Friday, December 17, 2010

Horseplayers Need to Represent and Be Represented

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, December 16, 2010--With apologies to Gil-Scott Heron, the Revolution will be televised, and those watching will be the revolutionaries themselves.

Santa Anita Park, newly installed dirt track and all, will open for business in nine days, the day after Christmas. It’s always a welcome rite of winter, a reason to get excited about Thoroughbred racing again.

But if the revolutionaries keep their promise, all they will be doing is watching, not betting, striking a blow for horseplayers everywhere.

It’s very difficult for any grass roots organization to make a difference in the big picture. These days there’s just too much cynicism, too much apathy, too little character and too many powerful interests to go around.

But horseplayers, those of whom are still betting, apparently ARE made as hell and, not only are they not going to take it anymore, but collectively, big bettors and small, are taking proactive measures to do something about it.

The organization that’s spearheading the boycott is called PlayersBoycott. When the Horseplayers Association of North America, HANA, recently polled its membership, 70 percent of organization voted to officially support the PlayersBoycott organization. HANA now has over 1,700 members.

“I also polled my customer base and asked what appropriate action should be taken in light of the takeout increase at Santa Anita. Over two-thirds voted to support the boycott,” explained HANA President Jeff Platt.

“The customer matters. We can send a clear message to the California Horse Racing Board and the Thoroughbred Owners of California that a vote for higher takeout can have repercussions.

“We’re not just lashing out in anger. We want to shine a light on the issue so that the CHRB and TOC understands that the players need representation.”

A majority of the membership of these two groups have promised to boycott the Santa Anita races because of the increased takeout rates, which have gone up two or three percent depending on the exotic pool tier.

Platt, a serious player, will support the boycott. He also received commitments from several batch-wagering computer syndicates to not only support the boycott but take proactive measures as well, taking out ads in trade journals, the Los Angeles Times, etc.

Some computer bettors would sacrifice short term gains for long term profits. “We believe in lower takeouts for everyone,” said one syndicate manager. “If takeout was lowered to acceptable levels, we wouldn’t need rebates.”

Only after polling its membership did HANA openly lend its support to the upcoming boycott. Computer syndicates cannot take this tack, however. If they are large enough and become public, they could become fair game for running afoul of anti-trust laws by acting in restraint of trade.

Resultantly, this action needs to be taken by a grass roots advocacy group such as HorseplayerBoycott which can attract more horseplayers so that their greater numbers can make a difference.

Organizers project that a successful boycott by computer bettors can effect the handle by as much as 10 percent, although it still could be considered a success if it didn’t reach that figure. Several thousand names in support could make a difference.

What’s clear is that if horseplayers don’t look out for themselves, no one in the industry will--at least not in California if events in 2010 mean anything.

In January, the CHRB decided to raise the takeout for the Los Alamitos quarter horse meet. It asked HANA to monitor the effects the takeout increase would have on handle.

CHRB Chairman Ed Allred said at the time that if takeout were adversely effected, he would rescind the hike. Allred resigned shortly thereafter and could not act on that promise.

On-track handle at Los Alamitos was down 27 percent year over year. But when that result first came up for the revenue, CHRB ordered that the handle comparisons would be measured on a handle-per-day, not a year-over-year basis.

The skewed figures presented a completely different picture, that handle losses were minimal. At a meeting with the CHRB in the spring, HANA objected to the change in methodology.

The change in methodology was covered up. HANA later learned that the CHRB had lobbied the legislature behind its back, seeking a takeout increase on Thoroughbreds.

After the CHRB, TOC and the racetracks found that there was a backlash to the increase, track managements at Santa Anita, Hollywood, Del Mar and Golden Gate worked hard to kill a bill that also contained a provision lobbied for by Betfair to allow exchange betting.

The Betfair provision was approved but an agreement was fashioned delaying its implementation until 2012 while further study was conducted.

At the CHRB meeting in October, when it was learned that a takeout increase for Thoroughbreds was signed into law, the news was greeted with a standing ovation, according to HANA.

“It’s clear that the CHRB is nothing more than representatives for the owners and trainers, not the players.” said Platt.

“The industry has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on research and chooses to ignore recommendations made on the positive effects of reduced takeout.

“When the Lottery takeout was lowered in California, the amount of revenue to the general fund increased by $50 million. That also happened in other states.”

When asked, Platt conceded he was aware that a return to dirt would be supported enthusiastically by horsemen, resulting in larger fields and a potential for lots of carryovers, making it difficult to weigh the effects of a boycott.

“I expect there will be euphoria at the start of the meet but it will be short lived, with or without a boycott. As the meet progresses and the higher rate will takes its toll, you will get a negative effect on handle at the end.”

The Horseplayers Association of North America, with the support of computer bettors, and making a concerted effort on the behalf of horseplayers from every region in this country.

They are looking for a few good men and women to lend their support to the cause. Simply click through to and add your name to more than a thousand horseplayers and computer syndicates. Be part of a solution. The money saved might be your own.

Written by John Pricci

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