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.