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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Failing Our Off-Track (and On-Track) Customers

I was visiting a message board for horse racing where I came upon the following post:

...They say it's a "photo finish" yet, they show no photo, and within 10 seconds give the win to the 4 horse. This race was the start of the Pick-4 with a NICE pool. The 2 went off at 3-5 I think, and the 4 went off at 4-1. So my theory is that everyone and their buddy had the 2 in their Pick-4 and no one had the 4, thus making the track a few bucks by putting this horse in front.

Fortunately, there were helpful people on the board who explained to this individual that the track actually does better when the favorite wins so the poster was satisfied that this was not part of a grand conspiracy. However, the question needs to be asked why did this person even have the idea the track benefited by the favorite loosing?

Because we are not treating our off-track customers right. They are just there.

For those of us that cut our teeth at the race track, there was someone to explain to us how the parimutuel system worked; the track does not care who wins, they collect their commission (the take out) regardless of which horse wins. Sometimes the track may tell the customer how the parimutuel system works; for example, the Meadowlands had a write up in their Hambletonian day program as they knew more novices would be at the track that day. After a little while, if you remained involved in the game, you learned that the track actually does better when favorites come in because money is returned to more players which allows them to bet more on subsequent races (the churn). This way of educating the fans worked good when everyone came to the track to wager on the races but this approach does not work in the day of off-track wagering, in particular account wagering.

The problem is the providers of account wagering are assuming their customers are all knowledgeable in parimutuel wagering and harness racing. This assumption is not correct. These days, we have people cutting their teeth on racing via the Internet; they may have never visited a racetrack. There is no program to read about parimutuel wagering; no knowledgeable friend to teach the novice gambler about the racing game; depending where the person lives there may not even be a track for the novice to go to. What are we doing to educate these people?

Sure you can go on the Internet and Google 'harness racing' and get information about harness racing. You can go to YouTube and see the Meadowlands' instructional videos regarding handicapping, but this requires the patron to hunt and peck. We need to make things easy for these patrons.

If you run an account wagering service, you should be offering an educational library. Have a section in your account wagering platform where a customer can watch a video called "How Parimutuel Wagering Works", a non-breed specific video where the client can learn the basics of parimutuel wagering. Each breed registry should offer the ADWs videos specific to their breed. The USTA could provide videos on how to read a program, harness racing basics (trotter versus pacers, breaking, rules, etc.), handicapping basics and so forth. Offer them to each ADW provider to put on their wagering platform so if a new horseplayer logs in there is one centralized place where the novice can learn the basics about harness racing. Who knows? In addition to educating the newbie betting for the first time, we may be able to entice that quarterhorse gambler to give harness racing a chance.

This is not the only way we are not treating our off-track gamblers properly. Remember the part of the quote at the beginning where the patron stated 'They say it's a "photo finish" yet, they show no photo."? Tracks are getting lazy. Whenever the photo finish sign is posted, the racetracks should be posting the photo finish even if the horse won by half a length (the patron may have sneezed while watching the race at the wire). Show the photo not just for first place, but for any placing position involved in a wagering pay off if there is a photo for that position. Not showing this is just plain lazy and can lead to the next conspiracy theory. Being the same feed is typically being shown on track, the on-track patron is also being short changed.

What about inquiries or objections? The Meadowlands does an excellent job in letting the patron see the video the judges are watching and if a placing takes place, shows the infraction occurring. However, you can be playing a track like Freehold or Monticello and if there is an inquiry or objection you get to watch the tote board and may see a number flash. If there is a placing, you MAY see the infraction, but if there is no disqualification, you don't see anything. By showing the video the judges are viewing you keep the gambler engaged instead of falling asleep and once a decision has been made, the gambler can see why the judges made their decision. Again, if you are not showing this to the off-track gambler you likely are keeping the on-track patrons in the dark as well.

While an off-track gambler is not as valuable as an on-track client for a racetrack, being the majority of the money is being wagered off track, you better treat these fans/gamblers right. Educate them, show them the photos no matter how obvious you may think the finish is, and if there is an inquiry or an objection give the gambler the opportunity to see what the judges are looking at.

This time the gambler vented in a forum and was given good information to satisfy him. A different person may have just turned off his computer vowing never to play a harness again. We can't afford to loose any gambler due to laziness on our part.

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