It is said that many of the people who run horse racing in the United States, and perhaps in the world, are hide-bound and slow to change. Like the U.S. automakers who are taking so much heat now, the people who run race tracks and control horse racing in the Untied States are often thought of as stuck in the past and stuck in a rut. Is that really a true and fair assessment and if so, what could be done to improve horse racing?
I have a fan’s eye view of horse racing and once owned race horses, so I have two perspectives that I can use. I’ve never run a race track, though I have been a track employee on one occasion, so my understanding and knowledge of what it takes to run a race track is limited. However, since racing cannot survive without the fans and during these tough economic times, the fans have very limited resources for entertainment, it would behoove the racing officials and track owners to ask the fans what they want and then, if at all possible, to give it to them.
It all comes down to a few factors, like value, entertainment, convenience. When I spend a dollar, I want to get something for it, to feel that I have gotten my money’s worth. I don’t have to pay to walk into a casino to gamble and they give me perks, like free meals and even a free room if I gamble enough. What do I get from the race track?
Here in Southern California, a day at the race track is an expensive proposition. I have to pay to park, pay for a good program with some past performance information, and pay to get into the track. I can then stand in long lines to use an automatic teller machine or to place my bet with a clerk. I think this is a case of poor value and poor convenience. Don’t you?
Now if I simply want to bet on simulcast races and go to a local race track on a day when they aren’t hosting any live races, I still have to pay to go inside and pay for past performances. Greyhound race tracks have free past performances that can be downloaded off the internet and if they charge admission, it is usually only a buck or two, though many offer free admission.
I love horse racing, but that doesn’t mean I should pay a premium just to attend a race track. Other people like to gamble and will go to a casino instead of a race track because of the associated costs. I’d rather spend my dollar on a bet than admission and parking. By the time I park my car, get into the track, and buy past performances, I’ve spent over $10 and I haven’t even seen a race or placed a bet. That is just the price to get into the grandstand area, too. If I want to join the swells in the clubhouse it costs much more.
So here is a suggestion give free admission and free parking and some kind of free program that has enough information in it for the average person to make an informed decision about a race and to bet it. More clerks so the betting lines will be shorter and treat every customer, both the swells and the average person, the $2 bettor, like a valued customer. Without the bettors there will be no racing. Losing your fan base is how you lose the sport.
Many years ago I worked at a greyhound race track. We did a survey of the customers as they came through the door, in fact, I stood and greeted them, handed them a free gift, and asked them what they would do to improve their day at our track. Many of them were also horse players and they said that they wanted to be able to bet on exactas at the dogs. At that time, the track I worked at and most of the other greyhound tracks only offered quinellas.
So the tracks gradually started adding exactas to the card and the people bet on them and revenues increased. I would do just the opposite at the horse tracks. I would offer quinellas. To me, betting an exacta box is a waste of money because I am buying two combinations so one is a guaranteed loser. Even though a quinella may pay less than an exacta, psychologically, I like the quinella better. I can spend $2 for an exacta box and get the payoff for a $1 exacta or I can spend $2 for a quinella and get the entire quinella.
I think that offering the quinella on horse races like some tracks already do, would be one way to improve racing. Finally, the best thing they could do to improve racing would be to lower the takeouts. Between the takeout and breakage, we are being bled too much. Give the fans a break financially and they will replay you with their attendance, otherwise, horse racing is going to suffer the same fate the auto industry has met.