Interaction is the message

by Frank Cotolo

Regardless of the brilliant technology that rapidly improves, changing our means of communications faster than we can say “Microsoft,” a human element has assisted greatly in turning all things analog to digital. That element is interaction.

As precious as the zeroes and ones are to the workings of hyper-text, the fact that the users of digital applications and programs can “comment” on subjects, as well as host their own platforms, has been a major component of mass acceptance. One only need visit the Internet menagerie that is Reddit to comprehend the enormity of an interactive audience and its voracious hunger to express personal opinions in freestyle form.

“A voracious hunger to express personal opinions in freestyle form” sounds like a familiar trait, right? Of course it does because if you are a bettor you know it and you own your brand of it. On raceway aprons, grandstands and wherever pari-mutuel bettors look into the screens of tech devices, the hunger to express opinions is so strong that not having anyone with whom to share opinions incites bettors to approach strangers just to reveal their emotions. The opinions on the outcome of horse races beg for arguments, that is, they plead for interaction.

Think about how much sense this makes; more so than on most of the topics presented by Reddit. Pari-mutuel racing is interactive by its nature. People bet into pools, investing in their opinions versus different opinions. Those opinions (bets) give the live action (the races) meaning. The primary meaning is that no one betting is merely a spectator. Indeed, pari-mutuel wagering of any breed (K-9 and human included) is not a spectator sport.

Just as no digital platform survives without interaction, no pari-mutuel system can stay in business without interaction. The audience is an essential part of the business; so much so that at one time people paid admission to watch the sport’s action live — and participate (interact) with money. That made the managements of pari-mutuel facilities complacent, passive and downright patronizing, if you will. In the second decade of the new millennium, people running pari-mutuel raceways need to meditate daily with a mantra —interactive … interactive … interactive …

Last month (full story here), I suggested that management could radically change the atmosphere of their product with little cost and great rewards by using the tools it already possesses to support all-out interaction. One idea is to use the hosts of its in-house/simulcast broadcasters as flesh-and-blood management representatives, turning their one-dimensional talking head TV screen personas into approachable and available hosts that ask for the opinions people are loath to hold back or edit.

Interacting with the TV folk in the flesh brings their personalities down to earth. It closes the “personality gap,” so to speak. When the guys and gals on the TV screen chum with their audience, the audience feels accepted, identified and appreciated—especially when the interaction taking place has to do with their betting opinions. The TV folk need to walk and talk among the people. It’s the kind of politics that politicians should employ more.

This doesn’t mean the personalities retire from their screen roles. It means they need a larger presence, an “actual” presence, if you will, as opposed to merely a “digital” presence. As it is now, the in-house personalities are presented as “experts” due to their association with management and their job chores, which usually include presenting their opinions and picks for winners. What, though, makes their opinions more worthy than those opinions coming from individual bettors? Why aren’t the TV personalities talking with the public on and off TV.

Yes, random members of the betting public appearing on the track broadcasts with the personalities — it is the other interactive element needed to bond management with its public. After all, just as gurus walk among us in common garb, the racetrack is lousy with handicapping experts pounding the apron pavement. Isn’t it time to address their expertise? Yes, many people in the audience are well versed on playing the pari-mutuel game. One or two or three or four or more, in face, may be as much as expert as he or she on the track TV.


Expert shmexpert [sic]; no one takes a test to earn such a title in handicapping. The true and honest greats playing the ponies are in the crowd. I know, I have met the greatest of them all and they were never invited to perform their brilliance in the broadcast booth. Making them equals in the vital meaning of the game is measuring their equality with the track-anointed experts.

From these policies could come entire ad campaigns that are aimed at old and new patrons. Imagine advertising great slogans like “Come bet at Delaney Downs because we’re all in this together.”

In the next column I will suggest some commingling ideas that can be generated.