"Players Up" blogger Indulto is a retired computer programming residing in SoCal and has been betting Thoroughbreds since the days of Kelso, cashing his first ticket at Saratoga while in college.

Indulto is well known in racing's cyber world as a participant on the Ragozin Sheets message board, the PaceAdvantage Forum, Paulick Report, and has made important contributions to the industry's audience as an HRI Readers Blog contributor.

Indulto was active in the formation of the Horseplayers Association of North America and with former HANA colleagues worked on the Players' Boycott of California racing when takeout rates were increased by the legislature there.

Taking his nickname from the King Ranch color-bearer of the 1960s, Indulto now devotes his time to advocate for the recreational player and hobbyist, but prefers lower takeout rates for all rather than subsidized rebates for the few.

Indulto supports the creation of a centralized racing authority to establish uniform rules for racing and wagering and for those standards to be enforced consistently.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

What Will the Next Meeting Bring?

LOS ANGELES, January, 7, 2013-Three respected observers weighed in on the New NYRA Board of Directors' initial integrity test in the sunlight of greater transparency.

Steven Crist described the moment as "comic" in the DRF:

"Among the various resolutions the new board was asked to approve was one prohibiting corporate officers from wagering on the races. This is a silly and unnecessary restriction, unfairly suggesting impropriety, and it raised some eyebrows.

"Why would we prohibit officers wagering, since we're in the wagering business? " asked Stuart Janney, a board member and the chairman of the Jockey Club.

I thought I heard some assenting murmurs, and it seemed for a moment that there might be some actual discussion and dissension amid the thud of rubber-stamp approvals. Then someone pointed out that board members are not technically corporate officers and could continue playing the races.

The room exhaled, and the resolution passed unanimously."

To paraphrase an old saw, one writer's comedy is another's tragedy. Teresa Genero appeared to take the moment fairly seriously in Forbes , questioning whether integrity of the sport would be strengthened by such a policy. She noted that: 'New board chair Dr. David Skorton, president of Cornell University, said in supporting the resolution, "The idea is that the loyalty and responsibility of the people managing the organization, the most senior people, are focusing on whatever it is that the board decides needs to be done, not any acts that might conceivably bring personal recompense.'

Then continued: "It seems curious, though, that the policy doesn't apply to the NYRA board of directors, which is also in a position to make decisions that should be, to quote Skorton, unencumbered by the possibility of personal recompense. "

In one example countering the policy, Genero wrote, "At Keeneland Race Course, one of the most prestigious tracks in the country, employees are not expressly prohibited from wagering, according to a spokesperson. Unsurprisingly for an enterprise that features exemplary customer service, Keeneland asks that employees wager early in the day to avoid interference with their professional responsibilities and creating additional wait time in wagering lines for guests."

Though he seemed unmoved by the moment, Tom Noonan questioned its necessity in his blog:

"There was one telling discussion during the meeting. It had to do with a proposal to ban wagering by NYRA's corporate officers. I did not understand the need for such a ban since there had not been any problems identified in the past from allowing wagering, and I could not think of a possible rationale for the revision…

“I personally find Keeneland's position the most reasonable… However, I do see the board eventually accepting a similar restriction on its members. Anything less would brand them as either a bunch of hypocrites or else compulsive gamblers incapable of supporting the "greater good."

I wonder if Dr. Skorton momentarily considered suggesting that possibility to the board whose voting majority is still comprised of veterans from prior NYRA boards, or if he was relieved that confrontation had been avoided on his maiden voyage into the sun.

I also wonder if this policy is tied to some finding in the still-not-released Inspector General's report on the takeout fiasco. Was evidence of excessive wagering activity by executives uncovered by investigators? If so, did it play any role in the Governor's decision to shake things up? As Ms. Genero so aptly put it, "Gamblers need not apply. "

Indeed, will past gambling activity be held against new applicants? I can only imagine how many qualified candidates that would eliminate! Is the Governor and his New NYRA Board Chairman dangerously close to proverbially throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Could a suggestion that recreational betting on horse racing might be less socially acceptable than another form of gambling or entertainment further dampen enthusiasm for the sport, becoming an unintended consequence?

