John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Simulcast Conference Takeaway: One Step Forward, One Step Back

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 10, 2013—It’s good to see that in the Fall Championship season, form is holding: There will be no concerted effort by the Society of Thoroughbred Simulcasters to reduce parimutuel takeout.

And why you ask: Because at this week’s Simulcast Conference, Hawthorne Race Course's assistant. general manager said—ensuing Internet firestorm to follow—that “I never hear anyone say anything about a takeout rate unless I read a blog.”

Well, the one good thing that came out of the confab is that there will be more of a concentration to lower bet minimums because data has shown that factional wagering has a beneficial impact on handle whereas—get this—studies that prove lowering takeout increases handle are inconclusive.

Note to Mr. Walsh and any other industry executive who believes that lowering takeout is an Internet phenomenon that doesn’t have real world applications: Fractional wagering would not have expanded had the blogosphere been mum on the subject.

HRI only has been lobbying for lower minimum bets and lower takeout rates since—I don’t know—forever?

This much I will give the Anti-Takeout people; revenues decrease in the short term. The problem is no one is willing to take a haircut long enough for the benefits of churn to kick in. Back in the 1970s in New York, a study lasting nearly two years showed handle increases and revenues started to rise.

Of course, the law permitting the lower takeout rate experiment sunset and the issue died of complications due to chronic apathy in the legislative halls of the state capitol. Never mind that it would have been good for the state’s education coffers. When politics wins, real solutions [read people] lose.

Good thing for horseplayers that Scott Finley, simulcasting executive for the New York Racing Assn. and knowledgeable horseplayer, was in attendance, informing the conferees that lower bet minimums in multi-race pools not only didn’t cannibalize other existing sequential wagers but actually helped increase handle.

In fact, NYRA soon will lower the minimum wager on trifectas to 50-Cents, something HRI has called for since Arlington Park first popularized the fractionalized wager several years ago.

Apparently, the move has been on the back burner for a while since the new wagering machines that debuted at Belmont Park this fall now allow bettors to make 50-Cent wagers at tracks that allow for this minimum.

The problem, of course, is simulcasting’s double edge sword. Providing the type of content that bettors want in the modern era--which accounts for nearly 90 percent of total handle in the U.S.—has helped bettors to specialize at tracks where they have the greatest amount of success or with given race forms; stakes, turf racing, maiden allowance types, etc.

The flip side, obviously, is the fact that racing states and/or ADWs won’t pay for simulcast products they can’t max-out at the bottom line. At the philosophical bottom line, industry fractions still prefer to compete than cooperate.

Yes, point an appropriate finger at state houses in the various racing states, but there must be some creative way to overcome. Instead, states like New York will use their product for leverage by charging out-of-state bet-takers a 5% premium for handling the action of the state’s horseplayers.

The businesses that succeed figure out ways to grow, lest they die; myopic racetrack and off-track executives figure out ways to advance protectionism, believing that the ill will of competitors and customers is a small price to pay to grow their business.

Written by John Pricci

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