Creating a Zoom Room to grow raceways’ virtual betting audience

by Frank Cotolo

First, I offer a disclaimer. I have no personal or financial interests in Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (ZVC), nor am I receiving any recompense from ZVC or anyone connected to promoting the product by spotlighting the use of Zoom in the text that follows. Anything Alternative Actions (AA) suggests in this article is done so in the interest of attracting business to pari-mutuel harness racing venues.

When Eric Yuan founded ZVC, he scrounged for financial support because investors thought the video-telephony market was saturated. ZVC produced Zoom, a cloud-based peer-to-peer software platform for teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance education and social relations. Yuan marketed Zoom claiming it is easier to use than its competitors’ products, as well as it has a high degree of employee efficiency. Still, ZVC existed for a few years with no significant cash on hand.

All of that changed in 2020, due to the unfortunate circumstances provided by the COVID-19 pandemic. As countries went on lockdown, Zoom usage experienced huge global increases from quarantine measures, scooping 2.22 million users. By March 2020, the Zoom app was downloaded 2.13 million times, with average users rising to over 300 million daily. ZVC’s stock went from less than $70 per share to $150 per share and by June 2020 the company was valued at over $67 billion.

It is no stretch of the imagination that for the rest of 2020, at least, everyone, working remotely independently or with a company or organization, has and uses the Zoom app. It is September 2020; maybe it is time harness raceways utilize Zoom to incite customers and attract more bettors; maybe it is time to create a raceway Zoom Room.

AA proposes a basic idea a raceway could develop — an idea centered on keeping veteran bettors involved in wagering on harness racing and attracting new bettors to the sport at your raceway.

On their simulcasting feeds, in-house broadcasts and ADW platforms, every raceway offers racing picks for their betting programs, mostly using the track’s public relations staff. These are, as commonly noted, the “experts.” However, with all due respect to those of us that share our handicapping experiences on pari-mutuel wagering theaters, anyone betting on horse races has an opinion about what is going to happen in any particular race — and most are willing to share those opinions.

Let’s face it, in terms of handicapping, the title of “expert” is negotiable; after all, no one has to pass a test or get a license to tout horse racing probabilities. That being true, a raceway (like our fictional Delaney Downs) could spotlight members of its betting audience “into the Delaney Downs Zoom Room, where he or she or they add their expertise to that of the track’s usual handicapping suspects — via Zoom.

There should be no wanting for participants in your Zoom Room, considering the Zoom app has become a fixture on just about every digital gadget this side of science fiction. As well, with Zoom, a broadcast could include as many audience handicappers as it cares to collect. Zoom provides a near-infinite number of participating talking heads at once.

Think of it; what better group of people exists than racehorse handicappers to pontificate punting using their personal perspectives? Nowhere else in public life do personal opinions incubate more than they do in a pari-mutuel betting atmosphere where the question, “Who do you like?” gets more attention than shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

The timing is perfect, too, since raceway attendance has gone from “actual” to “virtual” and no one has any idea when raceway aprons and grandstands will once again host live audiences. Even when warm bodies return to the track, there will still be hoards of people available to attend your Zoom Room, since, due to Zoom’s popularity and its global reach, bettors can be situated anywhere on the planet to appear real-time on a Delaney Downs Zoom Room show. As long as they have something to say about your local races, bring them on.

Let your PR people coordinate ways to let the word out that your Zoom Room is open and scout for guests from your audience. Your regular on-air broadcast crew should promote it aggressively and humbly. Write a script they use, telling bettors things like, “We know so many of our bettors are terrific handicappers and we would like them to “share and compare” their picks with us on a broadcast in the [Delaney Downs] Zoom Room…”

Paying attention to anyone adding scratch to your betting pools is of utmost importance, as AA emphasizes with every scheme it insinuates. With a Zoom Room, your track is acknowledging more than the business your customers provide, it is respecting how they think by requesting their expertise, raising them to the stature of the professionals paid to do the same things.