When I started attending the races at Saratoga in the '60s, gambling there considered a positive social experience that engaged people of all backgrounds and bankrolls.

In upstate New York where I grew up, virtually everyone I knew had a family member who attended Saratoga at least once each year. It wasn't unusual during August in the Capital District for a working stiff to request a day off to go to the races without getting hassled by his employer.

After re-locating downstate, it dawned on me that horseplayers there were markedly less visible and often stereotyped as less-than; a notion reinforced when Off Track Betting was introduced.

Eventually, on-line wagering would negate the effects of social stigma but often squalled OTB parlors became an obstacle to attracting new customers. In New York, the barrier to recruitment also includes politicians who lord over the game because they can by playing the society card.

Just recently, Tom Noonan resumed his assault on the logic behind NYRA’s executive wagering ban "I’m shocked … gambling is going on in here," skewered Skorton.

"If he thinks the lure of putting down a wager indicates an insufficient commitment to one’s employer, what would he say of the President of an Ivy League college taking a part-time gig that not only requires travel to Manhattan or Saratoga Springs from Ithaca, but that (hopefully) requires a significant commitment to carrying out one of the Governor’s major initiatives?"

"What I find troubling, however, is what this says about the new Chair’s mindset on the gambling that is an essential part of the industry. It is hard to draw any inference other than that he thinks it reflects negatively on someone who does enjoy betting when he cannot trust highly paid executives to carry out their responsibilities while also placing an occasional wager."

Noonan credited Ms. Genero’s article as motivating his "revisiting" the subject. Indeed both bloggers have been challenging the Governor’s motives and justification for reorganizing NYRA since the plan was announced. In the process, they have raised serious questions regarding the takeout fiasco which remain unanswered.

Hayward’s firing did not sit well with either of the above who have contended that state agency heads assigned oversight responsibility for NYRA were no less derelict in their duty than NYRA executives in failing to observe the statutory sunsetting of the temporary takeout increase enacted when the state took over NYCOTB. I agree with them about the latter, but not the former.

Leaking partial contents of the Inspector General’s report does not rise to the level of transparency promised by Team Cuomo. Their reluctance to release that report in the light of this latest misstep suggests that doing so might reveal more of them.

For those of us who hoped, if not expected, the NYRA reorganization would yield positive racing-related reform, this is a step backward – perhaps as far back as 17th century England’s Puritan Protectorate:
"Cromwell's government divided the country into 11 districts, each under a major general who were responsible not only for tax collection and justice, but for guarding public morality as well. Church attendance was compulsory.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Welcome New Voice in the Wilderness

LOS ANGELES, December 31, 2012--Every once in a while I encounter some fresh thinking in cyberspace that yields a "Butch and Sundance" moment: "Who is that guy?"

Apparently others have been asking that question about a blogger who calls himself The Electric Horseman (TEH), and writes a blog called Horse Racing Must Evolve."

Indeed, it was a friend who asked if I were familiar with that individual so I decided to Google his work.

TEH appears to be addressing racetrack management in a series of pieces he has written, all of which contain concepts worth contemplating. In the earliest one, he looked at the way tracks treat their on-track customers as compared with on-line customers:

"When over 20 or 30 years you create a scenario in which invisible customers and their machines sitting at home and online are afforded all of the advantages, and you do almost nothing to correct that giant, industry-wide blunder, you are dooming only yourselves and the industry you are perceived to want to preserve."

"... [Racing] can sure stand to lift more than just a (the?) single finger toward the new and/or novice fans that bother to pay the extra daily costs required to attend the races live. Horse racing, unlike all other sports, continues to maintain an environment where its on-site crowds are put at a decided disadvantage while in direct competition with those who stay home to watch online or on TV!!!"

"At the root of your parimutuel wagering, you are extracting 14-30% of every dollar wagered on your product. Your "whales" and other preferred customers are beating that number steadily over time, and often by a whole lot. This in turn ratchets-up the effective take-out on the newcomers and the novices, who are left dangling, often with no clue about a sport that demands considerable understanding before a person can be competitive. "

So, I was surprised when he wrote the following: "There is exactly nothing wrong with the core parimutuel takeout at most North American racing venues ..."

