In any business to be successful you have to know your customer. This is basic business 101. You have to know who they are and what they want. The old saying “if you don’t take care of your customer someone else will” is as true today as it was when it was first said long ago.
One of the things I think most racetracks make an effort to get right, but ultimately get wrong, is knowing their customer. Just this past summer I heard a shot caller for a major racing circuit make the statement on television that the owners are the backbone of our industry, in an effort to celebrate them. I took that as a partial truth and slight at the same time. It also displayed a disconnect from identifying with who their customers are.
While the owners and bettors are the only two groups putting money into the game as opposed to just taking it out, I think it was a slight to all the bettors or customers to refer to the owners as the backbone of the industry without mentioning the bettors. It is the bettors who pay the shot callers salary, including the bonus, and without bettors the owners would be racing for blue ribbons. How long do you think that would last?
For many years racetracks operated like they were the only game in town. They seemed to look at the horseplayer as a necessary evil. They were not celebrated or embraced. It seemed like nobody wanted to embrace the older guy with a cigar in his mouth and a program and racing form rolled up in his back pocket. He was treated as if he was a degenerate gambler who would put up with anything from bad coffee, paying for everything, and no perks just to bet on a horse. He was never treated like a customer and for a long time that worked. Tables turn however; and things change. The entire landscape changed along with a changing world. Poker exploded with a loud boom, simulcasting offered options, and ADW’s gave us the convenience from wagering at home, or anywhere without having to visit a racetrack that did not welcome us with open arms.
It is interesting to look at the poker boom, and how it coincided with two key factors; 1) the celebration of their top players, and 2) the promotion of it as the skill game it is. It wasn’t until the ship had sailed and the horse was out of the barn that racing attempted to celebrate some players and show the game as one of skill with a poorly produced and short-lived television show that indeed had never realized potential. The show was geared towards attracting new customers, which you cannot do until you learn who your current customers are and take care of them first.
Tournaments have helped move in the right direction with celebrating players and promoting the game as one of skill. Unfortunately, I think there are way too many tournaments with the $2 win and place format as opposed to cash tournaments, which in my opinion are more of an example of handicapping prowess than the win place format. Tournaments also take away the money management and knowing when and how to bet aspect which is essential for long term survival in this game.
This past weekend we had the NHC or National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. It gets industry coverage but very little, if any, mainstream coverage. It is not in the league of the World Series of Poker which has made it to ESPN. Vegas itself is a good example of where racetracks are missing the boat. In Las Vegas you are rewarded with perks for playing. Free drinks, rooms, buffets, lunches, and if you play enough free stays, flights, shows and almost anything else you want. It used to be more, but even Las Vegas has succumbed to a more corporate mentality and that has cut into the perks smaller players receive. The whales are still coveted, and the smaller players still do better than they would at a racetrack.
Racing management has also moved to a corporate mentality with a “Big Day” philosophy. This started with the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup, and rolled into the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, and now the Pegasus. These days are treated as major sporting events which they are and to some extent should be. That extent should not include pricing things, so the everyday $2 bettor is boxed out. This is your customer and bread and butter. That is who you produce these days for, not the non-betting stars who show up because they are paid or for photo opportunities. The major difference between our major sporting events and mainstream sports is that our attendees are gamblers who are there to feed money into the handle and takeout. They are not just there to watch but to bet. We should facilitate this and justify the takeout with free admission, parking, programs and racing forms. That money just goes back into the pools anyway. The more perks the better. If you are in the zone betting and watching a card, do you really want to wait on line for crummy coffee and pay for it? I don’t think you should have to. There are many ways to make your customer feel welcome of you know them and want to.
Granted a lot of racetracks do this for certain players they get to know, and I am not one to complain about any of these things as I am treated very well by the tracks I attend. Some are like extended family. But to stabilize our game, which we need to do before we grow it, every customer needs to be made to feel like I do.
We can certainly do a lot better promoting the game as one of skill, which it certainly is. Those who think it is a horse race and ultimately all luck do not understand odds, value, and how to bet. If you master that along with money management, and are a good handicapper with discipline, you can beat this game if you put in the work. Having people who don’t bet or who bet small occasionally strictly give out multi-race wagers is a mistake. It is a mistake for many reasons. It ties up money from the churn so racetracks and networks that do this are actually hurting themselves. A lot of people don’t play the individual races while they are alive in a multi-race wager.
Learn from real bettors who have a history of beating the game. Racing has their Amarillo Slim’s and that would be an interesting pre-race seminar to attend. We all constantly learn in this game, I’d suggest learning from people who actually have played it not just watched it. Changeup who gives the daily seminars. Have real players, some of the daily faces you see up on the podium. Teach people different perspectives and angles and let them see others success if you have people who are willing to share it.
I went to the track just about every racing day for close to 35 years. Maybe more. When I didn’t go every day, I went most days. I went to bet and beat the game. If a racetrack manager said to me what would it take to get you to come every day again my answer would be simple. Make it easy and let me not have to think about or worry about anything except what I am going to bet. Not where I am parking, sitting, eating, waiting or anything else. Make sure the TV at my table is HD, a decent size, and works perfectly. For a true gambler I think that is all it really takes.