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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Second HANA Harness Survey - Part 1

With the Kentucky Derby over, attention to thoroughbred racing by standardbred individuals should wane.  With that, I am publishing the first part of my review of the second HANA Harness survey.  Plans call for the first half to be published today with the second part of this series being published on Monday.  HANA Harness members received a copy of the survey, the following is my take on the survey.  Either way, some of the results should be of no surprise, but other things may give pause to the way we present racing cards in the future.

The survey discussed wagering patterns should the Meadowlands close as well as issues regarding the type of races gamblers like to wager on, the Canada One concept, and judging.  Today we will look at the first half of the report.. 

We already discussed the initial questions regarding what would happen to wagering if the Meadowlands closed, but with it unlikely occurring, there is no sense in rehashing those questions again (You may see the analysis of those questions here as well as well as how many turns and twists we have taken with the Meadowlands story.).

Please note these are my interpretations of the results. Others may draw different conclusions.

What Kind of Races do Gamblers Prefer?

To no one's surprise, two year old trotting events, green three year old trotting events, and races where two year old trotters are allowed to race against older horses are the least popular among all respondents,  However, most people will wager on them anyway.  Two year old pacing and green three year old pacing events may not be bet as heavy as others as well.

Preference of Wagering on Different Types of Races - All Respondents

Where the surprise comes is with heavy gamblers (those that wager $50,000 or more per year).  While they have the same preference for higher quality races, I was surprised to see the number of these gamblers which expressed less of a need to cut back the amount they would wager on those cheaper races.  This is not to say they would not bet less on these races as they probably would because of the casual gamblers avoiding such races making them less attractive wagering opportunities.  The heavy hitters are more concerned with opportunity versus risk.

Preference of Wagering on Types of Races - High Value Gamblers
 Adding to or Guaranteeing Pools

Looking at all respondents, it doesn't seem to matter much if a track added or guaranteed a minimum pool matters as the responses were similar to both scenarios.  When looking at all respondents, there is little to be gained by adding or guaranteeing Pick 6 pools and while it may benefit Superfecta wagers, the greatest gain would be for Pick 3 and Pick 4 wagers.  Almost 25% of all respondents indicated they would not increase the amount they wager on all these bets regardless.  Over 39% of all gamblers won't touch a Pick 6 wager even if the pools were enhanced.

With those wagering $50,000 more a year, again there is no significant difference between guaranteeing or adding money to the pools as well but there the similarity ends.  The Pick 3 and Pick 4s are the sweet spot where only 7% indicated pool guarantees would not increase the amount they wager but 26% of them said you wouldn't pry extra money from them to wager on the Superfecta or Pick 6.  Of the four wagers mentioned, only the Pick 6 (13%) has some gamblers who would not be induced to play the wager.  The reason you probably couldn't get them to wager more on the Superfectas has to do with the fact dime wagers are accepted, decreasing their chance for a major score.

Misleading Payoffs

Gamblers are taking some offense when tracks are reporting payoffs that are not being made.  At some tracks, officials have been reporting payoffs that are higher than the net pool.  An example of this would be when there is one winner of the Superfecta on a dime wager and instead of showing what that person won, the track multiplies the payoff out as if it was won at the full denomination price (a $1 wager).  Almost 72% of the people know this happens and 66% feel they are being misled by the tracks to get them to wager into these pools.  58% of the respondents indicate the practice should be banned with only 20% saying the practice should continue.

Canada One Anyone?

Remember the Canada One proposal Standardbred Canada discussed last year?  Under this concept, excluding the WEG tracks, Canada One would be one simulcast signal of various harness tracks across Canada which would show races all day as there would be tracks across all time zones starting at different times.  Under the Canada One concept, there was discussion of having carryovers cross over to different tracks if the wager was not hit at an earlier track.

What we surveyed was the responsiveness of the gambler towards this type of program plus whether the practice would work on track as well as off track.  Some people claim there is too much time between races; others claim there is not enough so HANA wanted to see what would happen if the opportunity to bet as part of an evening of racing at multiple tracks was built into the wagering experience.

