30 April 2010


The American Lion may have gone extinct 11,000 years ago, but I can see a comeback in the making tomorrow in the Kentucky Derby.

I have a hard time believing this horse is going to go off between 30-1 and 50-1. His speed figure going into this race is as high as any of the competition. The seven post is probably as good as it gets in a 20 horse race. He is bred for the Derby. According to Brisnet distance number, American Lion's 118 is the highest in the field.

In his last race, The Illinois Derby, he did the last eighth of a mile in 13 seconds into a 30 mile per hour wind. Granted his early pace was slower, but like I stated, the final time is relatively equal to or better than the entire Derby field's best efforts. He beat his nearest rival by almost 3 lengths, drawing clear in the end. There was another gap of 11 lengths to the third place finisher. I don't expect him on the lead, and his last race sets him up perfectly to be placed in a stalking position behind the horses that will be out gunning early.

He is one of three horses in the race who are one for one (undefeated) on a dirt strip, and he looks like he is improving with every effort.

There is a major concern, but this is true of every horse in the race, and that is flood warnings have been predicted for the area tomorrow. Lions aren't fond of water, but this American Lion has the second highest Brisnet "off track" number in the race.

To round out the exactor, I like Super Saver. Good speed numbers. I think his running style is a detriment for this race though (he should be very vulnerable in the stretch unless he inherits a big lead). He will probably go the least distance of any horse in the race, as he looks to have enough speed to comfortably get to the rail (where Calvin Borel loves to ride).

Other contenders include the probably favorite Lookin At Lucky (who is also one for one on the dirt). Noble's Promise has a shot too. He has been turned away three times by Lookin At Lucky, but the three hole should allow him to have a great trip, and he looks to be ready for a peak effort, and he'll be picking them off late. And it is hard to leave Awesome Act out of the exotics. He is bred for the distance and figures to be charging late as well.

Free DRF Past Performances For Kentucky Derby

Bettor Beware: Obligatory
If you bet on Churchill Downs through HPI or a Canadian track or OTB, be prepared to get royally ripped off if you hit a pick 3, pick 4, triactor, or superfecta. The track takeout at Churchill downs for these bets is 19%, but Woodbine pays them off as if the takeout is 27%. This means, for example, that a $2000 payoff at Churchill Downs will only get you a little over $1800 in Canada. Where does the rest of the money go? Woodbine keeps it. They are your partner on these wagers whether you like it or not. And they don't even put in their share of the bet to begin with.

Woodbine must have a code name for their customers: Ben Dover.

I'm hoping Woodbine eventually does the right thing, but so far they are turning a blind eye to public complaints.

Fort Erie Opens Tomorrow
Big fields. Looks like new Racing Secretary John Whitson has been doing his job properly so far. Francine Villeneuve is back. Jockey Krista Carignan is going to be busy. She has a mount in every race on the opening day card. Agent Scott Lane must be working overtime.

It is still a shame that new management hasn't addressed Fort Erie's embarrassingly high takeout. 26.2% on exactors and doubles is no way to keep people in the stands.

Speaking of track takeout. Tioga Downs season begins tomorrow as well. Tioga Downs is a track that gets it. After a few conversations with HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America), they decided to lower their takeout as much as they could. Their new takeout rates are 15% on WPS, 17% on exactors and doubles, and 21% on all other bets. They now have the lowest track takeout of any track in North America, and the same is true of their exactor takeout.

They have been getting excellent feedback for their efforts, and I expect to see a good increase in handle. It must be stated though, that the true effects of a takeout increase or decrease doesn't rely on the public noticing it and either gravitating to the track or avoiding the track, no, it is a long term scenario, where the gamblers psychology is either positively or negatively impacted over time. The lower the takeout, the longer the player lasts, the more bang they have for their buck, the more likely they are to return quickly and more often.

In conjunction with HANA, Tioga Downs will be putting out expert picks in a contest called The Pen and Micro-Chip Challenge. Who is going to pick more winners at Tioga? Seasoned pen and paper handicappers, or computer generated picks?
A special thanks goes out to Mike (the owner of Pace Advantage) for his contribution to the contest, and TrackMaster for supplying free computer generated selections.

At Beulah Park tomorrow, there is a Pick 6 mandatory payout happening. Going in, there is over $445,000 in the pool. The beauty of it is that it is a 25 cent base bet. One can build a ticket of 2 horses a race for only $16 in total.

If you reside in the right jurisdiction, you can play the Beulah Fortune Pick 6 here (Tioga Downs is also on the menu). By post time of the third race, when the Pick 6 begins, the pool could be close to a million.

"The Kid" Gets His 15 Minutes Of Fame
14 year old handicapper from New Yawk who has a Youtube channel says his favorite track is Woodbine. I think he needs a lesson in track takeout:)




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25 April 2010

Handle Talk; Poker Rooms At Racetracks


Sunland Park bucks the trend. Their handle went up 5% over last year. With the industry down around 10% compared to last year, that is quite an improvement.

Hawthorne's daily handle was up 4% in March compared to March last year. They canned running on Thursdays and Sundays, and ran Tuesdays and Wednesdays instead (days when competition is lighter). Woodbine should consider Mondays and Tuesdays (though Fort Erie wouldn't like it), as they need to race when competition isn't around.

Hawthorne does pretty well, considering they are ranked around 35th in total purse distributions per day, they rank 18th in total handle per race. Woodbine ranks 5th in purse distribution per day, but ranks below Hawthorne (19th) in total handle per race.

Keeneland handle dipped 7%. They did outperform the industry, but field size plagued them this year, as the dropped from over 9 horses a race to under 8.

