So it begs to be asked, can slot players be converted to equine gamblers or is it a lost cause?
With the way we currently produce our racing product, it is a waste even attempting to get slot players interested in slots. Why? Let me list the reasons....
- Two minutes of action followed by 15-20 minutes of inactivity.
- Keep people waiting after post time.
- After a while, you see one race, you've seen it all.
- The mile track (controversial opinion to say the least)
- Difficulty handicapping races with confusing conditions.
- Little reward for the risk.
- You usually need to bet a lot to have a chance at a big payoff.
- Integrity issues including "We are family".
- You want me to buy a program so I can lose money at your track?
- Takeout, takeout, takeout
- Captive track operators (the entertainment experience)
- Too late baby.
Two minutes of action followed by 15-20 minutes of inactivity - The races is over and you go make your bet. What do you do next? You sit around, twiddling your fingers waiting for the next race to begin. People these days don't want to sit around waiting for the next race. Either we need to get races to go off a lot quicker or provide entertainment for those waiting till next race goes off. How about instant racing on people's smart phones between the live races?
Keep people waiting after post time - Post time means nothing these days. Whether it is the standard two minute delay or worse, all you are going to do is tick these people off and extend the boredom between races. Could you imagine being at a roulette table after the croupier says 'No more bets' and then sit for two minutes until the game begins? We need to get to the point where post time means post time; the late bettors will learn to wager earlier if they know the tracks means it.
After a while, you see one race, you've seen them all - Standard doesn't need to mean every race is a mile with a starting gate. In addition, depending on a track, the races seem to go the same way. We need to race various distances, different starting methods, monté versus sulky. Keep people interested.
The mile track - Yes, I know a lot of heavy hitters like the mile track because post doesn't matter as much and there are less chances to get caught in traffic. It also means having to stand or sit in front of a television screen/monitor to see what is going on. Usually, the sound isn't good enough to hear what is happening, and you have to deal with the wrong numbers being posted in the running order (all tracks should have Trakus). Say what you want, the half or five-eighth ovals are better. First of all, you can actually see what is happening without the benefit of a television screen. You can see exciting things like a three wide move down the backstretch, etc. Remember, slot players are visual and they want to see action. They are not going to want to see a television show to watch a race.
Difficulty handicapping races with difficult conditions - I've talked about this before, but I will spare you the usual promotion of classified racing. Conditions are too confusing; people need to learn how to read a program; novices have no chance when competing against seasoned players; they tend to be donors (aka Chumps). Slot machines are equal opportunity bandits.
Thinking - Slot players don't think. Their biggest decision is how many coins/lines to play. Remember the machines they used to have in casinos where they had mechanical horses with fixed odds and you make a bet based only on the odds (yes, they really were slot machines)? What if we had a way to offer fixed odds quiniellas where you just went to a machine and made your picks based on the odds, instead of mechanical horses, you based it on live races? The quiniella would be offered only through these machines.
Little reward for the risk - Throw a dollar in a slot machines and you can win $10,000. You can bet $2 on a horse and you can win $2.40, or some amount less than $10 when you bet to win. Even if you bet the exactas, you can get a $19 payoff. Races are so predictable these days that you have plenty of horses less than 2-1 win. That's like getting the cherry on the slot machine. Yes, you get those occasional bombs, but how often does it happen and even then, realistically how big is that payoff going to be?
You usually need to bet a lot to have a chance to win a big payoff - How many combinations do you typically need to play to win a Pick 4 or more? Yes, you only need one ticket but odds are unless you are looking for that $9.90 Pick 4, you need to cover many more combos. You hear about syndicates bringing down a Pick x pool. When did you ever hear of a syndicate to play a slot machine? You need only one pull to win big on a slot machine. Why not introduce wagers like a Double Quiniella or Double Exactas to allow people to bet a little and have a chance to win something worth talking about with little cash outlay?
Integrity issues, including "We Are Family" - When it comes to gambling, people tend to be suspicious. When you have two or three Millers in a race, John Campbell not driving for his brother, and you see three or four horses from the Takter or Burke stable in a race, people are going to think the worst. Then there are the real integrity issues. Yes, slot machines are programmed to pay out only so much, but it is known and it is dumb luck if you are on the machine at the wrong or right time. I know harness racing is a family sport, but when people in the same extended family with the same name participating in the same race, people can't help but wonder.
You want ME to buy a program so I can lose money? - Does anything really need to be said here. Basic programs should be free, no ifs, ands, or buts. Charge for advanced programs but give people the basic information so they can follow it.
Takeout, Takeout, Takeout - While slot players are mindless when it comes to playing the game, they know there may be a 5 to 8% takeout on a slot machine; not the 15% or more on the horses. Slot players may be nickeled and dimed to death on these machines, but we take a lot more out of them on each wager. They may lose either way, but it is hard to beat the 35% takeout some tracks charge on exotics (Hello Harrah's).
Captive track operators (the entertainment business) - At present racing has racino operators by the proverbial...well, never mind, you know what I mean. So while they offer casino customers comps, nice facilities and other amenities, the track operators subjects their racing customers to old, non-updated facilities (if not run down), no amenities, and who need to buy every beverage they drink, and the usual fast food fare. Nothing like telling a customer they're not welcome when they are stuck in a facility which looks like cold war East Berlin and slot players are in facilities that look like Monte Carlo. People may find it hard to believe, but the horsemen would do a lot better in the long run if they had instant racing to supplement their purses and kept people busy instead of having tracks being operated by people who resent racing.
Too Late People - We're exposing people to racing much too late. Think back to when you were first exposed to racing. We lost fair racing or eliminated it on our own because it lost money so we don't expose kids to racing when they are young. Take a child to a track? If it's a racino, you have poor facilities and are treated like a second class citizen. We should be subsidizing racing at fairs to keep them going and possibly introduce fair racing elsewhere.
Unless we address these issues, we are going to be wasting our time trying to get slot players to play the horses. The first bad night and they will be back at their slot machines, never to return. For many of these people, you have one chance to get them so you better do it right the first time.
Harrah's Chester Downs becoming Harrah's Philadelphia Racetrack (we will skip the casino part) as of April 29. The new track symbol will be PHL, this according to the USTA.
A harness racing Life At Ten incident? - Certainly not to the magnitude of Life At Ten, but Lets Getit Started died in the fourth race on Saturday night at the Meadowlands. The horse barely made it to the starting line and dropped to the track before the quarter pole where he likely suffered a heart attack or a ruptured aorta. Tragic as it was, there may not have been anything which could have been done for Lets Getit Started. I am not suggesting anything improper occurred, but I hope the judges asked driver Dan Noble if the horse showed any sign of problems before hand and if so, why didn't he report it and suggest the horse be scratched? I would ask trainer Jeff Webster if the horse showed any problems in the earlier warm ups. I would like to know if Noble asked for the horse to be scratched and the judges declined, shades of what Ben Webster alleged with the great pacing mare Tarport Hap? But most of all, if the horse was under such distress, why wasn't the horse pulled up right away when it was obvious something was wrong?