28 November 2019

Where Does Horse Racing Go From Here?

Horse racing has an uphill battle going forward. The biggest problem has nothing to do with horse safety, it has to do with horse racing's inability to attract new Horseplayers.

With a base that is literally starting to die off, there doesn't seem to be many replacements willing to learn the game. After blowing a near monopoly when it comes to online gambling for years and years, I don't see how horse racing can compete with sports betting. Gamblers looking for home runs can take 5 or 6 team parlays instead of betting Pick 4s or Pick 5s.

Horse racing know nothings say things like "the time between races is a deterrent to growth." Yet a football game, with 8-10 minutes of actual play in a game that takes 3 hours to finish, attracts oodles and oodles of action, and it even gets millennials, with their shortened attention spans, to take up gambling.

Know nothings will also say that horse racing is too complicated. When I was 4, I understood what a win bet was. Blue haired ladies without a racing form can figure out how to make and get paid on a show bet. OK, I couldn't figure out how to figure out show prices until I was 10 (this was before net pool pricing made it so you need a degree in math to figure out show prices).

The reason horse racing doesn't grow is really simple. I've stated it on this blog many many many times, but here I go once more: HORSE RACING NEEDS VISIBLE LONG TERM WINNERS IN ORDER GROW.

Of course, it boils down to ridiculously high track takeouts. How can any person reasonably believe that you can make money in a high churn gambling game that takes an average of 20-21% on all monies wagered? Even if you are "lucky" enough to be receiving a 5% rebate, it isn't realistic that one could beat a takeout of 15%. In the past, it might have been possible. Back when it was the only game in town (before lotteries and slots), there was enough dummy money (in the 60s and early 70s, a large chunk of players didn't even use a form when they made a bet) in the pools to possibly eke out long term profits. Today, just about all the money in the daily pools come from handicappers who could pass a university level course in horse racing.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a fix on pricing on the horizon. Probably why I'm so pessimistic. How can horse racing possibly attract new blood without stories of how Johnny Smith made enough money betting on horses that he moved out of his parent's basement and into a detached home in Forest Hill (in Toronto, Google it).

There are a couple of ways keep takeout high on exotics and attract newbies, but lets look at things horse racing is doing now, that won't work.

Jackpot bets don't grow the game. They most likely help kill the game. Tying up money that goes to one big winner eventually kills churn, and therefore whittles away at the Horseplayer's potential fun. It isn't worth the fun of hoping to hit the bet. The reason the Jackpot came along was to attract newbies, it hasn't worked, but now it has evolved as a way to compete with other tracks in getting the Horseplayer to play the track with a big pool. Short term thinking by racetracks at the expense of cutting long term growth has plagued horse racing for decades.

The underhanded whip is going way too far. I'm all for the safety of the horse and jockey, but having jockeys whip underhanded won't cut down fatalities. Horse racing is worried about perception, but changing the way a jockey whips a horse isn't going to attract one new bettor (it is still whipping anyway). The one's on the outside complaining of the cruelty of horse racing wouldn't bet if cyborgs replaced horses. The softer whip and restriction of the amount of times a horse can be whipped is the way to go. It should stop there. And at least give those two new rules a chance to show some long term results before putting jockeys (especially those who have been at it for a long time) in a position to switch the way they are used to doing things. From a handicapping perspective, I have less confidence when I know the jockeys are doing something they are not used to. Just educate the public on the softer whip, end of story.

I do think that changing to artificial surfaces is necessary to keep the game alive. Horse fatalities are an issue that could be the final nail in the coffin for the industry (see Florida greyhound racing). No matter how much one hates to handicap races on Tapeta (I don't mind it), you can't argue that Tapeta surfaces produce less deaths. A soft tissue injury isn't the same thing as a dead horse no matter how you look at it. There is no way to eliminate all deaths in horse racing, but cutting down the number should be a thing to do.

Drugs and super trainers who may be using them on horses hurt the game. Owners bring out newbies to the track. Some could start betting, some could enter the game as new owners in a partnership. When super trainers dominate, owners start to disappear. You can't claim from them, and you don't want to drop a horse in for a win knowing you might face one of their horses who has a great chance of beating you, and to top it off, you lose your horse to the super trainer outfit.

When it comes to drugs and the growing the game with everyday Horseplayers, I don't think overall handle is hurt, but one might stop wagering at one track in favor of others. Eliminating drugs by itself won't help grow the game. Now, if you lower takeout enough to create visible winners, getting rid of drugs will be demanded by the newer players.

What Can Horse Racing Do To Attract New Players?

Here is what I wrote 7 years ago:


A great way to get more customers is to have a nation wide lottery where tickets can be bought at store kiosks, online at ADWs (the races involved must be carried by all ADWs), and at all tracks, there should be no reason why someone who wants to buy a ticket can't. The lottery should go once a week (Saturdays). A Pick 8. Field size must be large in order to possibly have carryovers, so races need to picked with weather reports in mind.

A website should be created with free past performances for all the races involved. A quick sheet giving the top contenders for each race should be available at tracks and store kiosks. Players can do quick picks, contender quick picks, or pick their own. Consolation prizes can be awarded to those who pick the most winners on carryover days, or the second most winners when the pool is won, as well as those who pick the first four or last four winners, thus keeping the player's interest alive for many of the races.

A nation-wide lottery a sure fire way to get more people introduced to horse racing.

If the nation-wide jackpots are high enough, I see no reason why people who have little understanding when it comes to handicapping, won't take a shot at a quick pick, and then eventually some will try to learn a bit more and who knows, maybe bet the odd individual race eventually.

The other way to attract newbies is with a low takeout exchange for win and show wagering. It can't just be Jersey. Liquidity is needed. Horse racing is perfect for exchange wagering. Newbies, you know the ones with the short term attention span will love it. The constant cashing will give the casual player the illusion that long term winning is just a little more work away, and there will be actual long term winners created. I think exchange betting should eliminate parimutuel pools for win place and show in a perfect world. Bottom line on WPS for tracks will most likely increase if done correctly and I believe that it will create more players getting involved in parimutuel exotic wagering as the game becomes more popular.

Horse racing can continue to go with the status quo: shrinking handle, especially taking inflation and population growth into account, or they can get with the program. Unfortunately, if horse racing's history read like a past performance chart, it would appear that a super trainer wouldn't even attempt to touch this horse.