I don't have data on Gulfstream Park field size, but they bucked the trend as well, as out of state handle rose 5%, giving them a 4% increase over last year. Gulfstream Park has relatively low takeouts and higher than average field size (according to last year's stats). They also made a good move in changing the date of the Florida Derby and got lucky with some weekend cancellations of California tracks.

With Keeneland done for the spring, Woodbine had very good handle day (for Woodbine) yesterday, as over $2.8 million was bet.  Big fields dominated the card.

Thanks to yesterday, their last five racing days have shown an increase of .5% over last year, which means their handle woes have been cut in half, from being down 20%, to being down only 10% from last year at this time.  Still a cause for concern, as they didn't have the deal with TVG in place until the summer, and that helped them out last year immensely.

There seems to be some sort of trend being established. Tracks that are available at all ADWs in the US are doing well, as long as they don't overcharge for their distribution.

Keeneland charges higher than average fees for their signal, the same with the California tracks, and of course the Tracknet tracks (which also restrict rebates even more), and throw in Woodbine too. And when it comes to availability, none are available everywhere, and what I mean by everywhere, are the ADWs that offer rebates to horseplayers.

They are shooting themselves in the foot that way, but also by charging larger fees, they restrict what can be offered to the horseplayer. Track takeout isn't as consequential to rebate players as the fees a track charges for the signal. And what is happening now, is there is a shift going on, as price conscious players are now betting more on tracks that allow for a lower net takeout (track takeout minus rebate) than these A tracks that have a higher net takeout. Field size still will attract the price conscious players in many cases though, so there are exceptions.

The only growing part of the industry right now, is the ADW sector, and to be more specific, the ADW market that gives out rebates. Rebates are not a bad thing. They keep the horseplayer in the game longer, and this helps maintain and most probably grow the game, as many of these players believe they can beat the game because some actually do. The problem is that the industry doesn't want to publicize this because it is an admission that takeout is way too high.

So tracks like Sunland and Hawthorne are seeing handle rise while most high signal tracks are seeing handles continuing to drop.

Takeout still matters a lot. Players need to stay in the game as long as possible in order to grow the game. Horseplayers who go to the track and bet live races are the best asset for growth horse racing has, but they are the ones who pay on average the highest net takeout (aside from the yo yo's who bet at NY OTB's and mindlessly pay the surcharge).

Fort Erie takes 26.2% on exactors and doubles from their live players and then they wonder where the players went. That is like McDonald's charging $8 for Big Macs and wondering where the customers are. The more a horseplayer wins, the more they bet back. The longer the player lasts, more likely the player is getting hooked. The more a horseplayer leaves the track with, the more likely the horseplayer will return ASAP.

Ajax Downs' Nick Coukos Tries To Make A Case About Turning Poker Players Into Horseplayers

Coukos believes that by allowing poker rooms at the track, that there is a shot that some players will crossover.

They have poker rooms at some tracks in the US, and handle is down down down. There is no evidence to show this will remotely work.

Boils down to takeout. House take in poker is much lower than takeout at the ponies. There are visible winners at poker too. Long term winners. Winners who made enough money to move from their parent's basement to a mansion. Not so when it comes to horse racing.

Poker player's bankrolls last much longer than pony players too. Even if you get a poker player to cross over, it won't last most of the time.

Nick Coukos is not a bad handicapper, but he admits that he went from being a poker player to a horse player and back to being a poker player now. Players go where they have the biggest bang for their buck, and it seems Coukos is doing pretty well at poker. He just won a tournament at Caesars in Vegas, beating out 194 opponents and going home with prize money worth 15 Grand.

Almost makes me want to throw away the racing form and take up poker. Note: I used to play hold em in my early 20's a few nights a week for a good spell. It was very enjoyable, but not as stimulating for me as horse racing is....but way less expensive (potentially).

Click here for some comments from Pace Advantage on the idea of poker rooms at tracks.

There is probably more of a danger that horseplayers will crossover and become poker players. And the tracks can't afford to lose more horseplayers.

Jim Day: From Boom To Bust
Sad thing is with the Ontario Sired Program, this kind of thing shouldn't happen. But there is no out for Ontario sired horses. Either they win allowance races or they become worthless. State bred claiming races are desperately needed to help the breeders, owners, and trainers of Ontario bred horses.

This video put a smile on my face especially the part with the giant ball. I like the music too(HT Joanie D at Pace Advantage):




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* No fees on debit or credit card deposits of $100 or more.


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20 April 2010

The Future Is Now At Fort Erie

"We all are aware that if we do the same as last year, we'll fail," Jim Thibert, CEO of The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium said last week in a press conference.

Actually he could have picked out any year since Fort Erie Race Track first opened the doors in 1895.

Fort Erie season begins on May 1st, and already, they are getting in the batter's box behind in the count as horse racing handle is off over 10% this year in North America.

Handle at Woodbine is off over 15% so far this year, and Santa Anita just announced their handle was down 11% during their latest meet.

Field size might have something to do with it. Also, tracks with higher signal distribution fees like Woodbine and Santa Anita, and Tracknet tracks, have been getting whacked a bit more because price sensitive players have been shifting their action to where they can get the best net takeout after rebate. If the latter is true, that could be a plus for Fort Erie.

I was looking back at my notes pertaining to improving the betting handle at Fort Erie. When I first moved to Fort Erie back in 2001, I co owned quite a few horses. I had major interest in keeping the then high purses high, and approached Eddie Lynn, Nordic's GM at that time, with a list of close to 25 things they could do to attract more bettors.

The lack of interest I received was mind numbing, but then again, it was hard to blame him. Nordic was rolling in profits from the casino back then, and horse racing was and still is to them, a necessary evil.

I even mentioned competition from Buffalo which will most likely cause slots profits to go down, to which Lynn laughed, saying something like Buffalo can't do anything right, that they are inept across the border.

