SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 14, 2009--Following opening remarks at the International Simulcast Conference hosted by Thoroughbred Racing Association and Harness Tracks of America Tuesday, I discussed and suggested, as a course of action, the weighted preferences of HRI readers.
HRI Executive Editor John Pricci Addresses Industry Issues
HRI Executive Editor John Pricci Addresses Industry Issues
Photo by: Toni Pricci

I explained why I believe presentation and information are paramount: Video must be pleasing to the eye, graphic packages legible and sharp.

And, if those criteria are met, racetrack brands would be perceived favorably and bettors would get the message that tracks want their customers to have fun and make money.

Bells and whistles notwithstanding, horseplayers need accurate and comprehensive data to make money. That data; scratches, equipment and medication changes, track conditions, surface switches, jockey changes and, of course, the odds, are variables that have a profound impact wagering decisions.

While I’m a fan of split-screen presentations if done correctly, I acknowledge the traditional pan shot remains the most popular method of presenting races to rank and file bettors.

Cutaways are anathema to most fans, and while not a big fan of those beauty shots myself, they are useful when broadcasting races from foreign tracks with unique layouts or when those hideously monstrous infield projection screens obstruct the view.
Executive Vice President Chris Scherf Welcomes Simulcast Panel
Executive Vice President Chris Scherf Welcomes Simulcast Panel
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Split screens are used most effectively in graphic presentations. All Will-Pays should be posted twice, at minimum, and at the same intervals daily. Television productions go out of their way to avoid duplication, but shouldn’t when it comes to data dissemination.

The modern simulcast player needs to evaluate copious amounts of information in short order. Be consistent. Every track can have its own style. Stick with that. More than anything horseplayers are creatures of habit. Searching for information costs players and bet-takers time and money. Confused players don’t bet with both hands.

With respect to camera coverage, players and fans want the same thing: Full coverage of the paddock and post parade. They want continuous pans of pre-race warm-ups right up until horses enter the gate.

And, please, no “pony parades,” and ban the use of black front bandages. Pan back to exotic-finish horses. For High-5 bettors, fifth is as important as first.

Every serious player I‘ve met loves and wants Trakkus. They love the Chiclets. Never again will players not know where their horse is, especially those racing between horses. And knowing exactly how far a horse travels is popular with trip handicappers.

Stop insulting the intelligence of players. Everyone knows people bet more on fast tracks than wet ones but be extremely diligent and don’t fudge track conditions. We know better, and you make the sport look small time. No one wants to get played.

Delineate entries on monitors and self service machines: 1 and 1A, 2 and 2B, etc. I personally have been burned more than once. Confuse me and I won’t bet as much, if I bet at all.

Crawls are inefficient. It has its place but perhaps should be used for results only. Crawls waste time. I believe that weight carried makes a difference, but I don’t want that information when I need scratches, jockey, equipment, surface and medication changes more.

Handicapping is a multi-layered process. Prioritize information. Perhaps scratches and other significant changes deserve their own separate page. Maybe monitors could be stacked, on top of one another or side by side; the top for track video, the bottom an informational page-by-page loop.

When at all possible, marry the program numbers and odds in the running order. Last year, when Keeneland strung out the entire running order across the bottom of the monitor during a race, the odds appeared directly below the betting numbers. Good stuff.

With the switch to Chiclets, odds were dropped as too much information in the same space became unwieldy and confusing. Voted best simulcast track of 2009 by a TRA panel, they will come up with a fan-friendly alternative. [In the spirit of transparency, I voted Keeneland second to Woodbine, with Churchill Downs third].

Post payoffs faster and with greater consistency, maybe utilizing a pop-up window. Standardize payoffs. Post all $2 minimum wagers: the Pick Six, Magna Five, W-P-S, etc., in $2 increments.

Post all fractional wagers--Dime Supers, Fifty-Cent Trifectas and Pick 4s--at the minimum offered. Horseplayers can do math. Stop trying to con newcomers by dangling big payoffs. Not sure I know anyone who’s ever hit a $2 superfecta.
It Takes a [Simulcast] Village
It Takes a [Simulcast] Village
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Change your wagering marketing strategy. Instead of a greedy money-suck, try encouraging players to remain solvent--especially if you want them to return tomorrow. Greed is not exactly in fashion these days.

Invest in High Definition television. Yes, it‘s expensive, but if you can afford it, bite the bullet on this one. Racing is competing with all other sports. And what sport's more colorful than thoroughbred racing? It’s no accident racing has been used in commercials for years to sell TVs. And High Definition is an excellent educational tool.

Coordinate the damn post times already, based on the European model, delineated by circuits, major and minor, or geographic, or time-zone considerations. The 1:00 in New York, the 1:10 in New Jersey, the 1:20 in Kentucky.

Then, schedule the balance of the card at 25-minute intervals. Bettors understand that horses can run off in the parade, flip in the paddock, or have a gate mishap. Fans will figure it out and cut the industry some slack.

In related areas, I know of two horseplayers who walked away from the game because of complications caused by betting platform exclusivity and the resultant infighting.

Players want Betting Exchanges. The new bet cuts both ways: Sharps love it because of its low takeout and level of sophistication; squares love it because it’s simple. Pick a side, just like in the NFL.

Increase and improve the quality of the Internet presentation. And, finally, three words: takeout, takeout and takeout.

Figure out a better split between tracks and simulcast venues and pass the savings along to the customer. The principle of churn is quite simple: The more money returned to players, the more they bet in return.