Subsequently he revealed an anti-professional player agenda with anti-HANA (Horseplayer Association of North America) undertones:

"This isn't about the mutuel takeout, no matter what is constantly trumpeted by those whose lone interests lie in trying to beat the game over the long haul. Those individuals, who have now become a giant liability to horse racing, can't seem to understand that it is their own very existence amid a game otherwise marketed to numbers- and colors-players, which is maintaining a giant wedge between horse racing and the mainstream gambling public."

"Horse racing has perhaps unwittingly tipped the playing field so far toward its high-volume and repeat customers that the dire consequences will eventually clear-out race tracks all together. In what other arena does a business make things so relatively easy for a small segment of its customers that they STAY HOME in order to maximize their relative perks while at the same time the on-site customer suffers a great disadvantage as a direct result?"

Later, he ventured into the realm of horse racing's future: "... With future audiences so accustomed to having so much done for them, it is exactly WRONG to imagine these same audiences wanting to regress 40 years (into O.T.B. environs?) where they should then be expected to go through the laborious task of being left alone to learn all things Horse Racing, practically on their own.

"The scores and scores of minute tasks which fall under the label of "handicapping" will simply need to be effectively done for them (at modern computer speed) in order to draw significant interest from audiences of the future."

There is much more at that blog that merits digesting and debating. You don't have to agree with him to appreciate his attitude and accomplishment. Interestingly as it turns out, the blogger Pull The Pocket shares some of TEH’s concern for newcomers and gently excoriated the SCORE-64 bet we discussed here recently at HRI.

In his piece, The Jackpot Obsession, he wrote, "It's called the "64" where a pick 6 ticket can be taken but it can have no more than 64 combo's for a dollar.

“The hope is that newbies can participate in jackpot bets, because (as we all know) syndicates and big players tend to shoot for large jackpot bets, and crowd out the little guy. Noble I guess, but this fixation on jackpot bets, especially for newbies, really kind of irks me."

In the spirit of to each his own, one of PTP’s "fixations" is betting exchanges: "Betfair is very popular with new players because you can trade (a version of scalping), dutch, and grind out a little scratch with (if you are good) zero takeout."

I wonder how soon newbies become "very good" at exchange betting. Unlike TEH, though, PTP is a huge HANA supporter and is also one of the good guys.

Roger, who occasionally comments at HRI, interestingly proposed a $1 Pick 6 non-carryover wager capped at $64 as an alternative to the $2-minimum carryover Pick Six bet. Reiterating, the “Score-64” wager offers multiple-tier payouts with no carryover along with the lower minimum and greater transparency on how the bet was won; a teachable moment.

What seems to attract the most opposition to this vision is its proposed 64-combination limit per ticket and the minimum cost for each combination.

Perhaps having the number of combinations alive announced to the public after the fourth leg, similar to what is being done at Gulfstream with its Rainbow Pick 6, would provide a hint as to the potential tiered payoffs and help build further interest. This could help churn via the dutching of marginal contenders in the final two legs of the sequence.

The considerable success of the 50-Cent Players Pick Five suggests that the average bettor would be more likely to play this new wager at that level of investment.

A 25-Cent minimum eventually night make it as popular as the Dime Super, a pool that continues to grow while no longer cannibalizing the Trifecta pool to a major degree. Of course, the downside is limiting the prospects of a life-changing score and watering down potential payoffs at the tiered 4-winner and 5-winner levels. Either way, continued dialogue is a good thing.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Playing With Partners

LOS ANGELES, December 18, 2012--To bet or not to bet.

One issue unaddressed by the New NYRA board members--once they understood that they themselves were not considered corporate officers and therefore would not be prohibited from wagering--was why shouldn't the new CEO, whoever that might be, be a horseplayer?

As good a start as David Skorton made in his debut as Chairman of the Board the New NYRA, the suspension of executive wagering privileges sends a sorry message to NYRA customers: The NYRA Board wants horseplayers’ business but they don’t want their executives engaging in the consumption of the product which might otherwise enhance their understanding of customer issues.

As a horseplayer advocate, I resent any restrictions on any horseplayer’s ability to participate in the greatest gambling game known to man, whether it prevents one making a bet in the privacy of one’s home due to State laws prohibiting Internet betting or in a CEO’s office due to a misguided mischaracterization of what it means to be a horseplayer.