I saw I was getting nowhere, so after around 8 items on the list, I shook his hand and left his office.

Fast forward to today, and the days of giving away $175,000 a day in purses and running 120 plus days a year are long gone.

Of the items on my list, only one was realized. Last year, Fort Erie changed post times to 1:45, though that isn't exactly what I would have suggested.

So here is a revised list of what I believe Fort Erie needs to do to not only survive but to prosper for many years to come:

1. LOWER THE TRACK TAKEOUT: Fort Erie cannot realistically expect to survive unless they lower their takeout rates. Fort Erie ranks 67th out of 69 tracks when it comes to takeout rate. Did you know that 10 of the 14 tracks that have the lowest takeout rates, do not have alternative forms of gambling? Tracks with slots should have the lowest takeout rates in order to compete with the slots side.

If Joe Gambler loses $200 at slots (meaning he bet over $2000 on average), the track gets $20, and the horsemen get $20. If the same gambler loses $200 at the track on average (meaning he bet around $1000 on average), the track gets over $90, as does the horsemen.

Here are the rates Fort Erie should use (and I'm being reasonable and conservative): WPS 16.5%, DD EX 20.5% (just like Woodbine), Triactors, supers, pick 4's 24-25% tops. And it wouldn't hurt to drop the Pick 3 to around 16%. This bet generally doesn't attract large pools at Fort Erie anyway, and at this rate, it will attract many players from across Canada and the USA to play it, and once someone handicaps a Pick 3, making picks leads to the temptation to bet win or other exotics. Oh, and start the Pick 3 in the first race, not the second. I can see Woodbine throwing a hissy fit if the Pick 3's takeout was lowered to 16% though, but this isn't about Woodbine, it is about saving Fort Erie.

Lowering the takeout will attract price sensitive players from other jurisdictions, and will only increase Fort Erie's bottom line, as the bulk of their money comes from off track wagers where profits aren't related to takeout but only volume.

On track though, could be temporarily affected, however, studies and empirical evidence has shown that by lowering takeout, horseplayers last longer, and eventually will churn back the extra money won. The more they go home with, the more likely they are to return quicker, and the more likely they are to become regulars. This does not happen overnight, but it is something almost every track in North America has refused to experiment with. In today's environment it is a must, especially for a track like Fort Erie which is hanging on by a nose hair. It is the best way by far to create future regulars.

In Fort Erie's case, you can't continue to have a track takeout of 26.2% on doubles and exactors, and actually publicly state you are trying to improve the bottom line.

2. Introduce the Fort Erie Five, a jackpot bet that is identical to the Beulah Fortune Pick 6. The takeout rate isn't that important, so 25% would be OK. It has to be a $1 minimum in order to attract US bettors, who can't bet fractional amounts from US tracks or ADWs on Canadian tracks. Give out 50% of the new money (after takeout) bet each day to those who have the most winners in the Pick 5, and have the other 50% go towards a jackpot that is only won if a lone winning ticket picks all five winners.

This may only build up significantly once a year, but as it does, handle will go through the roof for the days leading up to the jackpot being hit.

Most importantly is when this pool gets up over $100,000, it will start attracting lottery and slots players to make their way to the racetrack and hang out on the horsey smelling side of the grandstand for at least a little while.

If Fort Erie wants to get aggressive, they can seed it or guarantee a $5,000 payoff, which probably will wind up costing them next to nothing if anything.

3. Re-introduce the Breakfast Club. I used to really enjoy it when I was a kid spending my summer holidays at the Fort. Canadian bacon on a bun for a buck, while watching horses workout in the morning. It might mean Daryl Wells Jr. having to wake up early on a Sunday morning, but sacrifices need to be made.

Eddie Lynn told me that they stopped it, because they were attracting too many "mooches" looking for a cheap breakfast. Again, times have changed, and the main purpose of this would be to try to entice some of the slot players to come out for some fresh air, and they might find a jockey or trainer being interviewed to be somewhat educational and maybe even fascinating.

Luring them out with a free quick pick on today's Pick 4 or a voucher to buy an early daily double might work wonders.

Again, tracks make more from gamblers who bet on the horses over slots dollar for dollar.

4. Change post time on Sundays to 12:15 or 12:30. Sunday handles suck. Fort Erie should compete for the first dollars bet across North America on that day. It might get more people handicapping Fort Erie. Starting at 1:45 or even 1:00 puts them in competition with too many A tracks, and Woodbine too. Plus if Fort Erie does the Breakfast Club at 9-10PM, it makes it easier for the slot player to use their double voucher. Never race more than 8 races on a Sunday. Run extra races on Monday or Tuesday always.

5. Pay more purse money the larger the field size. Field size is one of the biggest handle drivers there is. Fort Erie averaged 8.24 horses per race last year, which ranks them 33 out of 69 tracks.
In order to maximize field size and handle, I strongly believe that 6 horse fields for the same class should not run for the same purse that a 12 horse field runs for.
Horsemen won't like this idea, because their ideal field size is 1, but since we are talking about keeping their plant open, they might bend.

Fort Erie has a budget to give out around $100,000, which gives them an average purse of around $12,000. Obviously, $4,000 claimer should run for lower than $14,000 claimers, but it is also key to remember that it costs exactly the same to train a 4 claimer as it does an allowance horse. So lets look at the average race for Fort Erie, a $7500 claimer for non winners of 3. The average purse for that race should be $12,000. However, in order to reward races that have higher non coupled entrants, it would pay to change the minimum purse to $9,000 for this race if it attracts only 6 or less starters. For each additional starter, $1,000 should be added to the purse. This means an 8 horse race will run for an $11,000 purse, and a 12 horse race, for example, will run for a $15,000 purse.

If this does in fact lead to bigger fields, handle will rise causing purses to start to rise, and the base can be increased, as a win win situation is created.

