"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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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Are You Really Willing to Fight for Greater Integrity?

Attempts to organize horseplayers to collectively address issues that affect them adversely have seldom attracted sufficient support to achieve the desired result.

Although boycotts by players in response to takeout increases at Santa Anita in 2010, and at Churchill Downs in 2014, succeeded in lowering handle for those meets, the amount was not sufficient to substantially decrease short-term revenue from takeout, and the rates were never rolled back.

Yet another boycott is now being organized by the usual suspects, i.e., the HANA leadership, in response to Keeneland’s announced takeout hike effective next month.

I doubt the result will be any different this time around unless 1) The takeout issue is expanded beyond just rolling back rates to reforming takeout distribution and 2) The need for takeout reform is viewed as only one component of a larger integrity issue that would become the central justification for the planned protest.

As the first achievable step in addressing all component issues, however, reversing the blatantly unnecessary takeout rate increase would establish a precedent for collective horseplayer success in pushing back against the greed-driven corruption and short-sighted decisions that plague the sport.

Last week, HRI columnist, Mark Berner,
"compellingly described the state of disrepair racing has allowed itself to reach:

"Thoroughbred racing in the US ... will drown in a sea of drugs, deaths and litigation. Its destiny is our hands.

… Uncontradicted testimony [in the Federal trial of trainer Murray Rojas] described widespread, in fact, nearly universal, cheating; regulators asleep on the job; a corrupted and ineffectual testing system.

… It is time to change the stewards of our sport if this is the best they can offer ..."

Indeed the term, "racing integrity," is becoming an oxymoron. Hardly a week goes by without some reference to medication abuse, cheating, lack of full disclosure, questionable steward rulings, spikes in equine breakdowns, or the absence of uniform rules, standards, and penalties resulting in their inconsistent interpretation and enforcement.

What is less transparent, however, is the institutionalized edge-taking which includes the behind-the-scenes appropriation of takeout by tracks, ADWs, horsemen, and rebated bettors. Some see that as a greed-based issue because the excess extracted within artificially high current rates from the vast majority of non-rebated bettors effectively subsidizes the tiny minority of high-volume, rebated bettors.

Racing may call itself a sport but the game is not played on a level playing field.

Ironically, rebates are defended by some as "reducing effective takeout" for bettors contributing the preponderance of handle. Wouldn’t simply reducing direct takeout for all produce the same effect? No, because the reality is that rebates give a clear edge to players that receive them, and to bet-takers that provide them.

Rebated players dominate HANA’s Board of Directors. It’s possible that the effective rates they currently enjoy won’t change despite the increase in the direct rate. But suppose some factor, e.g., a concurrent signal fee increase, were to cause their effective rate(s) to rise as well? In that case, they would be seeking assistance from non-rebated players in order to maintain their advantage over them.

Does that seem like equal representation for players of all bankroll sizes?

Is it any wonder, then, that HANA’s membership hasn’t grown appreciably over time? If players can see through their charade, can’t track operators, state regulators, and horsemen as well? Would Keeneland have turned its back on small-bankroll bettors if they thought they actually had functional representation?

Horseplayers have a real opportunity to start the reform ball rolling by bringing their combined willpower to bear at Keeneland, but we need to convince all the other parties mentioned above that their primary objective is to make the game work more fairly for all groups involved.

If even one track operator can be forced to treat all bettors fairly, then management of all tracks will be susceptible to similar pressure to treat them fairly. If the industry can be made to treat horseplayers fairly, they will have to treat horsemen fairly as well. And so on.

Potential new objectives might look something like this:

1. Prove that a sizable, determined horseplaying constituency exists that must and can be dealt with in the future:

Abstain from wagering on the Keeneland product so that its cumulative handle is reduced sufficiently that operating revenue from takeout is markedly lower than it was for the same period in the previous year.

2. Establish horseplayer representation that is directly accountable to its membership with all leaders/negotiators, policies, objectives, and actions confirmed by a vote of Dues Paying Members (DPM).

If HANA’s name recognition and resources could be utilized, including existing decision-makers committed to leveling the playing field for all its members, so much the better.

3. Establish funding (at least in part) for a workgroup to conduct ongoing research (in conjunction with other industry group representatives) that would develop strategies for determining -- and experimenting with -- optimal takeout levels as they might relate to various factors such as venue, wager type, field size, etc.

