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December 10, 2018

Nobody is Listening

By: Jonathan Stettin



We have all heard that old silly question about if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? That is what the recently concluded Global Symposium on Racing reminds me of. Salud to Pat Cummings, Steve Byk, and some others for accurately pointing out some of the issues plaguing the Sport of Kings but all due respect given, identifying the problems has never been the issue. Dealing with and eradicating them has. I don’t see where having even a thousand symposiums will help if nobody is listening — nobody who calls any shots anyway.

Several issues are hurting the game that can literally be fixed by post time today if we had the right shot callers. For example, how difficult is it to stagger post times between racetracks? It is not hard, I assure you but you need people who care enough about their customer to do something more than check the direct deposit of their paychecks. Unfortunately, we have way too many of those just galloping out to the finish not even knowing where the finish may be. Remember objects in the mirror may be closer than you think. Although I did not attend the symposium, I did follow what was discussed as best I could and also tried to gauge who was listening, and more importantly who was responding. It would appear nobody is listening.

One of the obstacles not related to blatant mismanagement and a lack of caring about and knowing your customer is racetrack ownership and governing bodies. Racetracks are owned for the most part by different entities and operate in different states. This enables multiple jurisdictions and sets of laws and rules that govern the game. It is difficult to get people on the same page, especially when they have different goals and interests. Somehow all the racetracks must be brought under the same umbrella to see meaningful changes.

Today, we have racetracks scrambling to posture themselves to the reality of having to find other revenue sources to survive. Slots or “racinos” are the low hanging fruit. Sports bettors are also a focus. Looking past that what do you think happens when tracks tap into those streams to the point where they support a diluted weakening product. Everyone has read that book and knows the ending.

D. Wayne Lukas made a statement recently validating what many of us know. Far too many people in the game don’t know, or worse don’t even care who butters their bread. Wayne stated that racing is not fueled by gambling. That is just plain wrong. Without betting they would run for blue ribbons. How long do you think that would last?

Racing has operated for years like they were the only game in town, and in some cases they were. Not so today. The gambler has many options. Many of those options are games of skill and not chance. Poker, blackjack, chess, backgammon, and others are as much, if not more, games of skill than horse racing and are played for big money with a far more equal and controlled playing field. There are many other options as well. Craps, roulette, slots, and of course sports to name a few. More and more bettors are literally being driven to these options by the very racetracks they have frequented. Shun your gambler customers enough they will go elsewhere.

Look at it like this. The game cannot survive without the bettor, but the bettor can indeed survive and continue to bet without the game. It is simple really. Who needs who more?

Wayne’s comment is consistent with what seems to be the thought process of most of the racetrack management, with a few welcome exceptions. Oaklawn Park despite their growing casino operation applauds the bettor and racing alike. Keeneland does it, and so do a select few other venues. The problem is more and more focus strictly on the off-track handle and other revenue sources and cringe at the thought the gambler is their core customer and driving force of the sport. Once, or rather, if these tracks are successful in transitioning to multiple option gambling houses, things will become much worse for both the horse and horseplayers.

If you think the added revenue will go towards improving the game, I’d suggest looking at past performances. This is horse racing and you are a bettor so you will have to buy them.