Striving for bettor best

In a continued effort to try to respond to customer requests, The Meadowlands is shortening cards and still trying to eliminate courtesy tucks. Professional gambler Les Stark said he appreciates the effort.

by Debbie Little

The Meadowlands is once again doing what they can to keep their customers happy.

Different forms of the phrase, “The customer is always right” were popular among retail pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There is a common thread between those turn-of-the-century businessmen and The Meadowlands’ president/chief executive officer Jeff Gural and chief operating officer/general manager Jason Settlemoir, who work hard to put their customers first.

Often misinterpreted, the phrase was not intended to be taken literally, but more so to show that big businesses should be listening and understanding the needs of their clientele.

“Even though we get a subsidy from the state and a portion of the sports betting profits goes towards the purses, still, a significant amount out of the revenues generated come from racing, including our own product,” said Gural. “So, it’s important to me to listen to the customers and try to adjust when we get a good suggestion. Nothing would make me happier than to see people in the grandstand again.”

The Meadowlands sent out a press release last week, with two specific areas of focus, the length of time of the race card and competitiveness of the races.

Both the Friday (Nov. 26) and Saturday (Nov. 27) cards last week saw the last race go off before 11 p.m. Since there were only 12 races on that Friday card, it’s impossible to compare it with the two previous Fridays that each had 14 races.

However, the last race on Saturday went off at 10:58 p.m., a good 29 minutes earlier than on Saturday, Nov. 13, which also had 13 races. On Saturday, Nov. 20, there was one additional race that went off at 11:41 p.m.

Just going off that one weekend, if bettors wanted to have less time between races and the card to end earlier, they certainly got what they asked for.

“The length of time that the card takes to run is of no significance to me because I’m hardcore and I’m going to be there if it takes five hours or it takes 2½ hours,” said professional gambler Les Stark. “I would say it would be better for the new person that’s just getting involved with the game. We might attract some people by not alienating them by taking so long to run our races.”

Stark has been in harness racing a long time and started going to The Meadowlands on a nightly basis back in 1987. And even though the time it takes to complete the card isn’t important to him, the competitiveness of the racing certainly is.

It’s something Gural has been working on, especially when it comes to eliminating “courtesy tucks” and punishing those that continue to create them.

“We’ve given some warnings but no one has been penalized yet,” said Gural. “Unlike owners of almost all the other harness tracks, I’m actually a horseman and grew up when harness racing was in its prime and I remember how exciting the races would be when the drivers had a much different style and there was no such thing as courtesy tucks. Courtesy didn’t exist nor should it exist in a sporting event.

“I think you’re seeing races now where they do close the holes, not all of them, but when they do, the product is much better. It’s much more competitive and the horses can come from behind. There were a couple of races [last] weekend that reminded me of the old days and, hopefully, we can keep that going.”

Stark is in favor of trying something that will bring down the percentage of winning favorites, which currently stands at 50.

“The Meadowlands was a track that if they had 33 per cent favorites it was a lot years back when they were in their heyday,” said Stark. “There are many reasons for this and I’m not saying it’s because of the tucks, so don’t misunderstand me, but at the same time, if they can cause the flow in the race to improve, and by that, I mean if horses are forced to go to the front, if it gets the flow of the outer tier to be more lively, if you will, then I would say I’d be for it.

“There have been some races where I’ve noticed that holes have been closed and I do believe that it’s caused more action, if that’s the proper word, as far as changing of the lead and horses getting involved, which allows more horses from the back to enter contention if they’re good enough, and I think that’s what they’re trying to achieve.”

Gural, Settlemoir and their team field 50 to 75 emails a week, which is a lot considering they only usually race twice a week. And all emails received are responded to, unless they are condescending, offensive or profane.

“They’re not always critical,” said Settlemoir. “It’s actually nice sometimes because we get emails that say you guys are doing a great job. The majority of them are negative when you hear from customers because I feel that Jeff and I have put ourselves out there and we’ve done that intentionally because we want to be able to talk to our customers and have an open dialogue with them.”

As a long-time regular customer, Stark appreciates the fact that The Meadowlands will listen.

“Not only do they hear you, but in my opinion, they actually listen to the complaints almost to a fault,” said Stark. “I think the customers feel like they can voice their opinion and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do feel The Meadowlands takes each and every one of them very seriously almost to the point where maybe they should consider the good things about their product and not have to make changes just for the sake of the fact that there was a complaint. The Meadowlands is trying and they should get credit for considering all these people’s ideas.”