While we all want to increase attendance at the race tracks as racing will not benefit by becoming a studio sport, the die has been cast that ADW wagering will continue to be a big part of the wagering formula. The fact that people are pressed for time, live far away from a track, weather is lousy, wanting to bet on a big race at another track, and other factors makes ADWs a necessary to allow the sport to prosper. However, ADWs also are part of the problem. This column is the first of several where we will discuss issues related to them.
As a resident of New Jersey, my only option (via state law) for an ADW is 4NJBETS. For me, a person that is fan first, gambler second it works. Rebates would be nice, but quite honestly, it is not something I need. Make your initial deposit and you are in. No rebates, no fees. It's annoying that if you are outside of NJ you legally can't use your account (it is considered an extension of the track). Track selections are somewhat limited in they tend to carry only the signals that Freehold, The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park simulcast (more about that follows). I have TVG on cable so I have experienced the occasions where I would like to have made a wager but being 4NJBETs does not carry that track, there is no (legal) way to do it. Conversely, I would prefer to see some of the tracks 4NJBETs covers on TVG (larger picture) but for various reasons those signals are not covered by TVG. All in all, for a person who is primarily a fan, if 4NJBETS was ice cream, it would be vanilla. Nothing fancy but it works for me. If we were looking to just attract fans, a product like 4NJBETS is a good entry point. Sort of how AOL was for people starting on the Internet.
Of course, 4NJBETS does have challenges. Recently, they were forced to drop the live video feed of NYRA races from their site even though if you went to a NJ track you would still be able to see the races live via simulcasting. You can bet NYRA (Saratoga, Aqueduct, Belmont) and watch replays via 4NJBETS but unless you have TVG or another ADW on your cable system (though you can't bet through the ADW), it reminds you of the early days of NY OTB where you bet and after the race was over you got the audio feed on delay. The problem apparently is that NYRA finally came to realize that despite the fact the tracks are running 4NJBETS, it really is an ADW so while simulcasting can continue as is, NYRA wants (and may be contractually required) to get a fee for the use of their live signal on the 4NJBETS platform. This problem rose about a month ago and it seems like this is the way it is going to be, at least for awhile, probably because for 4NJBETS to pay for the signal would be admitting they are an ADW and may result in them losing additional signals they currently have due to exclusive contracts ADWs have with some tracks as well as having to pay additional fees for tracks they are already simulcasting.
On the other hand, if you live in a state outside of New Jersey, 4NJBETS is not available so you need to look at another ADW. This may lead you to TVG. TVG is a good channel, admittedly harness racing gets the short shift on their television network (we will discuss this more at another time) but it is an option people may want to use. So you are a new fan to racing and you want to open up an account with TVG. You have two options; one option is to pay $19.95 a month to get unlimited wagering, video, and replays; the other option is to pay $.25 per bet up to a maximum of $19.95 a month. If you are a big time bettor it may not matter; after all you are getting rebates in the form of their player rewards club. However, if you are a small time bettor or a fan, TVG's pricing may very well discourage you from signing up. If you are in a state where TVG is the only legal option, racing has lost a potential fan.
To me, it seems TVG is gouging the small time gambler and fan. Any money you have in your account is being invested by TVG on a daily basis so they are making money off of you even if you don't bet. If they want to charge a fee to be eligible for their rebate program or if an account is inactive or has very little activity is one thing. If I was a regulator looking to allow an ADW in my state, I would be addressing these fees; even if it was to ban fees for wagers being made on any local tracks.
Internet/ADW wagering is where most of racings gambling dollars will becoming from. We don't need firms like TVG discouraging newcomers to the sport by charging user fees.