Hire wagering experts to mind the store

Using those in the trenches to identify the problems is simply good business.

by Dean Towers

The headline from last week’s Breeders’ Cup was not what anyone expected. It wasn’t about the majesty of the winners, the performance of the Japanese horses or the sunny skies of San Diego. It involved a gate scratch of race favorite Modern Games in the Juvenile Turf. The colt was taken out of the wagering, but seconds later after it was clear there was a mix-up, he was allowed to run for purse money only.

Modern Games won the race, which was fortuitous for the owners, but not so great for those who had the colt keyed in the last leg of the Pick 5. Substituted with the (new) betting favorite, their tickets — millions of dollars’ worth — were confetti. That’s why, as a wonderful 2-year-old was led to the winner’s circle after a beautiful performance, all you heard were boos.

Many in the industry were left flabbergasted. Sadly, some inside the business who are completely out of touch with the wagering side, had no idea why people were even booing.

Navigating these types of messes are not something that’s easy to do. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation wrote a comprehensive study on wagering integrity in an excellent multi-part series that I encourage everyone to read. In most cases, the sport doesn’t even realize it has a problem, until it has a problem.

Fortunately, the majority of these issues (those that we might deem easier to fix) are not as big as the Breeders’ Cup snafu and others the TIF documented. But the small things, along with the lack of response to address them, shows how systemically deep the chasm between industry and customer is.

Take for example the venerable Bob Marks, who has opined from time to time on this topic when he has his old-time Roosevelt handicapping hat on. Bob might mention a race where a 1 to 9 shot races poorly, or a driver doesn’t pull a heavy chalk, or something happens in a race that affects a big amount of wagering money to be followed by dead air. Then, the next race goes off with no one reporting anything about the incident; no driver interview, no word from the judges. Nothing. It’s like if we don’t talk about Fight Club there is no Fight Club.

Bob can’t understand it, and neither can I.

Currently, bettors frustrated over certain races or policy email blast a Jason Settlemoir, or a Woodbine executive, or Nick Salvi, or Jeff Gural or whomever. I’m sure they do their best (I know for a fact Settlemoir does), but I don’t think anyone would disagree – this is not the way to handle a multi-billion dollar wagering business.

This week I listened to the Jason Beem podcast with a professional thoroughbred and harness bettor where he spoke about tracks needing a wagering expert. This person could be someone who knows what the wagering customer is thinking; what they want; what they need from this industry to be better customers. Someone to mind the store.

In my view, he is absolutely correct. And it’s not like this is some sort of breakthrough idea. Professionally run businesses such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club do this as a matter of course. In fact, they employ a vice president of wagering with a team under him because they believe this is so important.

Setting up an organizational structure from the wagering side to communicate with on-air talent, management and judges is not heresy and it’s by no means a radical concept. Wagering integrity and protecting the betting pools begins at home; at the basics, at the grassroots level. That’s simply good business and I believe this industry should find a way to make it happen.