Ok folks, it's time to break out the shovels to bury horse racing, again. We came across an article on ESPN.com written by Bill Finley entitled "2005 was a lousy year for horse racing." In his article Mr.
Finley cites 9 reasons why 2005 was such a bad year for horse racing in America. Although we agree with several of his observations, number 8 on his list, "U.S. Pari-Mutuel Handle Falls", should have been dealt with more objectively. Despite all the cries of gloom and doom that have been ongoing since the unfortunate decision in the fifties to reject television's offer to broadcast horse racing nationally, the sport has continued to grow. Second only to baseball in overall popularity, horse racing enjoyed 11 straight years of increasing handle (total amount of pooled wagers) before this bemoaned 0.
5% decrease. According to Mr. Finley, "an ominous sign of things to come." Yes, horse racing does have its problems and challenges, but it also has a lot going for it. It's the only sport offering legalized wagering in the majority of the United States and across most of the world.
Why it's even legal to bet on horse racing in China where basic human rights are hard to come by. The advent of simulcasting in the nineties made it possible for tracks to increase their own handle while boosting their revenues by accepting wagers on races from other tracks. Legalization of off-track betting facilities, phone wagering and internet wagering has created a climate where over 87% of the handle is now generated off-track. This may hurt race tracks' hot dog and popcorn sales, but should lead to increased profitability.
Several states have enacted legislation allowing slot machines and other forms of gaming on-track. Tracks such as Mountaineer have used this additional source of revenue to improve their facilities, increase their purses and upgrade their overall level of racing. This legislation has also made it attractive for casino owners, such as Harrah's, to purchase and operate horse racing venues as a part of their business strategy. So what is wrong with horse racing? Well, for lack of a better answer. horse racing. By that we mean the tradition mired establishment of horse racing where "because we've always done it that way" seems to be the golden rule.
Where did that harbinger of doom, the missing 0.5% of handle go? Our best guess is that you'll find that, and much more, going to the enterprising non-pool race and sports books that have cropped up to better serve today's horse racing fans. Most of these on-line books offer full track odds, signup bonuses, cash back on wagers, and give refunds for scratches, instead of forcing the bet to the track favorite. Oh, and did we mention that most don't impose taxes of any sort on winnings. In addition to offering the full menu of track bets, i.
e., Win, Place, Show, Daily Doubles, Exactas, Quinellas, Trifectas and Superfectas, some have started offering additional types of wagers such as a two horse match bet. This, in our opinion, is the most significant opportunity for horse racing today. In an era where proposition bets on football range from the point spread to which way the wind will be blowing at half time, horse racing is missing the boat. They've failed to recognize what Las Vegas has known for some time, namely that gaming is entertainment and that the way to increase 'handle' is to offer more types of wagers. This year's Superbowl offered over 300 proposition bets resulting in a record setting day for the Las Vegas sports books with over 94 million dollars wagered.
To put that into perspective, that's about .6% of the 15 billion dollars wagered annually on horse racing. Successful horse race wagering takes a degree of skill and research. Unlike most sporting match ups where you have a fifty-fifty chance of winning by random choice, with an average field of 8 horses, the horse player only has a 12.5% chance of winning by chance.
Let's put fun into the sport for the casual fan. A two horse match up takes wagering on horse racing back to its earliest and simplest form; "I bet my horse can beat yours!" But there's no need to stop there, horse racing offers a myriad of options for wagering; which horse will be in the lead at each point of call, which jockey or trainer will have the most wins for the day, and how about betting a horse to lose. These are just a few options that come to mind. Horse racing's traditions give it unique flavor and character, but to be successful, it must be willing to evolve to catch up to the present and to meet the future.
We most certainly hope that it does.
C Wayne is the Executive Vice-President of Picks and Plays, Inc. and an author and lecturer on gaming and handicapping. You are invited to visit http://www.picksandplays.com and receive free membership and a free daily report from the home of 'The Best in Handicapping'.