Monday, July 09, 2012


Handle Helper: An Open Letter to NYRA, Racing & Wagering Board


ELMONT, NY, July 9, 2012—To Whom It May Concern:

If I had the name of an actual person or organization I can speak with, I have an idea that might help increase betting handle in New York unless, of course, no one is interested in spending money to make more money.

I know that’s a radical concept these days but I wish someone would try it.

I was at Belmont Park Saturday for the Suburban Handicap, a race I described in an advance story as a Grade 1 masquerading as a Grade 2. The Suburban did not disappoint as Mucho Macho Man came up with one of the top performances of 2012.

Anyway, a veteran New York turf writer told me that for the first time in his career covering the New York Racing Association, he didn’t know who to call in the event of an emergency or with a big-picture question.

Since the firing of former President and CEO Charlie Hayward, there’s no longer an absolute go-to person when any serious issues arise. This doesn’t surprise everyone since many say that the NYRA has been on automatic pilot for years.

Sadly, that has a ring of truth: If it were not for the fact that NYRA owns some of the best support staff in the industry--from officials to administrators to backstretch personnel to security—all departments, really--the show could not possibly go on.

However, sometimes you need to speak with someone in charge. The only one I can think of would be NYRA Board Chairman C. Steven Duncker, but he’s been virtually invisible since he assumed the role in 2005 after helping NYRA retain its franchise.

I have something I’d like to see done, and it’s a little thing, really, but one that has a positive effect on the bottom line. It helps all customers, really; fractional wagering.

Now before anyone’s underwear gets twisted in a knot, we’re not talking about the anything new here; nothing to send in, no box-tops to clip. And even if the bottom line didn’t benefit, customer service is priceless, right?

I mentioned the following issue to Hayward in Saratoga a few years ago; he said he would look into it but apparently never found the time. Like I said, it’s a little thing, but one that can have a positive effect once on-track players know they have another option when making certain simulcast bets.

The issue is why offer simulcast wagering if you have no intention to offer the same betting menu in place at the simulcast venue? The issue re-surfaced on Saturday but I first became aware some years ago when I tried to place self-service 50-Cent trifecta wagers on Arlington Million day but couldn’t; the reason I sought out Hayward.

Even though 50-Cent trifectas are available at some of NYRA’s simulcast partners, their full betting menu is not available at New York tracks. Why?

I can think of two reasons: Either NYRA does not want to make an investment in writing new computer code allowing such wagers to be placed on self-service betting machines, or they don’t want to give an edge in a competitive betting marketplace:

The fear that the casual bettor, the customer racing covets, might not invest in $1 NYRA trifectas if his dollars can go twice as far in a 50-Cent pool is typically short-sighted. Or perhaps it’s strictly business; NYRA gets a larger slice of the take from the live product.

Or maybe it’s because NYRA can’t offer the wager by statute because it doesn’t offer 50-Cent trifectas on its races. If that’s the case, it’s more parochial thinking but all parties concerned.

The benefit of fractional wagering is that it puts bettors in pools they might normally avoid due to the link between cost and degree of difficulty.

If NYRA has the will, all that it needs to do is make a simple request to the State Racing & Wagering Board permitting it to offer any fractional wager at simulcast tracks with which NYRA does business. Recall that New York bettors were allowed to wager on Dime Superfectas before they were available locally.

It’s instructive to note there was a time when I asked a former NYRA executive about why superfecta wagering at the time was not allowed in races with stable couplings when trifectas were: If both members of an entry finished in two of the top three positions, the trifecta was completed by the horse that finished fourth. I asked whether he thought horseplayers were unable to count to five.

He said it wasn’t a logistical issue but that such “favors”--like changes to its betting menu--were granted if there were some quid pro quo for the state, such as, say, a rise in takeout. I asked a SRWB operative the same question. He explained it was more about “setting agendas,” that there might be more urgent matters to discuss, etc., etc.

After a while, I stopped asking.

When Dime Supers began to become popular, bean counters explained that the bet was wasn’t good for them because it only cannibalized money from the trifecta pool. At first, this was true, but Superfecta handle has grown considerably and the Trifecta remains as popular as ever.

Why shouldn’t a 50-Cent wager help increase Trifecta handle in the same way Dimes did the Super?

Handle is important not only for bottom line considerations but for pool liquidity. Without sizable pools, sizable bets cannot be sustained. It lessens potential payouts for big and small bettors alike. Fractional betting grows the game and keeps bettors liquid longer.

So that’s my issue: I want to bet simulcast tracks as if I was there and at a rate I can afford. Keep me liquid and I’ll keep betting.

Is there anyone alive out there who can help me and my fellow horseplayers with this?

Respectfully,

John Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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