Ideas abound for improving racing

The best of the 45 Ideas in 45 Minutes from the Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

by Dean Hoffman

• Horse racing should follow the lead of Uber and Starbucks and opt for a Swipe-and-Bet system that eliminates the need for customers to carry cash.
• Racing should explore and test fixed odds wagering to gain support from bettors frustrated by today’s wagering landscape.
• Racing should take its show to the people by racing on city streets, rural roads, beaches, or frozen lakes and canals.
• Tracks should have Family Only zones with a kid-friendly atmosphere.
• Tracks should reward on-track patrons with a rebate on their betting losses. Maybe a 3-5 per cent with rebate redeemable only on a future visit to the track.

These are some of the innovative and provocative ideas that came out of a fast-paced panel discussion at the Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming last December in Tucson, AZ. Five panelists each had a minute to present each idea in a session titled “45 Ideas In 45 Minutes.”

Most experts agree that horse racing in North America needs new ideas, but which ideas are pie-in-the-sky and which are worth pursuing?

Horse racing has often been resistant to new ideas, convinced that new ideas in racing will lead to leprosy or death. So they stay with the tried-and-true concepts that worked in the 1960s but often don’t work today.

The panelists were Steve Byk, host of a racing show on Sirius XM; Darryl Kaplan, editor of Trot Magazine; Steve Koch, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. Safety & Integrity Alliance; Peter Rotondo, vice-president, media and entertainment for the Breeders’ Cup Ltd.; and Amy Zimmerman, vice-president and director of broadcasting for the Stronach Group.

Kaplan suggested taking $100 from every purse for each horse entered. So a $15,000 race with 10 horses then has a $14,000 purse. The $100 taken from the purse is placed as a win wager for the owner of each horse in the race.

“This increases the incentive to win, and seeds the pool, in turn driving handle,” said Kaplan. Byk said he thinks that racing could increase handle on slow days by reducing takeout, such as a “Tax Free Tuesday” promotion.

“Tracks could utilize the successful tax-free zone or tax-free shopping days concept by offering takeout rollbacks on days that generally produce lower handle,” Byk said.
Rotondo believes that racing organizations have created roadblocks for bettors by charging fees to access performance data.

“Data is king,” he said. “One reason fantasy sports betting has taken off is simply access to data. Let’s open the ‘Data Gates’ to everyone. Until we do, racing will be playing from behind in developing a new fan base.”

Zimmerman said tracks need to be more open in communicating to bettors what happens during inquiries.

“There should be full coverage of inquiries and claims of foul, including audio-visual of the process,” she said. “These decisions are made by reputable and qualified individuals and who are currently disguised behind an unnecessary veil of secrecy.”

Koch said he believes that horse racing should have a place in the Olympic Games.

“The Olympics are a global sporting event attracting an estimated four billion viewers,” he said. “Thoroughbred racing is conducted on every continent symbolically represented by the Olympic rings: North and South America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.”

Koch envisions horse racing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and at Santa Anita in the 2024 Los Angeles Olympics.

The fast-paced panel proved to be one of the most popular presentations at the symposium, which is sponsored by the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona. Audience members were advised not to try to take notes; a list of the ideas was distributed afterwards.

Why shouldn’t horsepeople support each other in business, asked Byk. He advocated a national directory of horseplayers and horse owners so that racing participants can buy a car, for example, from a dealer who is involved in horse racing.

Kaplan advocated a “Gift Horse” program so that a horse could be sold in shares, which would be designed to give as gifts. For example, a thousand shares at $50 each.

“Build a comprehensive marketing and mentorship program for up to a thousand owners,” Kaplan said.

Similarly, Kaplan suggested a “Foal New World” program in which school classes would apply to adopt a foal. Students would visit a farm to see the mare and foal and even participate in naming the foal.

Speaking of horse names, Rotondo encouraged people in racing to seek creative names for newborns.

“Non-racing fans and the media push cool, interesting names,” Rotondo told the audience. “They always have and always will.”

He cited names such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and said that superior horses with memorable names “helped the media make headlines.”

“History dictates you can get mainstream PR coverage simply over a name,” he emphasized.

Rotondo also panned the traditional pan shot used at tracks to follow racing. He was insistent that horse racing make better use of “jockey cams” to provide viewers with new camera angles.

“Virtually every sport has enhanced the experience by introducing new visual technology,” he said. He believes that technology can provide racing with more opportunities to increase the excitement level.

“Imagine logging into your ADW and making a wager — and, instead of the traditional pan camera, you can actually get ‘on board’ and ‘ride’ your horse,” he asked. “We’ve already seen the popularity of jockey cam videos on social media, but imagine being able to provide race replays from various jockey views. You could Monday morning quarterback, and then do analysis of rides. This would create a totally new way to view the sport for a potential new audience.”

Throughout the 45 minutes session, the ideas poured forth from the panelists.

The clear challenge to the racing industry organizations is to seize upon some concepts and convert ideas into reality.