by Trey Nosrac
He was waiting on the front porch of his family farm. In what was becoming our new routine, each morning I would shuttle my Silicon Valley acquaintance to visit his mother who was recuperating in the hospital. He skipped down three steps and hopped into my Prius.
I asked, “Why don’t you have a pot belly?”
“I’m a vegan. We have had fitness centers in all our buildings for 30 years.”
“Men in their fifties, with piles of money who work in offices, should not look like marathon runners. A flat belly at 50 defies the laws of nature, defies the laws of gravity and irritates mortals like me. And, what’s the deal with Aviator sunglasses and wearing padded vests over peasant shirts? ”
He grinned and patted his chest, “This is the business suit of the new world order.”
I gave him an eye roll, “Just give me the new world order for horse racing. What’s the latest news about the PASPA ruling and legal New Jersey sports gambling?”
“Last night I talked with a lawyer we have who follows sports gambling legislation. He said that it is always significant when the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case. When they take on game-changing legislation, there is usually an underlying reason. My lawyer friend believes the ruling will favor New Jersey, at least partially.”
“So bam, sports betting spreads everywhere, gambling goes viral. Is this good or bad for horse racing?”
“Hard to predict.”
“That is a totally lame answer from a master of the universe. I may need to take away your vest and sunglasses.”
“I’m not a gambling development planner.”
“You have opinions. This whole future of racing situation has you interested, and you know plenty about harness racing. You told me you were a fan before you abandoned Ohio to go west coast techie.”
He thought for a few seconds as we passed an Amish buggy on the road connecting his family farm with the interstate.
“Horseracing will face a crossroads when online sports gambling goes viral. I can think of several things that would help make the outlook brighter.”
“Give me today’s biggie.”
He was ready with his answer, “Horse racing needs to jettison pari-mutel wagering.”
“That’s a biggie. We have gambled against each other all our lives.”
“Pari-mutel wagering had a good run. Like a lot of things, technology changed the game.”
I waited for his follow up.
He said, “I may not be ultra-deep into horseracing, but I know technology. My job involves looking at business and human nature in a rapidly developing world. At this very moment, computers are crunching numbers to pick the winner of the fifth race at a racetrack. Computers can make the best choice and get the wagered money down on that horse at the last instant. Computer groups can band together and wager large amounts, which gives them leverage to get a sweeter deal from whoever brokers the wager.”
“I think that’s what they call a rebate.”
“Now think about this. A regular handicapper, like you, is being asked to wager on that horse race, a wager that already has a massive takeout on every returned dollar. Now you find yourself in a pari-mutel situation where you are not playing on a level field. Technology makes this race NON pari-mutuel, people against machines. And Trey, there are dark corners where wagers fly under the radar.”
“None of that sounds good.”
“And it will only get worse.”
“And the answer is?”
Obviously, he had been considering this topic because he answered instantly and confidently.
“Fixed odds wagering should be the foundation for other changes in horse racing. From what I read, countries that have this type of wagering draw younger players who find fixed rate wagers more appealing. The new customer wants to place a wager on their device and wants to know their exact payoff. New gamblers just want to watch the event, not fluctuating odds.”
“You might be onto something. Not many of us regulars even want to spend an hour with our noses in a race program. When my odds drop from 4-1 to chalk after the race starts; I have been known to slap my computer.”
“Humans do not want to bang their heads against Artificial Intelligence. They will gamble, they will take a risk and they will use some logic. Horse racing needs to be more than merely a coin flip choice. But going forward, the majority of gamblers will want more of a social experience than a series of complex mental gymnastics. Fixed race wagering could be calibrated to offer a place for both types of gamblers.”
“So what racetrack will walk that plank and offer races with fixed odds wagering? What racetrack will upset the players they have hoping they will find new players to replace them?
“Maybe a smart one, in my opinion, regular handicappers would bitch and moan, but they would stay and play. They will grow to like this form of wagering.”
I gave him a deep sigh and whined, “First you jabber on about a staggered start where every horse finishes neck and neck, and now a fixed wagering system. Do you have to go off the deep end?”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures, certainly new measures. If the gambling landscape changes, this might be the best time for bold moves.”
“There are limits.”
We turned into the hospital entrance. I rolled to a stop in front of the main entrance doors. He climbed out of my car and gave this parting line,
“Oceans of possibilities are out there if horse racing wants to get off the deck and back on track. Pick me up at three and I’ll shiver ye timbers with another idea.”
I saluted, “Aye, aye sir.”