Alternative Action: Part 2 – Racing commissioners focus on betting product and ignore the plight of the patron

by Frank Cotolo

Part 1 here

Let’s further explore ARCI suggestions from the conference that suggests betting-product devices to increase handle. You may recall from part one that J. Curtis Linnell, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau’s executive VP, said, “Betting is the juncture in which the marketplace comes to horse racing. That is where participation by the customer happens.” That obvious point lacks attention to the foremost important element—the bettor.

Sean Pinsonneault, a former executive VP of strategy and wagering for Woodbine Entertainment Group, presented a betting plan he said is successful in the United Kingdom. It’s a “cash-out” option on multi-race bets. With this deal, a multi-race ticket holder whose ticket remains “alive” before other races complete the original bet, can receive a partial payment. “How does this work?” said the bettor, caring most about how the payoff is evaluated when one opts out of a multi-race wager. If the bettor is holding a ticket with two of four or three of four winners, what does it pay? Obviously it would be less than the original bet but how much?

If the results are not the equivalent of the opt-out wager type sold (that is, turning in a Pick 5 with four winners should pay as much as hitting a genuine Pick 4) then there will be “bettors’ rancor” for the system.

Pinsonneault said that the opt-out system resulted in a “30 per cent boost to pool income due to an 80 per cent partial-cash out audience.” There was no explanation for this in ARCI’s press release but without further evidence of such success, it should be known that the U.K. multi-race wagers already offered could have themselves increased with no changes in format. And there are plenty of them.

My experiences betting in the U.K. included a tutorial of multi-race exotics.

In the “A B C of Bets” (published by The Sun), a player finds definitions of exotics like the Accumulator, the Domino, the Double Lap, the Dundee Shuffle, the Flag, the Harlequin, the Liverpool Round The Clock, the Round Robin, the Super Yankee, the Up And Down, and many more. Do these include opt-out offerings since the plan began? I do know that along with other radical changes in U.K. running events it is probable there are other factors involved in the U.K.’s handle hike figures. As well, the U.K. does not work with a full-fledged pari-mutuels system. Legal bookies take wagering action, which is based on a fixed-odds-betting system.

Speaking of fixed-odds betting, it was another ARCI convention suggestion to take a look at a fixed-odds betting approach in North America. Fixed odds guarantee the odds offered at the time you wager. It has always sounded ideal to North American bettors; imagine that 10-1 when-you-bet-it horse that goes off at 3-1 at the bell paying 10-1 if it won, while some late-comers betting the same horse receive 9-1, 8-1, 7-1, 6-1, 5-1, 9-2, 4-1, 7-2 or at least 3-1.

Fixed odds means a racetrack becomes a bookmaker, like the casino is the bank, and the bank always wins. On the other hand, a sharp bookmaker, like a seasoned U.K. bookie, has schemes that do not benefit the players; schemes that make fixed-odds benefit the bookie. The concept is terrific but becomes competitive to bettors, sometimes to a raw and rowdy extent (ask bookies at Thirsk or Ripon in Yorkshire how humans can become savages trying to get fixed odds on their horses and how the bookies “adjust” figures to get an edge over their customers.

Also, fixed odds can put raceways out of business. The pari-mutuels system is foolproof for that reason and it was developed to keep the betting “among ourselves,” (the French translation) so math ruled over bookie shenanigans.

ARCI has approached the problem by defining horse racing business as a gambling product and that is a terrific improvement from looking at it as a spectator sport. However, once the public becomes a participant in the sport by making a risky investment in its outcome, racetracks owe it to patrons to share the work involved to win more money and more often. Merely throwing new betting products alone will not keep old customers or attract new ones.

The pari-mutuel product assures the racetrack an income and unlike any other gambling model does so without needing to humiliate its customers. A racetrack needs to project its appreciation to its customers with tools that encourage them to win, not just participate or be offered more ways to lose. This is not a business of product versus patron. It’s about the people who bet. That’s why we continue to suggest alternative actions that bring the business and the bettor closer to one another in success.