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), PLAYERSBOYCOTT.org is asking horseplayers to join us in sending a clear message by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October, 2017…

“PLAYERSBOYCOTT.org 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 Playertsboycott.org 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 pacedavantage.com: "… 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?

Addendum:
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: http://latalkradio.com/content/horse-081517%20#audio_play

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