by Frank Cotolo
Since the pandemic hit North America, the pari-mutuel racing business has been a few steps ahead of other sports. Racetracks were the last sport theaters to go into lockdown and they began doing business again much sooner than other professional sports. One could say a good reason is that social distancing is built into pari-mutuel racing since the main athletes are equines and the nature of their sport is trying to get far away from their opponents, be it running, trotting or pacing.
Although spring 2021 has already presented opportunities for live spectators, though not at full capacity, for fans of baseball, football and the rest of the human pro-sports world, racetracks have not reacted similarly. Churchill Downs made news playing host to two large live audiences at a racetrack for its biggest racing programs, Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days, but most other tracks still have the doors of admission locked. In fact, even as I write, Ontario racing is in lockdown again.
Even before reaching any goal near herd immunity, the population of our planet is ready to wander freely in the open. Many public businesses on the continent are accommodating humans at closer distances, thanks to the vaccine attacks calming the spread of COVID-19. It is the time now for planning alternative actions aimed at preserving live audiences of pari-mutuel race-goers — people spectating and wagering.
Simply opening the doors and saying, “Great to have you back,” will not maintain a broad live audience. There needs to be a strong and exclusive campaign to attract people to tracks again and we are certain they have to be showered with welcoming incentives as never before to do so. Racetrack administrations must remember that long before the pandemic, attendance was in danger of becoming extinct. Alternative Actions (AA) has ideas for such campaigns and we want to inspire public relations figures to pave creative paths for attendance with our out-of-the-box suggestions.
As we mentioned, it is imperative to make all offers for live attendances exclusive. The digital audience must have its own exclusivity when it comes to “offers” for wagering. For the time being, at least, it must be clear that those attending the races are privy to “live benefits.”
Remind veteran racetrack attendees that parking and admission are free and add more free stuff; not hats or shirts or trinkets, either. Add free bets for live attendees only. These gifts could come in many ways. Of course, always check the powers that be for the legality and logistics of “fresh free bet” presentations. Then, start spreading the word.
Contact your audience on social media: “You park for free, you come in for free — now you can get some bets for free.” No details are necessary in promotions, but you have to have a plan on what kinds of bets you intend to give away — and how.
“Pick-Four Partners” is an idea to kick around. Since the multi-race “Pick” wagers have become enormously attractive, make the live audience aware that the track can become a partner in their Pick-4 wagers. Try this: In any Pick 4, the track will give anyone in attendance one free race in the stream, pushing the “ALL” button in that race. Then, a Pick 4 becomes a Pick 3 and bettors can construct tickets that allow them to have more choices in the remaining trio of races.
“Pick Your Picks” is a cool idea but needs some developing because it will certainly be an attractive addition for in-attendance bettors. In essence, the betting scheme is a parlay re-packaged.
A Pick Your Picks (PYP) wager targets three winners in separate races, chosen by the bettor, that all have to win. The payoff is produced as in a parlay, that is, the amount won in leg one is wagered on the second horse to win and if the second horse wins the new amount won is wagered on the third horse. Make the base bet $2.00, which could attract new bettors and is easy to calculate.
Example 1 — PYP’s first horse wins and pays $8.00. That $8 is wagered on the PYP’s second race choice. If that horse wins, what the first two wins have accrued is wagered on the third PYP horse. If the third horse wins, as it must, the bettor has a much larger return than if he or she had played $2 on each winner. Imagine winning three races that pay $8, $4 and $6 respectively and your $2 PYP payout is $48. That’s about 24-1 on a $2 bet — and it is only available if you make the PYP wager in person.
Online wagering platforms are offering many promotions, all money-oriented plans. Racetracks that offer monetary benefits (from your creative wagering plans) and spread that word far and wide should attract new fans and veteran fans that will assist in raising the track handle.