Tioga Downs is one of my favorite tracks to wager on. Sunday afternoons they have decent programs and it seems Jeff Gural is able to attract some of the top drivers in the region to drive there on a day most tracks are dark. Tioga has great promotions for their fan base and attempts to make each day special; something which can occur with their short racing season. The track is fan friendly and while VLTs are important to their success, they truly make an effort to make harness racing an important part of their identity.
Yesterday, another reason has been added to make Tioga a 'must play' track. They are in the process of lowering their takeout to the minimum allowed in New York State. Pending regulatory approval, the takeout rate at Tioga this year will be 15% for Win, Place, and Show wagers (18% last year); 17% for Exactas (20% last year); 21% for Trifectas and all other exotic wagers (25%). To compensate ADWs into accepting a lower takeout, Tioga is reducing the fee charged to ADWs to 2% instead of 3%. Why not lower the rate even lower? Tioga management has indicated they would be willing to try an 8 or 9% rate if the state allowed it and the ADWs would be willing to carry their signal. For now, this is a step in the right direction.
Tioga Downs has always been a fan friendly track and now by lowering their takeout rate, they are being friendly to the bettors who wager on their product off and on-track. After seeing surveys conducted by HANA and the USTA, it became clear to Tioga management that takeout is a major issue. By lowering their takeout rate, Tioga is hoping to become the track of choice of price sensitive gamblers.
Will this move pay off for Tioga? Time will tell, but over at the HANA/Pace Advantage board, there is plenty of excitement from people who never played Tioga Downs before. I expect many heavy hitters to give Tioga a serious look and hopefully the gamble will pay off.
We would be remiss not to give credit to the Southern Tier Harness Horseman Association for agreeing to this one year pilot experiment; without whose consent this experiment wound not be possible. Clearly this is a horsemen's group interested in securing harness racing's future. Sadly the Harness Horse Association of Central New York which represents horsemen at sister track Vernon Downs is unwilling to go along with this experiment so takeout rates will remain unchanged there. Unfortunately, HHACNY’s response is not surprising. Whereas the STHHA has always treated management as a partner, the HHACNY has always had a seemingly adversarial relationship with track management. In many ways, the two horsemen groups are proxies for future of harness racing. STHHA understands the realities of the market while HHACNY is stuck in the past when horse racing was the only game around. Care to guess which track will be left standing when all is said and done?
Here is hoping Tioga Downs and their horsemen are rewarded for their willingness to change the rules for the betterment of the horseplayer. Hopefully, the gamblers will respond. The serious horseplayers have spoken. Now it is their turn to back their words up with action.