Some will argue that takeout rates cannot be isolated from other factors such as field size, pool size, purse levels, product popularity, etc., in order to achieve a sustainable balance among handle, purses, churn, etc. This group would have the credentials to separate fact from opinion.

This is reminiscent of an old "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie tries to teach Richie how to build up his image and confidence in dealing with bullies. After Richie shows he has the posturing down pat, Fonzie points out to him: "Somewhere, sometime, somebody has to have seen you actually throw a punch."

It’s time for horseplayers to throw that collective punch at Keeneland. Otherwise jurisdictional bullies will raise takeout whenever they feel like it.

LOS ANGELES, September 8, 2017

Written by Indulto

Comments (21)


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Horseplayers Need Leadership and a New Beginning; Possible Keeneland Boycott Gaining Momentum

Los Angeles, CA, August 19, 2017--Just when horseplayers thought takeout relief at a major racing venue was a real possibility following encouraging remarks by Tim Ritvo regarding Santa Anita’s future viability, Keeneland shed its former horseplayer-friendly mantle by announcing substantial increases to takeout rates for its upcoming fall meet.

Last November, U.S. voters voiced their dissatisfaction with the political status quo and used their collective strength to demand a change in course. Whether or not the proposed new course is the best one is not the issue here but at least now politicians recognize that the electorate can no longer be taken for granted.

Well, a similar lesson needs to be learned by racing’s empowered stakeholders. Not all regulators, horsemen’s groups and track operators have demonstrated the same disdain and disrespect for racing’s customers but those that have are doing so with impunity.

The media is already pitting HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) against its former lover, Keeneland, whom it has perennially placed at the top of its popular Track Ratings, singing its praises as a model for properly treating horseplayers.

HANA President, Jeff Platt, teased in the above link , ‘… HANA members are “tossing around the possibility” of organizing a betting boycott similar to the one HANA backed in 2014 … [against] Churchill Downs … We’ll vote on [organizing a boycott],” Platt said. “But whether we do it, or whether some other horseplayers take the ball and run with it, there’s going to be a boycott, and there is going to be significant players’ pushback.”’

And on Thursday Platt felt compelled to act, issuing this email statement [edited for brevity and context]:

“Citing takeout increases of 9.375% in the straight pools to 17.5%, and exotics by 15.79% to 22% (the maximum allowed by Kentucky statute), is asking horseplayers to join us in sending a clear message by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October, 2017…

“ is asking horseplayers to consider the idea they are consumers and that every handle dollar bet at Keeneland is a vote for higher takeout everywhere…

“HANA surveyed its membership about the Keeneland takeout increase. When asked whether or not HANA should organize a boycott the results were: 63% Yes, 28% No and 9% other; 77% favored the use of the site [to accomplish this goal]…

“As a horseplayer I've decided to join the boycott because I believe higher takeout is harmful to the long term health of thoroughbred racing. As a horseplayer I believe sitting on the sidelines is not an option for me because everybody in the industry is waiting to see how players react to this.

“I believe that if a clear message isn't sent: Not just Keeneland -- other tracks will have takeout increases too. When we boycotted Churchill in 2014 because of their takeout increase they were down a solid 25% outside of the Derby.

“How much of that was the market speaking and how much came from us drawing attention to the takeout increase is hard to say. But we sent a pretty clear message. I expect Keeneland Fall 2017 numbers to mirror Churchill 2014 numbers - and be down a similar 25% to 30%.

“But that may not be a strong enough message...

“I am asking you to join us by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October 2017. That's it. I believe that together -- by getting the message out to as many horseplayers as possible -- we can knock Keeneland numbers down significantly -- and convince them to reverse their decision.

“If we can do THAT -- the message to the industry will be crystal clear: Higher takeout is not the answer and only serves to compound the many already existing problems racing faces and needs to address.”

A more confrontational perspective came from Rich Halvey in this discussion thread at "… I've long argued that until horseplayers flex their muscle, there is no reason for track management to care about what we think. The tracks are usually most worried about the horsemen not the gamblers who essentially fund the track and everyone who races there.

... If horseplayers don't speak with their money, what other options do they have to influence policies that are often either for the horsemen or the betting whales?

