list to improving Fort Erie. And I strongly believe that if all my suggestions were implemented, Fort Erie could grow handle by close to 50%, maybe more.
I've given suggestions previously, and some have been implemented. Pick 3's available in the first race, and the change in post times on weekdays (their biggest handle on Mondays and Tuesday occurs between 4:30 and 5:30) were a couple of things mentioned on my blog. Whether the head honchos at Fort Erie came up with them on their own, or read it here first, matters not in the scheme of things.
OK, enough Canrambling, now it is time for the realistic suggestions to grow Fort Erie:
1. Experiment with lower takeouts. A track cannot cultivate Horseplayers (especially those on track) when Daily Doubles and Exactors have a takeout of 26.2%. Fort Erie is rated 67th out of 69 tracks according to HANA's 2010 track ratings when it comes to takeout score.
Pick 3's at Fort Erie do not attract much in the way of pool size. This bet is ripe for the picking when it comes to a takeout experiment.
Solution: Drop the takeout on exactors and doubles to 21.5% or less, and the Pick 3 to 15%. If successful, look to reduce takeouts even more, on more wager types as well. Existing Horseplayers know more than ever before about track takeout, and Fort Erie simply has rates that insult the Horseplayer.
2. Fort Erie could use a Fortune 6 (Beulah Park) or Rainbow 6 (Gulfstream). Because a lot their handle comes from the US, and US customers can't take advantage of fractional wagers, a one dollar minimum must be used. This means that a Fort Erie Five makes the most sense. Like the other two bets, the Jackpot is not given out unless there is only one unique winner. A 25% takeout wouldn't deter players either. It would work the same way as a regular Pick 5, except only 40% of the money wagered (after takeout) on it during a race day would be split amongst those with 5 winners, 60% would be carried over until a unique winner comes along who grabs the pool all by himself, or herself. Being a dollar base, this pool has a chance to grow in a hurry, and if it does, it may get some of the slot players to play into it as well. Start it at Race 2 so as to not interfere so much with the Pick 4 that begins in race 4.
It is my understanding that the CPMA (Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency) has to approve such a wager. I don't see them putting up much of a fight. But this needs to be applied for sooner than later.
3. The bigger the field size, the bigger the purse. This one will be tough to get by the Horsemen, because for them, their ideal race has the fewest entries in it. However, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand that the bigger the field, the more money there is bet on that race all things being equal, and since purses are fueled by gambling losses, doesn't it make sense pay more for this production? Shouldn't a horse that beats 10 horses in the same class deserve a bigger paycheck than for one that wins beating only 5?
Fort Erie averages giving out a little more than $11,000 per race with field size of just over 8 (about $1350 per starter).
Solution: If a race goes off with 6 betting interest or less, have it run for 75% of the allotted purse. For each betting interest above 6 that starts the race, add 12.5% to the purse. So an 8 horse race runs for the same purse as before, but a 12 horse race now runs for 150% the original purse, or twice as much as a 6 horse race. The cost to the track will wind up being the same, except, they might see an increase in field size, and bigger pools come out of this. Bigger pools means more money for future races.....hence growth. Arlington just announced a minor version of this idea.
Unfortunately, I can see Fort Erie scrambling just to make cards go off due to a horse shortage that is being predicted, this means that implementing this purse plan should be more of an imperative.
4. Scrap the first Pick 4. It hardly attracts a couple of thousand. Focus on the 15% Pick 3 until the regular Pick 4 begins in race 4. Diluting pools by having too many pools is not the way to go.
5. Give track odds on simulcast wagers. Why upset a live Horseplayer by paying them less on a win ticket at Aqueduct or a triactor at Keeneland than what it really pays at the host track? They will only churn back the extra money anyway, and they will last a little longer. But most importantly, they won't feel ripped off if they find out what happened. And most eventually find out, and it only causes the track to lose more customers and handle in the long run.
6. Sell programs and past performances as cheaply as possible. If a Horseplayer looks at a race, they are more likely to play it. If it can be done, plaster a free form or program on the walls, for simulcast events too.
7. If it is determined that Sunday racing is a must, despite pathetic handle, change the post time to 12:15 so as to get the simulcast player's first dollar. Many ADWs which give out rebates, give them daily in the morning. Fort Erie is in competition with other tracks. Why not try to get these players to handicap at least the first two or three at Fort Erie and get that rebate money bet on the Fort.
A players who starts handicapping a couple of races, may stick with the whole card as well. Note: For handle purposes it makes sense to scrap Sundays and race Wednesday afternoons instead.
8. Put a Swiss Chalet inside the track. I've lived in Fort Erie now for over 9 years, and I am forced to drive 20 minutes to the nearest Swiss Chalet/Harveys. My wife likes Swiss Chalet, and this gives her a reason to set foot in the track, and maybe even entice her to make a bet or two while she is there...assuming I influence her at all. Oh, and no racetrack markups on the price of a quarter chicken dinner. In fact, give out program vouchers if someone spends a certain amount of money for the dinners.
9. Call all businesses in Fort Erie, all the way to St. Catharines and of course, Buffalo offering them high discounts for group buffets (for 4 or more). Look to break even on it, even lose a couple of bucks a person. This is one of the most effective ways to get newbies to the track.
Doing all 9 things suggested will grow Fort Erie's business enormously. But if track takeout isn't addressed, these fixes will only be short term.
Fort Erie has filled the announcers position with Mike Dimoff. Here is Dimoff calling the 2009 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park:
Fort Erie has also created a new Racebook by the slots, which is a very good idea. Tracks make a lot more on each $2 bet on horses than they do on slots. Free coffee too. Almost like Vegas:)