6. Forget the idea that quality horses will come to Fort Erie, or are even needed to be attracted. First off, when you have just $12,000 a race to hand out, you can't reasonably believe quality will show up. Secondly, historically, small field races that give out bigger purses at Fort Erie produce very low handle.

There is really no reason to have allowance or even maiden allowance races at Fort Erie. If a horse is perceived to be worth more than $16,000, let the local connections of that horse prove it at Woodbine, and hopefully they can enhance their year with the bigger purses Woodbine has to offer, and conversely, why entice a superior Woodbine horse to come to Fort Erie to steal purse money in a short field of horses next to nobody bets? Fort Erie is a niche track, that is now getting extra government benefits. It should do everything it can to give purse money out to local horsemen whenever possible, plus betting comes from bigger fields not horses running for higher tags or no tag at all (the exception being, obviously, The Prince of Wales).

6a). I'm not sure if they are doing this or not, but when putting a race card together, the Racing Secretary should give preference to field size over purse size, with the only exception being Stake Races. Also, carryovers should be treated equally with races in the book. If they have attracted a bigger field than the race in the book, it gets preference.

7. The second biggest asset Fort Erie has right now, outside of the existing horseplayer, is the existing horseman. Keeping owners and trainers in the game is critical. Most owners don't expect to win, but the closer they come to winning, the more likely they are to stick around, and maybe even increase their stable. The small owner is likely to bring in partners, and they in turn, bring family members to watch their horses and hopefully get their picture taken in the winner's circle. This can create more potential horseplayers over time.

It is key not to keep the minimum purses for cheap claimers to be as high as possible, even if it is at the sacrifice of limiting the higher end races in purse money. Most tracks get this already, and Fort Erie has been improving in this area.

8. Write Canadian bred or Ontario bred claiming races. Again, it is important these races fill for the sake of handle, so this needs to be implemented on a trial basis. These races can boost participation from a few sources. Many Fort Erie horsemen have locally bred horses who are forced to compete with US breds. This is generally a disadvantage. By having Ontario bred claiming races, it entices local horsemen to buy them. It will also draw some Woodbine horses who could be running at Fort Erie at bargain (for local Fort Erie horsemen) prices, which could eventually increase the horse population at Fort Erie as these horse change hands.

It also gets the interest of more breeders from across Ontario to watch races at Fort Erie, where the horse they bred has a better chance to win. Breeders have families and friends, and they might bet a few bucks on the race as well.

9. Call every local business in the Great Niagara region and Buffalo and offer a $12 all you can eat buffet for groups of 6 or more. I don't know if they do this, but it should be done.

10. Outsource the food stands in the main grandstand to affordable fast food places that Fort Erie is lacking, like a KFC, Arby's, Swiss Chalet/Harveys, and/or Burger King. Put a Swiss Chalet, and my wife might even make a few bets. Worse case scenario is that people come for pick up only....at least they realize what the inside of a track looks like, and may gamble in the future.

The parking lot is huge. A Ponderosa like steak house would go over nicely there.

11. I can't mention number 11 on this blog, as it will enrage Woodbine, and I know quite a few Woodbine execs read my blog. But it is huge. It actually should be number 2 on this list.

12. Interview the trainer of one of the favorites right after the post parade for the live crowd and possibly the simulcast crowd. Maybe interview the winning jockey and/or trainer after the race. Pre race interviews though, are better to generate wagers.

13. Elissa Blowe has enough experience when it comes to noticing if a horse is either acting up, sweaty, or looking great in the post parade. It might be a good idea to have her Tweet an observation or two each race to the at home bettor. Follow Fort Erie on Twitter here.

14. Hire me as a consultant. I don't care about the money that much, though a little compensation would be expected. I would love to be part of this turnaround. I can only give Fort Erie around 20 hours a week of live time anyway. But it would benefit Fort Erie tremendously as I would come in handy in supervising and implementing my suggestions, and more importantly refining them if needed, and coming up with more as time goes on.

I have a few other suggestions but they are minor right now.

17 April 2010

Fort Erie Race Track Faces Uphill Climb

New Management For Fort Erie Will Try To Wake Up The Community That A Track Exists

I'm positive Jim Thibert is sincere about making Fort Erie a success, but isn't his fault that he is missing the point. He has surrounded himself with horsemen and people who have been part of a failing industry. Kind of like getting a stock tip from a guy who has no shirt.

Better quality horses for a track that averages $12,000 a race in purses will at best be marginal even if Steve Asmussen brings some horses to race. And it really isn't worth it to have pots taken away from foreign owners as the local horsemen will suffer even more than they do right now.

In fact, maiden special races and allowance races that attracted Stronach horses in the past, were amongst the lowest handle betting events on the card. Horseplayers would rather bet on a competitive $5,000 claiming event with 12 horses than a 7 horse fake allowance race.

Field size is key, but again, because purse size is limited, it will be a struggle to card races with enough horses consistently that will attract more betting.

John Whitson, the new temporary racing secretary might have lots of horse racing experience as an exec, but he hasn't been a racing secretary for close to 40 years. He'll find out that despite his best efforts that he won't be able to improve field size that much over last year, if at all. Competition looms large from Presque Isle, Mountaineer Park and Finger Lakes.

Other new managers have been hired, and others will be hired in the near future.

As for community involvement. I don't think there is anyone in Fort Erie who doesn't know a track exists. More community tied events may get the numbers of patrons up at certain times, but until the issue of Fort Erie's ridiculously high track takeout is tackled, I don't expect new horseplayers to be created.

Thibert is talking like horsemen are the main thing that makes or breaks the game. They are not. Not even close. It is the bettor that pays for track operations and purses. The more they bet, the higher the purses, the higher the quality, and eventually, the bigger the fields.

