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Horse racing's innovation: Where is it?

10th January, 16:28

Horse racing is caught struggling against an increasingly competitive sports betting platform which leaves the sport proverbially behind the eight ball - so to speak.

Why is this?

Well it's because we have done absolutely nothing innovative to draw the betting public to our product.

In your eyes you may think we are one of the 'best entertainment values around' - because it costs you nothing to watch the sport and the core product hasn't really changed in at least my lifetime.

Take a look at the sports betting industry and the constant innovative product they bring to the table and think about that for a minute. Now that you've thought that over - switch the focus strictly to horse racing and the lack of innovation you've witnessed in your lifetime.

I'm a horse player and I'm a sports gambler. I have a hard time selling horse racing to someone who tells me the product isn't good and I can't make money betting horses.

Talk to most race book operators in Las Vegas (and I have spoken with more than my share in the last thirty years) and they'll all tell you the same thing... "The sport has been declining rapidly because the product just isn't good enough."

Can we attribute some of the blame to the tracks and their take-outs?

Is it the aging demographics of the sport?

I know tracks will tell you the cost to operate a facility is tremendous and I wont question that, but stop and look at a sample of the take-out and you be the judge.

Test this theory... Let's say your pool in an exotic wager, like a trifecta, has a take-out of 20%. I know the track up here currently has it listed as 19.7% collectively - in a single race. And let's say the pool generates $100,000 wagered - the track then takes out $19,700 from that pool leaving only $80,300 to split between those who hold the winning tickets. Some of the take-outs are even as high as 23% on live handle and we aren't even given the take-out rates on simulcast races. Now you see what I mean about the payouts not being attractive to the player.

A well-known race track owner did say a while back... "Look at my betting room... You'll be lucky to see any of those people ten years from now." Having attended my share of OTB rooms - I have to agree 100% with that statement. Horse racing is attracting less people to the table and we haven't done our share to promote this to the younger generation and the sport is perceived as 'something old people do - to pass the time'.

The entire concept of pari-mutuel wagering (which is prehistoric in my mind) could be the problem. Just look at the innovation... When was the last time we examined the entire structure of the win, place and show pools?

I know all these factor are easier said than done, but if we want to move forward and increase our life-line, then we better make some drastic changes along the way - which are going to appeal to that young demographic player - which right now is basically non-existent when it comes to betting the horse racing product.

If you look at our past and where we are today most - if not all - of the major markets for horse racing, across the globe, are monopolies run by track operators and this isn't the best recipe for innovation that will push us to the next level.

It's time we change the mindset of the track operators, pari-mutuel agencies and of course the core of our horse racing sport - the bettors.

A big challenge is to recruit the proper people who can get you to that next step when it comes to making the right choices in terms of technology and innovation. Let's not all sit around the table and wait for sports betting to help save our coffers.

We, as an industry, have the ability to grow. There is plenty of room to grow the horse racing sector without falling further behind. If we continue to live in 'nineties era' - this sector will never grow and eventually die under the shadow of the wire.

Track operators need to listen... Even if it requires changing their mindset - to try new approaches in areas we haven't tapped yet - but areas that we do have at our disposal.

Let's look at the sports betting model and the innovations which have made it one of the most lucrative forms of gaming in the world. The Super Bowl - a single game on a national stage - will have over $800M wagered on it - in that single day and that doesn't include the $1.5B bet illegally across the globe. I can bet a coin toss. I can bet a player versus a player. I can bet the first half of a game or the last half of a game.

If you were to ask a sports bettor... "Would you be interested in betting what horse will get to the three-quarter pole first?" or "Would you be interested in betting on a horse you think will finish last?"... I have a feeling you'd probably get a pretty sound "YES" to either of those questions...

Think about it.

Innovation isn't measured by what we do with people surrounded in the sport of horse racing. Innovation is what we do with those who have never witnessed or placed a wager on our product and how we can make the sport more attractive to them - since it's a sport non-existent to many in media and you'd be hard pressed to find it on any TV channel other than a paid subscription channel.

The clock is ticking and at the stroke of midnight - we don't want to be the people standing around looking for someone or something to latch onto. If we get to this point - then we'll have nobody to blame - but ourselves.

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