When asked how many harness tracks they play typically during a given day, we get different results between the entire population and high value gamblers which is not that surprising as the high value gamblers are more inclined to pick their spots wherever they may be.  When looking at all respondents 43% wager on one harness track and 39% wager on two tracks at the same time.  Over an entire day, 39% say the will play two tracks while 34% will wager only on the one track.  When sampling the high value players, 50% say they will play two harness tracks at the same time and during a given day, 41%, 18% and 27% indicated they play two, three, or four harness tracks respectively over a day.

70% (86% of high value gamblers) have no qualms playing wagers involving multiple tracks.  When it comes to the size of the track, the majority have no problem playing a multi-track wager regardless of the size of the track but the high value gambler has a preference for tracks 7/8th of a mile or bigger.

Asked specifically about the Canada One Format, 48% of all respondents like the concept with 31% opposed.  Asking the high value gamblers, 54% of them like the concept with 27% opposed.  When asked about the idea of carryovers being transferred to another track, each group's preference was not to do so; preferring the carryover remain at a particular track.

One thing which was a big hit for each group was the idea of losing the concept of the first race, second race, etc. and replacing it with the 7:00 at Meadowlands, 7:10 at Woodbine, 7:15 at Yonkers, and 7:20 at Meadowlands with the off times being held to.   About 75% of the respondents favored this change.  Obviously in a simulcast and ADW world, knowing exactly what time a race is going off would be a big advantage.

Now, what about speeding up the racing program by intermingling races between the tracks to avoid large gaps of times and to keep the bettor's interest?  53% said racing programs should be intermingled on track while 30% were not in favor of it.  As for a simulcasting show, 62% are in favor of intermingling races and 22% were opposed.  The high value gamblers are even more in favor of the idea with 68% wanting races intermingled on track and 73% on a simulcast show.

So now that we know people want to see races intermingled, the question is how many tracks would they like to see intermingled?  39% said two tracks is the right number for a live racing program while two or three would be the proper number on a simulcasting show.  High value gamblers would prefer four tracks included on the simulcasting show.

Assuming we went to an intermingled racing program, how would people like to see certain bets handled.  Using last year's Back to the Track wager of the Monticello-Tioga Daily Doubles as an example, we asked people some questions.  When given a choice of the Daily Double consisting of Race 1 at track A and Race 1 at track B or Race 1 and 2 at track A, 10% said they wanted to see the wager split between the two tracks, and 40% said they wanted the wager only at one track.  Sounds bad for splitting the Double between the two tracks, right?  Not quite, 50% said it didn't matter to them how it was handled (high value gamblers had less objection to splitting the wager between the two tracks).

Of course, splitting the wager between the two tracks does cause one logistical problem.  What would happen if there was an inquiry or a tote delay on the first leg of the Double at track A?  Would there be a problem if the second half of the wager at track B went off before the first half became official to avoid delays in post times at other tracks?  58%  (57%) said they had no problem with the second half of the wager being run before the first half was official.

I know there are logistical issues to address, but perhaps the key to improving the racetrack experience would be having two tracks run their races intermingled, similar to the way Beulah Park and Thistledown do.

Tomorrow, we look at judging and other issues.

There was some racing action yesterday on the standardbred side as the first leg of the Road to the Hambletonian was conducted at Freehold Raceway with the Dexter Cup won by Ice Machine.  Monticello Raceway track announcer was on hand subbing for the ailing Larry Lederman.  I love Larry's calls, but I must confess I think Howard Oil is one of the most under appreciated race callers out there so it was nice hearing him fill in.

Meanwhile, there is concern regarding the re-opening of Ocean Downs in June.  Purses should be good considering the entire harness subsidy from slots goes to Ocean Downs this year with Rosecroft being closed.  However, with only four days of racing in Maryland last year many Maryland horsemen either got out of the business or moved on to other tracks so it remains to be seen how many horsemen will be returning, especially since there is no longer a backstretch.  As for fans, the grandstand is gone; the only place minors can go to are on the apron and the clubhouse.  Fans will be given benches to sit on this year; not exactly conducive to the family atmosphere the Berlin, Maryland track has had in the past.  Sounds like we have another track that no one watches the races is coming our way; all in the name of slot revenue.  Time will tell, but we must wonder if it really is worth it?


