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John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com 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 MSNBC.com, 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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Saturday, November 10, 2012


Growing the Middle Class Horseplayers


Time has come for real horseplayers, both men and women, to step up. You say you’re tired of well-meaning commentary and industry meetings that result in non-action. Well, just maybe, there is something we can do.

Like it or not, whether Daily Racing Form believed it wasn’t worth covering or not, the Santa Anita boycott two winters ago got everyone’s attention. Let’s try something else, be proactive once again.

If this tack fails, and you’re still weary of rhetoric over action, then we’ll talk selective boycotts, avoiding high takeout pools in favor of supporting pools such as the P5 with 12% takeout currently available at Calder Race Course, the most player-friendly wager in the country.

That wager is also available at Thoroughbred tracks in Texas, followed closely by the 14% Pick 5s available at major tracks in Southern California, and also at Hawthorne Race Course.

Please continue reading the piece that follows, written by regular HRI contributor Indulto. It’s no accident his blog is entitled Players Up.


* * *

In Search of Meaningful Change

By Indulto


On the heels of the presidential election, the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) blog published a piece by one of its board members, Jerod Dinkin, entitled I'm Tired. Just Do It, whose exasperation is evident in almost every passage.

”… I'm tired of the constant inaction of industry leaders. I'm even tired of the pages upon pages of thoughtful analysis, insights, suggestions, and solutions I read from blogs and countless other sources …

… I'm tired of it because we've come to a point where the words aren't resonating and they should. No matter what we say and no matter how well it is said, few are listening. It's exhausting.

… We're at a juncture where talking and writing about all that ills are falling on deaf ears. All you can do at the grassroots level is donate your time and effort and hope for the best. HANA has done some great things with a budget of essentially nil and an all-volunteer membership and leadership, a group of people that care enough to attempt to better the game we love on our own time. For the most part, as horseplayers, our stake in the game is with discretionary income. …

… I'm tired because "We the People" cannot enact widespread change without industry involvement - We can only do our best to promote and encourage it. Note to all of the actors in the system with a chip at the table: I'm tired of hearing all the reasons why you can't do it and I'm sick of the passionate voices getting drowned out. Life is short and competition is wide. The time for talk is over. Just do it.’ ”

While I can sympathize with Mr. Dinkin's sense of futility, I can no longer support the martyrdom of HANA board members who “toil” as volunteers, but have achieved little toward getting takeout lowered which was the principle justification for the organization’s formation. I don’t deny what this group has accomplished, but the principle results of its actions on those with the ability to change the status quo have been effectively limited to lip service.

The HANA board is self-funded, self-directed, and self-perpetuating. As far as I can tell, Its non-board members don’t generally collectively participate in anything except polls which I would argue are designed more to advance existing board member’s agendas than to determine the objectives of its entire dedicated membership and fulfill them.

What HANA does have at this point is name recognition and what I would guess is somewhere between 2000-4000 non-dues-paying members. To achieve anything meaningful, it needs strength in significant numbers and funding of full-time, full-dues-paying-membership-elected positions, filled by enthusiastic and energetic individuals that pursue an agenda confirmed by a majority of regularly-scheduled-voting dues-paying members.

There must be agreement among horseplayers that every participant in every pari-mutuel pool is entitled to the lowest practical direct takeout available under the circumstances – NOT just the high-volume or other favored players.

There must be agreement that playing fields for both horseplayers and horsemen be level at each venue and between venues. A central authority needs to be created that will continually monitor, reveal, and experimentally adjust the prevailing combination of reasonable takeout rates, purse levels, and operating expenses to attain a workable balance that ensures a self-sustaining game with a quality product capable of competing with alternative forms of gambling while also fairly and consistently regulated according to uniform rules that protect horses, jockeys, and customers.

Racing’s customers need representation at that table. Since inception, HANA has shown us why that is true, but not how to get there. The status quo among bettors/customers/players needs to be altered so that we’re all on the same side and our collective strength can be harnessed.

HANA can do this if its current leadership will put their egos aside, accept direction from a membership they are committed to multiply, and delegate to dedicated and determined executives who have demonstrated the ability to organize political support.

Surely there are a few savvy horseplayers who worked in the presidential campaigns whose expertise is worth compensating to perform what needs to be done. I’ll commit to $25 for each of the next four quarters to get something off the ground. Anybody else?

* * *

I'm willing to try this proposal by pledging $25 per quarter so that the Horseplayers Association of North America can do some truly meaningful, professional lobbying for horseplayers in local statehouses.

I know ALL the reasons why this won’t work. But I, too, am worn out writing or championing the ideas of others who labor to save the racing industry from itself. My pleas and others have fallen on ears at least in need of hearing aids.

If there indeed are 2,000-to-4,000 pin-wearing HANA members who signed up for a one-time $20 fee, a $25 pledge per quarter buys, at minimum, $200,000 worth of salary, travel expenses, advertising and whatever a dedicated professional needs to reach state legislators at the bottom-line by convincing them that Thoroughbred racing is not only viable but capable of growth via greater pool liquidity.

More states are looking to raise revenue from gambling than ever before, and that trend is not likely to end anytime soon. This is racing’s opportunity, but it’s horseplayers that need to stop complaining about industry inertia and make something happen.

First, we raise money, consider what would be attainable goals then execute a plan, even if it fails. We’ve all lost bets before.

If we can convince legislators that, with respect to takeout, less is more, our pledges will be paid for by a 50-Cent Pick 4 or Pick 5 that pays roughly 10-to-12 percent more than it does in most states now. Inexpensive, low-take horizontals have worked everywhere they’ve been instituted.

Anything would be better than standing by, complaining, and doing nothing, depending on an industry--with its poor track record for making things happen legislatively--to act. As fair minded people will observe from events earlier this week, people united works.


Written by John Pricci

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