LOS ANGELES, March 16, 2014—A New York State Gambling Commission press release proved that when horseplayers get “mad as hell,” they can spur reform in thoroughbred racing:

Stated the release: “At its March 12 meeting, Commissioner John A. Crotty noted that there had been considerable controversy surrounding the disqualification of a winning horse at Gulfstream Park on February 22 in the last leg of the Rainbow Six wager…

“The disqualification led to rampant allegations of collusion which brought into question the integrity of the decision.”

“Commissioner Crotty’s notion that we can do even more to demonstrate to the public that New York’s pari-mutuel racing is open, honest and fair is right on target,” said Commission Chairman Mark D. Gearan.

The preceding came on the heels of a similar one by Gulfstream Park in response to the groundswell of frustration and criticism expressed by racing fans in social media and on discussion forums. Gulfstream CEO Tim Ritvo said that any additional changes “will be based on what is best for our bettors” and “if these changes work at Gulfstream, we will roll them out across all Stronach Group tracks.”

The commission also said that it supports the development of “uniform rules to govern disqualifications” and will “reach out to the … Racing Fan Advisory Council and to the wagering public … for further recommendations on how to best increase transparency and public confidence.”

All this is very good news indeed, but the best part is that it demonstrates the power that horseplayers can wield collectively when properly motivated.

The question now is: How do we build on this?

One critical aspect was that turf writers reacted as strongly as recognized activists. Another was that social media facilitated expression and distribution of horseplayer emotion. It wasn’t just a “bad beat” for one bettor. Every race on which people bet their money is important.

The bad news is that foul adjudication might have diverted focus from ever-present takeout concerns. It is commendable that Commissioner Crotty was pro-active. Hopefully, the pursuit of transparency will shine more light on the issue of excessive takeout. Lowering takeout effectively rebates all, not just high-volume bettors.

Increased fairness could be further promoted in New York by no longer restricting participation at Fan Advisory Council meetings to those able and willing to attend on-track or at other locations that are at best inconvenient, if not impossible.

NYRA’s customers make up 20% of total national handle and not all of them live in New York. These FAC meetings should be held on-line with feedback from the nation’s bettors and ideally need to be interactive in real time.

These public sessions can be conducted on dark-days with agenda set and thoughtful questions from concerned players submitted in advance.

Real dialogue in real time. What a concept.

The sad reality, however, is that the discussions likely will continue to be limited to New Yorkers, the issues filtered through state appointees. Given that, how would contributors know whether their input was considered constructive, if at all, and what priorities were addressed? There needs to be an interactive process that’s timely, meaningful and truly transparent.

What if these meetings were conducted on-line and hosted by horseplayers from a newly created National Horseplayers Organization, or through the auspices of the existing Horseplayers Association of North America?

A respected panel of horseplayers could set the agenda and publicly invite industry organizations involved with the issues being addressed, with an implied obligation to show up and relate just how the industry’s “best practices” deals with a particular concern.

In a public online forum, industry groups; tracks, horsemen, NTRA, etc., etc., would have a public responsibility to participate or risk being exposed as disingenuous or obtuse. Betting handle, or lack of same, provides horseplayers with leverage here.

The vehicle that would enable horseplayers to speak with a single voice cannot be operated on a voluntary basis. Even horseplayers have lives, but should be prepared to be as committed in the same way demands are made of the industry.

We have just witnessed what can be accomplished by serendipitous player discontent. Should we be satisfied with that, or encouraged that further organized action will result in horseplayers becoming an influential force whose common concerns no longer can be ignored? More progress needs to be made.

Whether the issue is standardized medication rules, optimal takeout rates, or consistent foul claim adjudication, a level playing field must be created for all--by all. If not, how can the game possibly grow? How much entertainment and increased betting handle can be generated by a participatory sport that institutionally tilts the game against horseplayers, professional and novice alike?

Establishing a level playing field probably would require an interim board comprised of prominent and trusted horseplayer/communicators with the advocacy credentials of an Andy Beyer, Steven Crist, Len Friedman, Barry Meadow, John Pricci, or others of similar stature.

How do we motivate these individuals to get involved? Perhaps enthusiastic endorsements of those willing to step forward via an on-line petition could get the dialogue started. It might require a pledge drive to pay any individual for his time and expertise.

As opposed to those on handicapping and wagering, think of a player advocacy panel as a seminar on the best ways to increase collective horseplayer influence by nationally recognized advocates.

I would gladly pay a nominal amount, say $25 in yearly dues, to get a national horseplayers organization off the ground. The question is how many other horseplayers care enough to do the same?