… I'm supportive of the idea that we can't continue to function in a way that de facto sends the message we'll put up with anything. You can't play the boycott card for just anything, but there are 22 American tracks running. Surely not betting one of them for a few days is not too much to ask to send an important message."

Advocating greater unity among horseplayers in his blog piece, "Saving Santa Anita, Halvey pointed out that horseplayers would need representation in order to take advantage of Tim Ritvo's apparent willingness to cooperate with them.

"We all appreciate Ritvo calling out the bettors as being the base of the racing pyramid, but the reality is that for years they have been at the bottom of the Santa Anita hierarchy, with the owners and trainers ahead of them. When Ritvo was asked about changes, he said, “I’m going to be the guy that goes to the TOC (owners), the trainers’ association, and the breeders.”

Did you notice any group missing, as usual?

If Ritvo is serious, the bettors will have the same seat at the table as the owners and the horsemen. To this point the bettors have not been well organized. There is no real equivalent of the HBPA or the Thoroughbred Owners of California for horseplayers, although perhaps HANA comes closest."

Sometimes I fear that without someone with stature, and clout, the enormous collective strength of horseplayers may never be harnessed to best advantage.

To be clear, my beef is not with the HANA membership collectively nor with the board members individually; the latter are intelligent and accomplished individuals.

But other than achieving name recognition, the primary result of their combined efforts has been the expansion of the rebated minority to the detriment of the rank and file majority. Rebates are only possible when takeout is too high to begin with. HANA’s lack of strong support for a level playing field for all is lamentable.

I share my frustration with others who also believe that leadership never saw fit to expand its representation to players of all bankroll sizes by establishing funding for its operations and staffing as merited. Money talks, and gets things done.

Depending solely on unreimbursed volunteers without accountability to membership does not support the idea of addressing new and old issues that impact all players.

One individual who definitely would be worth his weight in gold to represent horseplayers is former track executive Bill Nader whose recent analysis of the rebate factor relative to the Keeneland situation suggests player reconciliation may actually be possible:

"Does anyone say I will bet Santa Anita because of its low takeout (15.43) on Win, Place and Show but not play its Exactas at 22? Not really, due in large part to the current business model which rebates to the big customers. Otherwise, there would be a loud, sustained scream.

... In almost all cases and it may or may not be true in the Keeneland example, the big customer escapes the pricing increase because the rebate is adjusted upward and the [effective] takeout remains unchanged.

... We know that lower takeout is the purest form of rebate, one in which everyone benefits. But it would work best for the major racetracks in this country to agree on this type of strategic direction and move forward together.

… The big guys need the little guys and the industry needs the little guys to bring liquidity and sustainable growth to the customer base and the pari-mutuel pools.

… There needs to be a unified approach to bring everything back into alignment. The new Keeneland takeout is misguided."

Why isn't this guy currently running a racing association somewhere or, better yet, a horseplayer’s group representing the entire betting population?

Here's one very successful horseman, Ken Ramsey, who gets it. Click the link to hear his knowledgeable and extremely candid remarks on the proposed takeout hike at Keeneland:

LATalkRadio link:

Scroll to about the 35:30 mark to begin hearing Ramsey’s take on the Keeneland takeout increase.

Written by Indulto

Comments (66)


Thursday, June 15, 2017

RITVO: “…Give them a level playing field…”

LOS ANGELES, June 14, 2017--Like the sun, Tim Ritvo has been dispatched from the East by a force of nature to try and brighten Santa Anita’s prospects for survival. Santa Anita is, after all, one jewel in The Stronach Group's crown that in recent years has become tarnished.

Current COO and chief troubleshooter Ritvo has given several interviews in which the primary theme was that the property is "under-performing" relative to its value.

Prior to last weekend, Ritvo used those forums to outline potential areas for changes as to how horsemen might handle their business in order to achieve better results for all.

On Belmont Stakes Day, however, he appeared on the Roger Stein Show and said some of the things many horseplayers have been saying for years, waiting only for track operators to act on their concerns.

"The customer, the player, they're the economic engine. When they stop playing, when they stop coming, racing will cease to exist. So we need to do everything we can to give them a level playing field with the highest level of integrity, and good betting platforms or field sizes, and [friendly] wagering platforms.

“We gotta be creative and we gotta give them what they want. It comes down to supply and demand. Bottom line is there's a bunch of signals out there every single day. The tracks that do the best job will
get the handle…"

"[Takeout] definitely has to be reduced ….

