Many of us recognize the problem with the high takeout horseplayers have to deal with on a daily basis. At best it decreases the handle due to the churn being reduced; at worst it drives a horseplayer from racing for other gaming alternatives. With the focus of many who read this blog and I being on standardbred racing, we tend to forget many of standardbred racing’s problems cross breeds.
A prime example of this comes to us from Los Alamitos Race Course in California, arguably the Churchill Downs of the quarter horse world (actually they run a mixed breed meet). Like many race tracks, wagering is down at Los Al which is impacting purses and track profits. Since many gamblers now wager from home through ADWs, the handle on Los Alamitos has gone down enough that many of the satellite wagering locations (OTBs to most people), have threatened to drop the quarter horse signal unless they receive more compensation. Obviously, something needed to be done.
While the economy is hurting, I suspect the major reason for Los Alamitos’ handle declining is related to their product. At Los Alamitos, a full field consists of ten horses. On Saturday night's card, there are nine races carded. Of those nine races, five races have six entries, three races have seven entries, and one race has eight entries. They are suffering the same problem the Meadowlands had last year once Chester and Pocono opened; they are unable to get full fields. Short fields mean smaller payoffs which results in decreased wagering.
Last year when the Meadowlands had a problem filling their cards, they addressed it by dropping one night of racing each week for a period of time and by writing races for lower classes. What has Los Alamitos done? Instead of eliminating one day a week from the race calendar so they can have full fields the other nights until the horse population improves, their answer has been to ask the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to raise the takeout by 2% for all wagers under the mistaken impression this will improve the horsemen and track bottom lines as well as satisfy the OTB demands; this despite all the evidence which indicates an increased takeout will result in a decline in the handle. Rather than asking the horsemen and the track to see if they could work on an agreement to eliminate a night of racing each week, the CHRB approved the request. The end result is there will continue to be short fields and a decline in wagering resulting in a continuing downward spiral.
One day the racing industry on the whole will learn you can't fix your problems by taking it out on the wagering public. Until then, things will continue to get worse.