Creative tournaments for patrons: involve bettors in special events with rewards to increase business, part one

by Frank Cotolo

In last month’s AA (full story here) we suggested some ideas to use with the “all-harness-racing-is-local” approach to attract bettors. The ideas imagined concentrated on overnight races, with suggestions about designing conditioned races by using the track’s current equine residents.

Creating a distinct atmosphere with familiar horses should prompt more wagering from a track’s regular patrons, as well as WOM (word of mouth) may attract new on-site patrons who could become regulars.

And, there are follow-through add-ons to the “all-harness-racing-is-local” approach because the unique races produced could offer a kit-and-caboodle of wagers. The point being that no racing event should be a “spectator” event. All races should have either pari-mutuel wagering or a promotional-gimmick to involve the public.

Never forget your audience consists of bettors and they come to the track to make wagers and these days they can stay home to wager or make bets with mobile devices. The longer you keep their attention, the more they will bet.

Adding wagering options to pari-mutuel races is simply good for a track’s business. This was, after all, the motivation that created single- and multi-race exotic wagering. Decades ago, someone at some track was given to a simple yet brilliant idea—expand the betting menu because the win-place-show choices were tiresome. Perhaps they were not, in reality, but creating more pools for wagers along with the win-place-show choices could never hurt. After all, pari-mutuel betting does not work like casino (house) or bookie wagering. As it turned out, of course, more betting options available in various races just made bettors wager more money.

Let’s look now, though, at a “special” racing event that tracks promote strongly though it never offers anything special to bettors. It fits perfectly, too, as another way to take advantage of the “all-harness-racing-is-local” atmosphere.

Often, tracks hold driver “championships,” in which drivers earn points by racing well in specific races over a period of programs, and after a declared number of races, the champion is the driver with the most accumulated points.

It is a wonderful routine for the drivers involved. They deserve the extra boost in exposure, but moreover, in this context, they get a chance to generate extra income for themselves (there are always cash prizes) while doing the job that rewards their performances proportionately, anyway (their fee for driving, usually a better income when they produce horses qualifying for any amount of purse monies).

What is all well and good for the drivers in such a contest is entirely independent from the essential value a track offers with a pari-mutuel race, no less any special event: to provoke more wagering from the public.

Sure, the races involved in a drivers’ championship are available for wagering and bettors go about their business playing as they do on any race.

Something is wrong, though. Why is the track promoting the drivers championship races as if there is an audience for them?

I have never seen a shred of evidence relating to how driver-championship races provoke more wagering than non-driver championship races. Nor have I ever been in the presence of harness fans and/or bettors that became excited, delighted or incited about wagering more money on races that are part of driver championship matches.

It does not get much clearer.

The betting public simply does not care.

Still, tracks continue to hold and promote driver championships as if they have loyal audiences that go out of their way to watch, no less follow the standings, with rapt attention and then bet the living daylights out of them.

How do track administrations ignore the fact that the public, even if they have favorite local drivers, simply does not care, and for a reason that should be, especially to track administrations, crystal clear?

Track administrations should be shaken. They need to wake up to see the chance they are missing to develop a scheme to make a drivers championship include the betting public. Isn’t it obvious why? All right, if it is such a mystery, let me write it out for you: so the races assigned to the event are available to generate enough interest for the public to benefit from them.

Possible solutions deserve alternative actions.

As a long-term investment (because drivers championships take a while), any track could allow the betting public to participate in the special races beyond treating them as they treat all the other races on the programs.

It is not a mighty feat and it may be simpler than my suggestions. Whatever the extra work (a few people already on the payroll should be available to do a few extra things), those few extra things could help handle and business, online or on site, in general. In the second part of this episode, I will offer a plan and how the plan could spin off into other business-generating promotions.

To be continued.