6 March 2014

Run Up Times The Least Of Horse Racing's Problems

Andy Beyer recently wrote an article: Racing industry keeps horseplayers off balance.  It is a relevant article, in that it illustrates how Horseplayers are challenged with handicapping different distances and the fact that run up times (the time from when the gate opens to the actual starting time of the tele-timer differs from distance to distance and track to track).  Yes, these kind of things are hard to explain to newbies, but the reality is that I doubt they affect whether a newbie ends up being a Horseplayer or not. 

These are issues that are specific to those already playing.  And even if they were resolved, for example, if thoroughbred tracks got together and made it a rule that the only distances allowed for tracks were 4 1/2f, 5f, 5 1/2f, 6f, 6 1/2f, 7f (I wish they'd get rid of this distance), 1M, 1M1/16th, 1M1/8th, 1M 3/16th, 1M1/4, 1 1/2, and 1M3/4,  and they also specified that run up distance can only be 20 feet, players would still be losing 21% of their money on average each race.

One could argue that having full knowledge of run ups and the intricacies of each specific distance is one way to find an edge in a game that pits good to great handicappers versus good to great handicappers.   The dummy money is long gone and pretty much everyone who plays these days uses track variant adjusted speed figures, so there aren't many ways left to find edges to overcome the insidious track takeout.

The big problem racing faces is that no matter how badly they want newbies, there is next to no reason for a newbie to be attracted to horse racing.  Horse racing is about gambling, it is competing directly with slots, lotteries, poker, sports betting and even fantasy sports betting nowadays.  Other than and lotteries and slots (which is mindless gambling with no learning curve), horse racing's gambling competition is perceived to be beatable (and most are beatable long term by at least a few).  So if a gambler is going to learn a new game, there is at least a possible attainable achievement in learning poker or sports betting.   Why learn a game that has no visible winners with a huge learning curve attached to it? 

Perhaps, a series like Horseplayers will give newbies some false hope the game is possibly beatable by at least someone who doesn't receive rebates.  Maybe, maybe not.  In today's day and age, many people investigate ideas on the internet before making a move.  I don't think very many doing due diligence on betting horses will become Horseplayers very fast.

Since the overwhelming majority of gamblers inevitably lose, regardless of the game they are playing, another main factor comes into play:  Bang For Your Buck.  Horse racing fails miserably here too.  Gamblers brains go in all sorts of directions when they are gambling, but if their money disappears too quickly, the fix they get from gambling diminishes.  A gambler could get as much of a fix betting $20 on a football game that lasts 3 hours as they do in wagering $20 on a horse race that lasts a minute or so.  Even though the reward could be a lot higher on the horse race, the fact that the sports bet has a takeout of 4.6% versus an average takeout of 21% on horse racing, the sports bettor is likely to have their bankroll last a lot longer.  The sports gambler is more likely to handicap and watch sports the next day over playing the races.

Lotteries are often cited by know-nothing-it-alls in the comments section of some racing articles that discuss product pricing.  Yes, lotteries have a larger takeout than horse racing, but when one buys a lottery ticket most of the time, they are buying the dream of winning, of quitting their job and buying a house in Aruba.  That is a big part of the fix, plus there is no learning curve.  Horse racing's answer are these Jackpot Pick 6's which really just drain the bankrolls of current players faster, taking away much needed churn (Bang for your buck), and as for the pros and cons of the gambler's fix, I believe they do more damage than good.

Yes, horse racing has all sorts of problems, from drugs to run up times to its high learning curve, but the biggest problem is that it is no longer attractive to new potential players, and it all points to the price of the product.  If the game was perceived as beatable by at least a few, then the new demand created would force the industry to fix their micro-problems. 

The industry has done just about everything but faced the fact that they are all about gambling and need to address their pricing problem, but as Pull The Pocket points out (Why Do I Need 4 Betting Accounts), the result is a mad dash to get a higher percentage from a shrinking pie at the expense of the Horseplayer, which causes the pie to shrink even more.  Handle has gone down so much in the past few years, that when it doesn't go down one month, it is perceived as a victory by industry leaders.

Horse racing is a great game.  A thinking person's game.  But the industry seems to close their eyes and kick its heels repeating "horse racing is entertainment not gambling, horse racing is entertainment not gambling, horse racing is entertainment not gambling."  No matter how many times they open their eyes, they are never in Kansas.



Unknown said...

Makes sense to me but I'm so dumb I bet on horse races.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those guys who sticks to one ADW. This year they don't have Gulfstream Park or Santa Anita Park so I don't bet those tracks. I checked back at my records from last year and saw I bet a few hundred a day usually on them and now I don't even watch there races. The good thing is my rebates are higher because rebates on those two tracks must have been lousy and I'm doing better this year so far.