Today's new gambler is not the same gambler from the 70's and 80's. The worst thing Fort Erie could do right now is ignore this fact. Horse racing executives need to disassociate themselves from horsemen groups when it comes to decisions about how to attract customers.

For too long, horse racing makes decisions based on how they think bettors should behave and react, or even worse, how they want bettors to behave and react.

The best way to find out how horseplayers tick is to ask existing horseplayers. HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) has published survey results that was answered by close to 500 horseplayers.

The number one issue to existing horseplayers is high takeout.

Fort Erie's takeouts are amongst the worst in North America. Lets compare them to the best, Keeneland (which has no alternative gaming to boot):

Keeneland WPS 16% All other wagers 19%
Fort Erie WPS 16.95% All other wagers 26.2%, except triactors which are 28.2%

Even the California Lottery now gets it. They just announced they are lowering the takeout on Scratch tickets:

"There are more prizes to give out, so people are going to win more often," said lottery director Joan Borucki. "When people win more often, they feel like playing more often, which in turn will increase sales, and as sales go up . . . our contribution to education goes up."

More about the California decision compared to the stubborn mindset of horse racing execs and horsemen at HANA's Blog(I wrote it so it is worth reading).

The other thing Fort Erie needs to do is get a Beulah-like bet going. As I explained in a previous post, I think a $1 Jackpot Pick 5 would do it. Speaking of Beulah's Fortune Pick 6, there will be a mandatory payoff on Derby Day. The carryover pool is over $400,000, and it is anticipated the pool will double on that day. It might even hurt the handle for the Kentucky Derby by a small amount.

The Queen Of Fort Erie is making a comeback. Francine Villeneuve will be riding at the Fort in pursuit of 1000 wins. She is 66 wins away from that goal. She hasn't ridden since 2006, but she really knows how to ride at Fort Erie and should be amongst the leaders there in the jockey standings. Beverly Smith mentions Villeneuve in her latest article about Chantal Sutherland.

Steve Crist has a new article up on the potential good riddance of the NY OTB's.
No one likes to see the loss of 1300 jobs, but the OTB's in New York state are dinosaurs. They are just not needed. Not only is everyone who attends these scuzzy joints capable of betting from home or at the track, but these patrons have been getting fleeced for years with surcharges. Even though the players pay them, it does affect their psyche, and helps kill horse racing and kill handle as bettors become more and more convinced that horse racing is strictly a losing proposition.

Crist stated that the proposed solution will have nothing but an adverse effect on horse racing:

"The solution proposed by OTB is to reduce its payments to the industry even further, which - like the takeout increases it has repeatedly gotten to avert previous crises - would only continue the downward spiral of racing."

Conversely, if the OTB's shutdown, these horseplayers might find themselves playing at ADWs that offer bonuses instead, like Horseplayersbet.com and if that happens, will see a boost in handle and more confidence from horseplayers.

Woodbine handle is still in the dumper. Yesterday they did a pathetic $1,362,091 in total handle compared with $1,562,826 a year earlier. Again, I expect purse cuts to be announced soon. Woodbine is completely stuck on stupid when it comes to the idea of lowering takeout.

Woodbine announces the addition of 1,000 slots
Seems like a con job to give horsemen hope, and maybe delude racing execs in thinking the future is brighter than it is. Unless there are times that there are no slot machines free, how does the addition of machines help. Revenues from slots were down 2% last year, which indicate a leveling off. The bottom line is that slots will make less than they do right now on average, but I don't see how the addition of slots will bring in new lost money by customers.

Sure, table games and sports betting will bring in new money....but more slots?

Australian Charged With Laundering Gambling Funds Of US Gamblers
Between February 2008 and March 2009, Tzvetkoff's company Intabill allegedly processed more than $540 million in transactions between US gamblers and internet gambling websites, disguising transactions to the banks so they would appear unrelated to gambling.

Eye On Gambling Website Owner and Wife Die In Apparent Double Suicide
Police have ruled out foul play, and it has been speculated that the suicides were due to gambling losses, though this hasn't been proved.

Ken Weitzner contemplated suicide four years ago.

No love lost from online news rival, Majorwager.com's Russ Hawkins:

Hawkins, who openly despised Weitzner, his main competitor in the gambling news website biz, wrote: "Not really sure what to say here. I think that those of you who know me personally know that I never gave into Ken's bullsh%@.

"In fact, I spent a good deal of my time trying convince people that he was a con man of extreme proportions. Nothing has changed. Clearly he conned his wife into suicide--a wonderful mother by all accounts and fantastic grandmother.

"My sorrow is with Jackie's family. Ken had none. He had a Mother he leeched from...I have nothing more pleasant to say, so I won't."

12 April 2010

After 6 Racing Days, Woodbine Handle Off Around 20%

Woodbine started up on Good Friday this year as opposed to the first Saturday in April last year, so a total apples to apples handle comparison can't be made because we've seen 6 cards this year versus 5 cards last year, but there is no doubt that Woodbine's management team is in panic mode right now, as they should be.

Last year after 5 dates, average handle was $2,264,082, and this was without being featured on TVG. This year, the average handle is only $1,815,093, which represents a drop of 19.8%. And if you take out the first Friday, the average now becomes $1,755,417 (a drop of 22.5%).

If you want to look at it another way, last year after only 5 days of horse racing at Woodbine, they did $429,853 in total handle more than they did in total handle after 6 racing days this year.

Last Friday, the total handle had to be embarrassing. Only $1,032,283 was wagered. In fact, Turf Paradise (whose purses equaled less than the featured allowance race at Woodbine that day), had a handle of $1,234,840. Mountaineer had a handle of $1,403,809. Incidentally, Tampa Bay Downs did $3,926,932 in handle on Friday.