Jim H. said...

I don’t know who you are, why you do this, or have the time to write this blog but please don’t stop—you are, by far, the best source of information on the Internet regarding harness racing.

So maybe you can answer this question.

In Delmarva, we have Dover Downs, Harrington, and Ocean Downs. Dover Downs during part of their meet, races on Saturday nights; the last month of the meet they cease racing on Saturday nights. I assume they do this to vex the customer (as a point of note,
DD does absolutely NOTHING for the customer—they truly seem to go out of their way to annoy the customer).

That leaves Harrington and Ocean Downs.

I understand that previously Ocean Downs raced on Saturday night. This years schedule shows that they will not.

Harrington does not, as a matter of course, race on Saturday nights.

My question is: What is the deal on Saturday nights?

I understand that others race on Saturday (Chester, Pocono, Meadowlands) but the driver colony, racing stock, etc. in Delmarva seem to operate apart from those venues. Now I understand we wouldn’t see Tim Tetrick in Harrington but I don’t think we’d see Ross Wolfenden in Pocono, either.

With the summer crowds at the Ocean City boardwalk looking for something inexpensive to do, one would think we would see racing on Saturday evenings at Ocean Downs.

If oversaturation is the issue, it seems to me there should be a more coordinated Saturday schedule as it relates to PcD, Chst, and M1 so that some room might be left for HAR and OD.

Your thoughts?

Pacingguy said...


Actually the answer is simple. The vast majority of the wagering done comes from off-track wagering. The amount of money wagered on track at some of these tracks is so pathetic that if they had to depend on on-track wagering, they would be out of business. I would suspect a track like Ocean Downs probably has an on-track per capita of $30 or less.

The key for these tracks is to race when there is less competition for simulcasting wagering. With Saturday nights being prime time, your best tracks are racing then so very little money would be wagered on the Delmarva circuit, meaning they would be heading for bankruptcy in record time. By avoiding Saturday evenings and racing on other days of the week and beginning to race when most of the Eastern tracks are finishing up their programs, these tracks are able to maximize the revenue derived from simulcasting.

As for getting PcD5/8, Chst5/8, YR, and M1 to coordinate their schedule, I fear it will take someone of Nobel Peace Prize pedigree to get these tracks to coordinate days and schedules.

Jim H. said...

Don’t you think that Ocean Downs might fall under a different category?

I certainly agree that operating on Saturday evenings under the current paradigm is problematic. And if Ocean Downs operated on Saturday evenings as per the others I doubt it would be a financial windfall.

Dismal failure might be more like it.

Just so happens, my wife and I attend Delmarva Shorebirds Class A ballgames in Salisbury—on Saturday evenings, the place is packed. And all they offer are fireworks following the game…and a low admission price. (FWIW someone told me, and it makes sense, that harness racing should use minor league baseball as a role model for attracting fans; and, by a major degree, this is done at Tioga Downs. I haven’t been there so I don’t know).

Ocean Downs is located much, much closer to the Boardwalk loaded, I mean absolutely loaded, with people looking for free entertainment. One basically has to drive by Ocean Downs to get to Ocean City. I can’t imagine it would take a whole lot or cost a whole lot to attract these folks to the track. I’d venture to guess that the amount of stupid money that would be wagered at OD would be second to none.

And isn’t this the very crowd that harness racing needs to attract in the future anyway?

Pacingguy said...

Jim, you are absolutely right this is the type of people racing needs in the future. You are also right it would be a great marketing tool to race on a Saturday.

However, the owner of Ocean Downs has always been perceived as being in it for the slots and slots alone. My understanding is the backstretch is closed this year. In other words, he is racing because he has to. Hence, he is looking to minimize the cost of running racing so no way is he going to look for the benefit of the sport.

As for the horsemen? They just want to grab their share of the purse money and pray Rosecroft reopens.