Don’t misunderstand: Not all employees should be allowed to bet. The Drexel Frat Boys, for instance, permanently eliminated workers with totalizator access. Mutuel clerks shouldn’t be able to bet on credit or evade taxes as they once did at NYRA either.

There is a practical solution to this issue, however, which is simply to require all NYRA employees permitted to bet to do so through NYRA Rewards accounts, thereby subjecting them to the same scrutiny as their customers. Indeed, the opportunity and capacity to partake of the product via wagering should help NYRA executives understand and improve it.

I’m sure Churchill Downs thinks they improved their product by offering the Twinspires Player’s Pool which allows their customers to collectively conquer a Pick Six, even if they can’t brag about either their own handicapping skills or the return on their investment.

Indeed, on the day after Pearl Harbor day this year, the Aqueduct Pick Six carryover pool was attacked by a an undisclosed number of bettors -- each contributing whatever he/she was comfortable with -- toward the $21,704 total wagered on their behalf. (The actual tickets and a payout breakdown are available here)

The good news was that they took down the entire 6 of 6 winner’s share of $259,488 plus 71 5-of-6 consolations worth $169 each for a total payout of $271,487 and a gross profit of $249,783.

The better news was that everybody will be assessed only their fair and legal share of taxes on their respective winnings. There will be no "ten-percenter’s" services required, as was recently
described there.

The not-so-good news, however, was that after a 25% tax of $21,623.50 was withheld from each 6 of 6 ticket, the net profit was $206,616.50. Each Player’s Pool “share ”paid $95.19 for each $10 wagered, in effect odds of 8.5-1 odds. (One might assume that participants eligible for cash rewards/rebates did slightly better).

The bad news is that only three handicappers were privileged to have their participation paid for. If any CDI employee, including any of the three accomplished handicappers profited from an investment in that pool, directly or indirectly, then perhaps this ethically dubious situation is just what Skorton had in mind.

The worst news for the winners is that without the ability to form partnerships that legally distribute tax liability, law-abiding players, who share payouts requiring IRS form-signing in order to cash out, must find a way to balance each other’s liabilities. (This is especially difficult if only some, but not all, are subject to state income taxes that don’t allow gambling losses to be deducted from gambling winnings).

There is a larger ethical conflict here, to wit: Was an even larger carryover prevented due to a corporate bet-taker’s creation that gives it an unfair edge over the competition, which not only works against the best interests of competing bet-takers’ customers participating in that pool but also that of the host track that might have lost had the additional handle that might have chased that pool on site?

It’s my understanding that, perhaps for that reason, the Player’s Pool is not permitted to operate on California races.

According to Brisnet, ’access to the insights of its own expert handicappers, a huge bankroll, and a little bit of luck, makes the Player's Pool a must play. "I can't wait to help players take down another Pick 6,"’ said one executive.

But what happens when the Player’s Pool, having a big advantage over serious individual players, isn’t as profitable? It could result in a windfall for the successful competition. The more common result, however, is it likely will lower the rate of return to its own syndicate members because fewer participants will diminish economic leverage.

Larger questions remain: How did this result stack up against prior plays? Should prospective participants be privy to the Player’s Pool’s long-term performance? Do customers have access to those historical results? , but I was unable to locate, My own Google search failed to locate any summary of how the Player’s Pool has performed over time.

Of course, any player, betting anywhere, should be able to form an ad hoc partnership with any combination of other players with each individual taxed only on his/her designated fair share. After all, if such a pool is allowed at one ADW it should be allowed at all without restriction.

Unfortunately the Federal tax code remains unfair. Withholding status is still not determined by the gross profit instead of the cost of a single combination. Now it appears that “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations could negatively impact a horseplayers’ ability to deduct gambling losses against winnings on his Federal return. The NTRA is on that case.

Obviously, technology already exists to support what should be considered an enhancement to the social aspect of racing, which would by extension make small bankroll players more competitive with whales in exotic pools. Now is the perfect time for a grass-roots movement that bonds individuals together to better compete with whales of any stripe.

Written by Indulto

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