Woodbine announced a 15% purse cut for harness races recently, and in a stunned move, took it out on the every day purses and left the Stake races alone. It was stated that after 4 days of racing this year, it was evident that betting on standardbred was off enough that a purse drop was inevitable.

Thoroughbred horsemen better brace themselves because it looks like Woodbine will have no choice but to drop purses soon if betting doesn't pick up significantly.

But why is betting off so much?

People playing catch up from last year's recession? Possible. There could be less disposable cash lying around these days from even a year ago. However, Vegas just announced that gross revenues were up over 13% in February over the previous February.

Credit crunch. It is harder, especially for Americans to get credit to play the ponies, and many horseplayers are stretched to the limit in Canada as well.

More horseplayers are leaving for Betfair, offshore betting, poker, etc. Again, Woodbine has done nothing to compete for the business of existing gamblers. From taking a cut from horseplayer's winnings on exotics at many US tracks (which disgust horseplayers) to having a high average track takeout on their own product that ranks 58th out of 69 tracks according to a recent study by HANA.

Existing horseplayers are more aware than ever before about track takeout as the main excuse for why they lose and can't last. More articles about horse racing, blogs and forums are bring up track takeout each and every day. Rebates, too are getting lots of ink.

It can't be the polytrack because Keeneland is grooving. On their opening day, they did over $7.5 million in handle. But then again, Keeneland is tied with Churchill Downs for having the lowest track takeout average in North America.

Woodbine remains being a stubborn corporate entity, and if they think that they can replace $1,000 a day bettors with $2 bettors, and keep purses where they are, they are kidding themselves.

It is too late to be proactive. It is time to panic, and time to think about the future. The HBPA also needs to play ball as well, or horsemen will wind up being like a deer in the headlight as purses will continue to drop if changes are not made immediately to the way Woodbine treats their customer, the bettor.

Takeout must be reduced significantly on all exotics outside of exactors and doubles. The practice of taking a cut of the horseplayer's winning on US exotics must be stopped as well. And if purse cuts do occur, they need to try to keep the lower end claiming purses as high as possible, because the biggest asset Woodbine has right now outside the existing horseplayer, is the existing owner and breeder. It has to be economical for them so that they stay in the game with as many horses as possible.

Fort Erie isn't budgeted for a 20% decrease in handle, but to date, have not made any announcement about keeping existing horseplayers or attracting more gamblers. They really need to address their high takeout rates. Fort Erie was rated 67th out of 69 tracks when it came to track takeout. Give the horseplayer back more money, they will last longer, and if they go home with a little more money, they are more likely to come back quicker.

Speaking about Fort Erie, here is an article about underrated jockey Krista Carrignan. Carrignan is represented by agent Scottie Lane this year. Fort Erie's season begins the first Saturday in May, which falls on the 1st this year.

Quebec only will race 10 days this year because of alleged red tape. Better than nothing. And Woodbine gets access to the Quebec betting market, who are used to betting into high takeouts. Not to say that many in Quebec gamblers have stopped playing ponies, at least in Canada.

Down The Stretch put out an edition less than two weeks ago. There is an interesting article on owner/breeder/former teen icon, David Cassidy by Perry Lefko.

I'll finish up with one of my favorite Partridge Family songs:

9 April 2010

HANA's Track Rating Resource: Great For Horseplayers And The Industry Alike

HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) has published their 2010 Thoroughbred track ratings. It is a great player and industry resource, with sortable columns for up to date track takeout for most wagers as well as sortable columns for things like handle per race and field size. The current blog piece is a focus on tracks with the lowest takeouts.

It is pretty amazing that 12 of the top 16 track's with the lowest takeout score have no alternative source of gambling. This isn't true when it comes to the bottom ranked tracks, which are dominated by tracks that have slots. Woodbine and Northlands Park tie for 58th spot out of 69 tracks when it comes to highest takeouts, while Fort Erie finds itself pathetically in 67th spot on the list, bettering only Suffolk Downs (68th), and Assiniboia (69th).

The industry is not taking HANA's work lightly lately. It is in panic mode, and I think the message that it is the horseplayer that is the customer, and only the customer, is beginning to become a reality, and it is about time the industry find out how the customer thinks, and works with that knowledge instead of the old way which is how the industry wants the horseplayer to think.

HANA is getting lots of press. Check this out.

To join HANA, simply click here, it is free, and it only takes a minute.

Gaming revenues in Nevada jump almost 14% in February
So what is horse racing's excuse? Total handle on US races declined over 6% in March. That followed double digit declines in January and February compared to the corresponding months the year before.

Horse racing has still not bottomed out yet, and still, next to nothing has been done to address the pricing of the bet, in order to compete and grow again. Proving once again, that racing is one of the most, if not the most, dysfunctional industry in the Western world.

Cutting race days or purses is a band aid solution, and as this trend continues, horse racing will become less of a concern, not only by the public, but also regarding government subsidies.

On a related note, if Woodbine is not careful, they will soon have their slot subsidies questioned, as more and more American outfits usurp the Canadian outfits thanks to Woodbine's effort to attract Americans by carding American bred friendly races such as B Allowance races. And more importantly, not carding Ontario bred claiming events and even worse, continuing the new practice of not allowing the owner of a newly claimed Ontario horse run for the full purse.

It is almost like Woodbine is telling the owners, go get a superior Kentucky bred, bring it here and race it. It is a lot less risky than buying an Ontario bred either at a sale, and of course, unless you think a newly claimed Ontario bred can win an Ontario sired allowance race, don't even think about claiming one.

