LOS ANGELES, August 13, 2013--When Cary Fotias passed away recently at age 60, horseplayer advocates lost their best-known and arguably most inspirational and popular leader. He was also the third -- and youngest -- contributing member of the Horseplayers Association of North America to pass away before their goals could be achieved. The late Richard Bauer was 70 in 2011; Roger Way, last year, was 75.

Last week, HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci, wrote a heartfelt piece after attending the memorial service for his friend and shared how they got together.

Another writer/friend attending that service added to the picture, "The Loudest, Brashest Horseplayer of Them All". That piece reminded me of one I had read earlier about the Equiform operation at the Times Ledger.

My own interaction with Mr. Fotias was limited to exchanging comments with him at HRI but I was always impressed by his contributions here and elsewhere in cyberspace.

Cary’s larger than life personality referred to by those who knew him is apparent in this video:

What I discovered and learned from his views on HRI was how horseplayers are adversely affected by racing's leadership.

In my view, the following six blog pieces and comments which spanned five years are mandatory reading for those interested in what he stood for as a player representative.

(1) July, 2007 "Well, Here I Go Again" by Cary Fotias

(2) July, 2007 "Declaration of Horseplayer Independence" by Cary Fotias

(3) June, 2009 "If Tracks Had Access …" by Cary Fotias

(4) September, 2010 "Get Out the Lifeboats" by Bill Christine
Comments #47, #72 by Cary Fotias

(5) March, 2011 "McKinsey $1,000,000, Horseplayers 0" by Cary Fotias

(6) June, 2012 "State of the Game Address" by Cary Fotias

Fotias as activist will probably be best remembered for his "Declaration of Horseplayer Independence":
"... We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all horseplayers are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are market-driven takeout rates, ... and the embracing of new technologies that could make it easy to bet on any race, anywhere, at anytime."

(7) September, 2009 "An Interview with Cary Fotias" by Michael Veitch.

In October, 2008, Fotias joined HANA as an advisory board member. He explained his motivation in this interview with "The Saratogian": "I think it has a chance to make some changes. I am on the advisory board and I think if I am going to complain I ought to get involved this way."

"... If we fail to take action and don't make our voices heard loud and clear, we'll continue to be considered degenerate gamblers who will play under any circumstances."

When asked to comment on rebates, Fotias said, '"…My return on investment would actually be higher if I didn't get rebates. It's a subtle point. If I just play selected races with good prices, my return is higher. But my absolute dollar return is higher when I bet thousands of races and get the rebate on my high volume.

However, Fotias insisted that lowering the pari-mutuel tax is a "universal rebate."

Contrast the preceding remarks with some he included a few months earlier in his comment #17 from HRI blog piece #3: "... TAKEOUT REDUCTION IS A UNIVERAL REBATE and should be pursued at all costs. The smaller bettor is at a competitive disadvantage with his larger-volume counterpart and the gap needs to be closed NOW.

“As a rebate player, one might think I would be somewhat indifferent about takeout rates since the lower rebates I would get as a result of lower takeout rates would be offset by an almost identical decrease in takeout, for a net effect of zero. But the reason I am such a vocal proponent of lower rates is that it would keep less skilled players of all bankroll sizes in the game longer. This means more profit for the really top players and much better "entertainment value" for weaker players.

“... Rebating will probably never end, but its effect would be severely dampened by significant takeout reduction. Very good customers should get special treatment, but not at the expense of other players...

“It will take a concerted effort by all constituencies involved to make [lower takeout] happen. And the constituency that has the best opportunity to make it happen is the [PLAYER himself]. SPEAK (vociferously) NOW, or forever hold your peace. ..."

I believe the above response reflected recognition that a combined horseplayers’ voice has to represent minnows as well as whales, and that Fotias’ confidence that he could beat the game without a subsidy allowed him to champion that position.

Almost two years later in a blog piece, comment #5, Fotias lamented, "HANA ... is a great resource for players and it's a shame that after a couple of years it has only 2,000 members. Nobody is going to fight this fight for us. Horseplayers are going to have to do it themselves. It's an uphill battle for sure, but it would nice to have 100,000 troops on the wagering front."

Fotias spearheaded an effort to make the 4% takeout Pick-4 at player friendly Ellis Park a success and conveyed his frustration at HRI when that didn’t happen Comment #1:
"... I am ashamed to say that my fellow horseplayers have not yet supported [the ELP Pick-4] with the handle it deserves...

“... Chasing big Pick-6 payouts provides a lot of entertainment value and, once in a blue moon, a life-changing score. But day-in and day-out, it is LOWER TAKEOUT RATES that will keep us in action and give skilled handicappers a real chance to win in the long run. ...

... Are you tired of horseplayer/handicappers being referred to as bums and compulsive gamblers? Here's your chance to show the powers that be what we are really all about. We love the intellectual stimulation of handicapping and, when coupled with the majesty of the thoroughbred, we are playing the greatest game in the world. We will not all die broke. But certainly many of us will give up playing the game seriously if takeout rates and other issues are not seriously addressed in the not too distant future. ..."

While Fotias was able to attract serious students of the game to the cause, his efforts on behalf of an overwhelming majority of less successful players has fallen on deaf ears. Recruiting from this group will require a different approach. In August, 2012 here, I wrote "Rebates v Takeout: On Leveling the Playing Field." [Comment #1 by Cary Fotias].

Last year, he encouraged me to keep fighting for a level playing field. Indeed, he was one of the few rebated players I’ve encountered on-line who seemed to understand that horseplayers won't get respect if they don't give it to each other. Diversity of opinion drives this game but we have to resolve the differences that deny us a collective voice.

Hopefully, it’s not too late to reset our top collective priorities to match those Fotias identified: 1) lowering direct takeout for all while ensuring equal return on investment for all, 2) obtaining recognition of horseplayers as industry stakeholders, and 3) establishing a central racing authority.

It would honor the late horseplayer advocate if HANA were to take the lead in that direction. A more inclusive leadership focused on expanding the membership might attract the numbers necessary to give horseplayers the kind of united voice that Cary Fotias envisioned.