Anybody who has any brains knows that you cannot churn at 20% day in and day out and still survive."

His remarks on live radio were not always clear nor comprehensive enough, but hopefully he will expand on those issues in future comments:

"There are a majority of [higher end customers] people that are getting really good rebates… those rebates have to be reduced at some portion, [given] to the main population...

“The bottom line is that if the rebated customer continues just to play against the rebated customer, and the everyday customer goes away, they're going to struggle too.

"Who [are they] really playing against?

"Just reducing takeout and not adjusting rebates properly to the higher end customer [is problematic]...

“One guy's playing at 26% and another guy might be playing at 18% because he's such a big player and a higher rebated customer. Maybe that margin shouldn't be that much. Maybe both of them have to give a little...

“The right number, someday, if we should ever get there, will be 12 to 14% overall… You're taking out half your revenue not sure if the growth will be there...

“We're looking at rebated customers, compared to non-rebated customers, and high roller customers, and trying to come up with a formula."

The "level playing field" remark was music to my ears but subsequent statements suggest that he and I may not be on the same page.

Doesn’t “level playing field” suggest that the rate of return on a wager is the same regardless of the amount wagered amount, or who’s placing it?

That’s the way it was pre-simulcasting, and still is for casino games, comps notwithstanding. The opportunity for profit should be equal for all players and all bankroll sizes.

Ritvo likened rebates to discounts on larger purchases. In reality, however, they are not simply a lower-priced ticket but rather a subsidy for high-volume bettors that is paid out on every wager whether or not it generates a pari-mutuel payoff.

One wonders how bankroll-challenged bettors can expect to compete successfully with professionals and high-rollers without equal rewards for their participation. It's the reason why higher takeout rates, coupled with rebates, amounts to regressive taxation.

Of course, the answer is they can’t and today’s potential new recruits, who may be underfunded, are too savvy to embrace the game under prevailing conditions.

If Ritvo really means what he said about leveling the playing field, he has two options, which may or may not qualify as fantasy:

Either give equal rebates to everybody who wants them, either on-line or at any brick-and-mortar facility, or eliminate rebates entirely and schedule to lower takeout rates on a timetable to his suggested 12-14% levels in every qualifying parimutuel pool.

What’s the worst that could happen if everybody got the same rebate? The existing rebated players represent a small minority of players who supply the vast majority of handle. That’s unlikely to change, given their technological advantage.

Among all players, however, more churning and profit-generating will occur; it always has. Profitable recreational players could be promoted as evidence that the chances of winning have been enhanced, improved.

The influx of new players and the return of previously disenchanted veterans would then become a reasonable expectation.

Like purses, takeout for pools in any given race could vary according to field size and projected total accumulated handle. Optimal combinations of purses, takeouts, and handle are possible when large competitive fields create attractive betting opportunities.

Parenthetically, why do Stronach Group tracks like Gulfstream, Pimlico, and Laurel offer 50-Cent minimum Trifectas and Pick Threes, while Santa Anita and Golden Gate do not? Betting menus are also part of this equation.

Even Del Mar offered 50-Cent Trifectas in California temporarily. Why does Gulfstream offer a twenty-cent minimum Jackpot Pick Six while Santa Anita holds the line at two dollars for the same wager?

Field size relates to other pools as well. A Dime Super player is also the 50-Cent Trifecta player. When scratches eliminate the Superfecta in a race, they don’t suddenly become candidates for dollar minimum Trifectas, do they?

A similar situation exists with Pick Threes. A player who loses the first leg of a 50-Cent Pick Four is not as likely to pursue the follow-up Pick Three at a dollar minimum as he would if 50-Cent Pick Threes were available.

As for the integrity issue, it has reached critical mass and is a strong reason why newbies have stayed away the game and why oldies from straying from it.

Also, there are the highly questionable stewards’ calls, ineffective race-conditions, abuse of stall allocations, lack of transparency, failure to provide accurate entry information, etc., etc. And many of these issues were on parade this weekend at Santa Anita, right under Ritvo’s nose.

If his olfactory senses ignore the aromatics, a repeat of his East Coast successes doesn’t seem likely. But I won't be betting against Ritvo. If anything, I think last weekend’s events will light a fire under him instead.

Written by Indulto

Comments (46)


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