There are two existing components of growth for betting: The existing horseplayer, and the existing owner. Owners and horseplayers are the one's who will likely expose newbies to the game (friends, relatives, and sometimes coworkers and neighbours). The horseplayer in Ontario has been ravaged for years by high takeout. Many have left to play poker, Betfair, or are now wagering offshore with bookies or rebate shops. Now the horse owner and breeders are really feeling Woodbine's corporate mentality of trying to attract more quality (even though studies have shown that quality means very little compared to pricing when it comes to handle). We are seeing less and less new Ontario owners come into the game through partnerships or as lone entities, and it all boils down to Woodbine having little understanding of who the real customer is.

Forum Question: If you won a $5 Million Lottery would you continue to bet on horses? Not one NO so far. Horseplayers sure are either passionate and/or addicted.

Seriously though, Chantal Sutherland is back at Woodbine. She is listed to ride a couple of horses this afternoon (Friday) at Woodbine.

Beulah Park's 25 Cent Fortune Pick 6's jackpot has climbed to $307,465 going into Saturday. You can bet it here, if you live in the right State.

3 April 2010

The Beulah Park Fortune 6 May Be The Idea That Saves Racing

The jackpot for the Beulah Park Fortune 6 has grown to over $200,000

Now, don't just bet it without knowing the rules first. In a nutshell, it is a 25 cent base bet. This means that a horseplayer can take 2 horses a race and the total bet will be only $16. But there is a catch: The jackpot is paid out if there is one single winner. This means that if you are the only winner, but have it for 50 cents or more, you don't win the jackpot. So it is very important that you don't duplicate your wagers if your goal is to win the jackpot.

They do give out 40% of what is wagered (after takeout) each day if the jackpot is not won, and distribute it to those who have the most winners (lately that has been those who had all 6 winners).

If you do have lots of chalk, it doesn't hurt to try to get it multiple times with the jackpots as high as they are now, and if you take into consideration that the last three days, they attracted over $60,000 each day in new money, which means that after the 22.5% takeout, over $18,000 has been distributed each day, while another $28,000 has been added to the jackpot on average daily.

The Beulah Park Fortune 6 is a carbon copy of Puerto Rico's Poolpote wager. It is tremendously popular in that country, as it has a 35 cent minimum so again, it is affordable by all. It was recently won in March, and the winner received close to $5 million dollars on a ticket that cost $10.30.

So how does a 25 cent or 35 cent bet grow to be so large and get so much play at C or even D tracks? The beauty of it is that the larger it gets, the less likely it will be won by one bettor, especially with the short fields Beulah has been offering of late. It is a Catch 22 that works in favor of the race track. The small players are attracted to it like bees to honey. And the pools are big enough to attract the medium player who might be interested in sharing the daily pool money with a shot at the big one.

As the jackpot gets higher, the lottery and slots crowd start to get attracted to it, and tracks like Beulah may start to see an influx of newbies. And another key point is that some every day horseplayers who don't usually look at a track like Beulah, are now handicapping 6 races a day there. And as many horseplayers know, once you handicap a race and form an opinion, you are likely to find an exactor or triactor, or many of each, to play on the card as well.

This is an obvious way for smaller tracks, especially harness tracks, which are really struggling each day to try to build their customer base back up again.

As for tracks doing this, there could be a few problems right from the start to set this up, depending on the jurisdiction. In Canada, this type of bet would require CPMA approval, as it is a different way to distribute pools. It may be a lot of red tape, it may not be.

The biggest problem is the minimum. If you are an American and bet through an American ADW or track or simulcast center, you wouldn't be able to place a bet on a Canadian jackpot bet unless you play it for at least a dollar, which means that you wouldn't be eligible to win the Canadian jackpot. The same is true for Canadians betting a US jackpot bet. Canadians must bet at least a dollar base bet on US product through HPI, or Canadian tracks and simulcast centers.

American tracks really don't have to worry about Canadians because a jackpot can be build without Canadians playing it, but Canadian tracks have to worry about getting Americans to play their jackpots because that is where much of the potential money to build the bet up will come from.

Even though the Canadian dollar and US dollar are close to par, the rules are still there regarding fractional betting, and it is maddening for many horseplayers, especially Canadian ones, have little option but either skip these bets or play them for a dollar base.

Take Fort Erie for example. Here is a struggling track that could benefit immensely from this kind of bet. But since they can't use the quarter base for reasons cited above, I would suggest to them that they do a $1 base Pick 5. If you don't think the Pick 4 is hard enough to cash at the Fort, just ask Daryl Wells Jr. and Elissa Blowe. A Pick 5 would be just about right, if you want to compare it to the Beulah bet.

For the complete Fortune 6 rules, click here.
If you live in the right jurisdiction, you can play the Beulah Fortune 6 here.
See also Fugue For Tinhorns: That Deceptive Juicy Beulah Carryover

I am two days late with this news. I just saw it at Pull The Pocket. Brilliant, brilliant idea. In case you missed it, Hollywood Park is going to make identifying your horse in a race, way more easier. It will be great for the newbies, and even veterans like myself who lose the horse you are watching during the race. Well, this won't happen again at Hollywood Park:

Woodbine opened up yesterday and they barely did over $2.1 million in handle. I don't think that the slot subsidies Woodbine receives from the OLG was meant to go to short fields with big purses won by US connections. Keeneland opened up yesterday too. They also had 10 races, with shorter than usual fields as well. The thing is they did around $7.5 million in handle. Three and a half times more than Woodbine.

Here is a track with no subsidies from alternative forms of gambling, and they maintain the lowest takeout average in North America (tied with Churchill Downs): 16% on WPS, 19% on all other wagers. Woodbine, with slots, gives has track takeouts that range from 16.95% on WPS to 27% on triactors.

HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) just put out the 2010 final rankings of 69 racetracks. Keeneland was number one on the list for the second year in a row, while Woodbine ranks 30 overall, and even worse, their takeout rank is 58th.

Today's Woodbine card is embarrassing: 65 horses in 10 races.

