How tracks can benefit from the binary emotion factor in horseplayers’ behavior

by Frank Cotolo

Racetrack operators need to understand their customers more deeply, because no matter how sophisticated horseplayers have become over the years, they (we) are still enormously stubborn, suspiciously superstitious and destructively disorganized. Although those are generally basic human qualities anyway, most other businesses do not have to explore their target audiences with the kind of scrutiny it takes to keep a horseplayer — dare I say it — satisfied.

Let me save track officials and marketer’s time by simply explaining one major psychological impurity present in a typical horseplayer, that is, your customer. I call it “the binary emotion factor, (BEF),” though I am sure it has an academic psychological name and roots. Then, I will offer some alternative actions that you should feel free to institute or find as inspirational to keep a sound relationship with your customers.

To understand BEF, you must understand its main element: The state of satisfaction is inactive in horseplayers.

A horseplayer will always find excuses for the two results of wagering on a pari-mutuels race. Yes, I said an excuse for either a bet won or a bet lost. Read closely, since no other commercial establishment has to deal with the emotional composition moving this kind of customer.

When a bet is lost, a horseplayer reaches into a mental sack of excuses (with them at all times when betting) and pulls out a few hundred reasons for failure. Rarely, if ever, is the negative result of a loss the fault of the bettor. The blame narrative flows: “That drive was terrible,” “The pace-setter sure ruined it with those fractions,” “Why do I ever play a horse from that trainer’s barn?” “I always lose with horses that have the best posts,” and on and on because it is tough to take responsibility for a loss and sometimes impossible to let go of any loss.
Still, winning is usually not totally enjoyable, either.

When a horseplayer makes a winning wager, a binary set of emotions kick in that are best explained by a simple law of horseplayer behavior: When a horseplayer wins a bet, whatever joy is attached to the incident is in direct proportion to an amount of disappointment experienced from the incident’s result. Read that again, take a breath and then continue.

It is true; a horseplayer winning a bet will smile and physically experience a pleasurable sensation. However, once that occurs, the bettor instinctively finds reasons to reduce the positive affect of the experience.

The winner, even after cashing the ticket, may say, “That was a great race. I nailed that one good. I should have crushed it, though. Why didn’t I bet more on it? I was so sure I had the winner and still I didn’t use it in an exacta or a triple and it could have been a single in a Pick 4. Damn, I screwed up that bet. I could’ve won so much more.”

BEF produces an imbalanced representation of a purely positive experience.

Seriously, if you eat at a restaurant you will judge liking or disliking the food you eat by eating it. It was good or it was bad, right? Who eats a complete meal that is usually the very food the person who orders it desires and then says something like, “That meal truly hit the spot; it was terrific. However, there should have been a larger portion and a better side dish. I am still a bit hungry. And come to think of it that meal was expensive, I mean for that kind of meal. It’s not like it was a fancy joint. That meal should’ve been half the price and then with a dessert included.”

Understanding such eccentric customer traits is imperative for pari-mutuels tracks. Management has to be empathetic with customers. Positive re-enforcement is necessary. One possibility is to launch a Betting Rebound Rewards Program (BRRP) for on-track attendance.

When a customer joins a BRRP, he or she qualifies to receive some form of rebate on a loss and/or some kind of valuable addition on a win. It could be wagering credit in deals that go like this:

For every $2 bet you bet and lose, (the track) will give you a betting voucher in that amount. The voucher is only valid when wagering on site at (this track).

For every $2 bet you bet and win, (the track) will give you a voucher in that amount, redeemable for food, beverage, programs (et al) available on site at (the track).

In future installments we will dig deeper into unique characteristics of horseplayers and suggest how to sensationalize on them for the benefit of bettors and tracks.