Thursday, June 4, 2009

Past Posting and In-Race Betting

Third in a series of guest posts on the business of horse racing.

By Vic Harrison

Previously we discussed video displays and then, last week, breakage and outs issues. This week we focus on:

o Past Posting – Betting after the start of the race.
o The Start of the Race – When does it start?
o In-race Betting – Let’s legalize it.

Past Posting – betting after the start of a race – is just awful when it occurs and newsworthy too. Recently, when pools have been so breached, the handle has been refunded to the bettors – a good option – a boon to those who had losing wagers, but cold comfort indeed to those who selected the winners.

The track, the state, breeders, et al, are hurt by the loss of handle and accompanying churn for that race. But, in fairness, bettors usually will bet their wagering allotment by the end of the performance whether or not there are seven or ten races.

At one point in time, when certain state lotteries closed wagering on, say, a lotto pool, the state lottery would further verify the lotto pool closing by attempting to punch tickets on a lottery terminal; they had instant confirmation that the pools had closed, or not. What a simple low-tech solution. The pari-mutuel industry might explore this solution until such time that broader wagering monitoring systems are fully implemented.

Interesting related food for thought: For those among us who loudly criticize the tote companies for falling behind with respect to technology: I issue this challenge to the three major tote companies: publish your accounts receivables. Tote contracts usually call for payment within 7 days – right, 7 days. In reality, some racetracks do pay their tote invoice within 30 days; some pay within 60 days, some within 90 days, and some wait 120 days - or longer - to pay their tote company. Totes are as a rule treated as second class corporate citizens. If a racetrack treated its phone or utility company this way it would be out of business. Perspective: tote companies are paid in basis points; simulcast fees are paid in whole percentage points.

I think legal past posting occurs everyday. I commend Trackmaster for publishing run-up distances – good info, long overdue, for serious handicappers. But, starting poles and the attendant uncertainty surrounding the actual start of a race should be eliminated. The horses breaking from the gate represent the beginning of a race. Too many salient race-shaping events occur between the time the gate opens and the time the horses pass the start pole.

Harness Racing also suffers in the widely differing application of recall-enforcement and there is too much time for technology-savvy bettors to alter (usually cancel) their wagers between the time the gate pulls away and the time betting closes. Too many bettors have had an unfair advantage for far too long over the casual player, mostly with respect to canceling.

Here's an example: Vic attends the harness races with his family. Before the next race, Vic takes his son down to the grandstand for soda and popcorn. He bets $10 win and $10 place on the number 5 horse. He takes his food and tickets upstairs or out to the rail and settles down to watch the trotters as they line up behind the gate. Vic is nowhere near a teller or self-serve machine. As the gate picks up speed, three of the young horses break stride and are hopelessly distanced by the more sure-gaited trotters. This breaking group includes Vic’s selection, the number 5 horse. He watches the race despondently with no shot of cashing his ticket.

Attending the same race is Neo, who has his own betting terminal or his favorite teller. He also bet the number 5 horse. But, due to his proximity to his favorite teller or self-serve betting terminal he had set up his bet on the number 5 to CANCEL. When the horse broke stride before the start of the race he canceled his bet. Is this fair? Is this how we capture new players and turn them into fans? Is this how we protect our odds and win prices?

This is not unique to harness racing. At some Thoroughbred tracks you can infer much from the break from the gate before the betting is stopped. On a related matter, the bet-cancel delay, ostensibly still in place in some jurisdictions to protect tellers from being stuck with a large ticket at post time, needs to disappear entirely.

Late cancel issues and bet-cancel-delay disputes can be eradicated by stopping betting when the first horse loads into the gate in flat racing. Stopping betting when the first horse loads buys us time. We’d pick up about a minute – a minute to take responsible action. In some past posting cases, tote and mutuels are instantly aware that betting did not close. Yet it still takes precious time to takes the steps necessary to close the pools. A minute’s head-start would be priceless. On the Standardbred side there’s got to be a similar answer. Let’s put our heads together.

Can we start thinking about regulating in-race betting? Let’s legalize it. Think of the intensity, the excitement. Offer up a new, say, win pool at the start of a race and keep it open to the halfway point or three-quarters. Let’s start with baby steps – on-track in-race betting only as there may be video and communications lag times engendered by the simulcasting of in-race betting pools that would be magnified by the dynamics of in-the-moment-wagering.

And, circling back, as I like to do, to the ever looming issue of pari-mutuel take-out and state regs, we should begin brainstorming about retooling the minimum payout requirements and minus pool formulas. Over-simplifying this issue: on a nickel slot machine we hit MAX BET at a cost of $.45 and we win a minor reward: $.20. We win but we lose. (I know, one of the nine $.05 bets paid off at $.20. I’m oversimplifying for example purposes only.) I am totally confident that these issues can be addressed by the brighter minds in the industry. Even then, the crucial piece of successful implementation is across-the-board consistency – there can only be unanimity for this to work.

Until next time...

-- Vic

For information about Vic Harrison, see Contributors on the About tab.

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