Fair Grounds handle was down 19.5% last meet
Blame it on cancellations, turf races coming off the grass, and the Mid Atlantic dispute. But the main reason is most likely the squeezing of the emerging rebate player. High distribution fees coupled with Tracknet's ridiculous limitation on horseplayers who bet less than $1 million a year, by not allowing them to receive a rebate of more than 2% no matter where they are playing, is the main reason many medium size gamblers have been playing tracks like Tampa Bay Downs instead.



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1 April 2010

Woodbine To Reduce Takeout With Future Growth In Mind

Tomorrow, Woodbine will open the doors for their 2010 thoroughbred season, and they've decided to dedicate this year to the horseplayer by dropping track takeouts to industry low levels.

WPS bets will now be offered at 15%. All exotics will be have a takeout of 18%, with the exception of triactors which will have a takeout of 19.5%. The takeouts used to be 16.95% for WPS, 20.5% for exactors and doubles, 25% for Pick 4's and Pick 6's, 26.3% for superfectas and Pick 3's, and 27% for triactors.

The hardest part of making this change was convincing the Ontario HBPA that their contract needed to be changed because their percentages had to be prorated for this to work. It took a lot of meetings, but the astute Woodbine executives team was able to finally convince the horsemen that when takeout drops, players will churn back the extra money they won, so the bottom line will be at least the same. Of course, when horseplayers last longer, and spend more time handicapping, betting and watching races, they may forgo other forms of gambling, and more importantly, start introducing their family and friends to the great game of horse racing, and this potential for strong growth has apparently excited both horsemen and WEG executives alike.

Because track takeouts were being cut to close to three quarters of what they used to be, instead of receiving an extra 2% on all wagers, the horsepeople have agreed to receive an extra 1.5% on each dollar bet instead, and an additional 1.5% on triactors.

In order to get the horsemen to go along with this monumental effort, Woodbine promised to keep purse levels at least the same this year, and next year. An executive stated off the record that "Woodbine was planning to announce a 15% purse cut on the thoroughbred side, just like they did on the standardbred side, by August 1st, if this agreement failed."

The same executive, who stressed she wanted to stay anonymous, said that "Things are so much brighter now that Davey is giving up control. It is like Woodbine finally got rid of the monkey on its back." She then joked, "He'll still be around for a few months doing the only thing he is any good at, collecting his big fat pay check."

The government agencies too had to go along with this plan. It took about twelve meetings but they finally understood the math behind the cuts and what churn means, so it was agreed that the Ontario Government will now receive .385% instead of .5% on each dollar wagered, while the Canadian Government will now retain .615% instead of .8% on each dollar wagered for the provision of drug control, photo-finish, video patrol and audit services.

But that isn't all. Newly appointed WEG Token Racial Minority V.P. Ravi Singh Singhasong stated that "instead of using the term "Take Out Adjustments," which is too lengthy a term anyway, money put into HPI accounts based on how much a horseplayer bets, will now be referred to as "Rebates." We will now be giving out Rebates to all HPI members on every bet they make with no weekly minimum. All bets made through HPI will now receive at least 2% paid out weekly. Those who bet over $5,000 a week will receive rebates of 4% on all wagers, and those who wager $10,000 a week or more will receive 6%. The exception is that there are certain tracks that we can only pay rebates of 2% on because of contractual restrictions, so we be informing our bigger betting customers that it might be in their best interest to avoid playing those tracks."

"We also convinced the horsemen to pay for half the rebate and they seemed to understood that the rebate money would be bet back in almost every case, so in the end they would wind up with at least close to the same, but probably a whole lot more," said Singhasong.

Ravi continued, "We will also now pay our customers whatever the US tracks pay on all bets, and therefore cease taking a cut out of the horseplayers winnings if they hit a triactor on a California race, for example. It is just bad Karma to rip off the horseplayer, really bad Karma. No more bad Karma."

"One more surprise," Singh Singhasong went on, "we are giving our customers their breakage. It is 2010, we had computers that could figure out exact payoffs to the penny years ago. We don't use chalk boards for the odds anymore, and haven't for some time. There is no reason not to give our customer all their money, not just most of it, they earned it. So that is what we are going to do."

Asked what triggered this seemingly new philosophy, Singhasong said, "Besides having a new visionary guiding us, we looked at our business model, and the lack of growth that has resulted. The fact that we have been losing horseplayers and potential horseplayers to Betfair, online poker, sports betting, and offshore ADWs. We finally decided enough is enough, lets bloody well compete for their business.....we know that at Woodbine, we have a very good racing product, but a terrible betting product, the track takeouts rates we had before today were the laughing stock amongst all knowledgeable gamblers."

"What pushed us overboard, though, was seeing the continued growth and success of Tampa Bay Downs with their gradual takeout reductions, and compared it with the awful, rancid, dreadful decline at Calder Race Course. Then we looked at our numbers, and we have the same handle that Calder has today, almost half of what Tampa Bay does daily. Look at our purse structure compared to Tampa, if not for slots, we'd be running for peanuts. We realized our model is broken, so now we will fix it."

Ravi and the rest of the WEG decision makers must have figured out that during their 2002-2003 meet, Tampa Bay did $2,550,096 per day in handle, and after a couple of takeout reductions, now appears to be averaging over $4,000,000 a day this meet, while Calder did $397,369 in handle per race back in 2003, and only did $235,000 per race in handle in 2009. Calder foolishly increased takeout early in 2008.

Instead of a gradual decrease in takeout like Tampa Bay has done, Woodbine has decided to grab the bull by the horns.

"Gradual Shmadual," said Singh Singhasong, "2010 is THE YEAR OF THE HORSEPLAYER AT WOODBINE, oh and one more thing, APRIL FOOLS' DAY."