ADWs are a net-positive for horse racing
by Dick Powell
I was fortunate enough to be a speaker on a panel at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association (NHBPA) conference last week. The subject was ADWs, or Advance Deposit Wagering, which covers any kind of betting that you need to have made an advance deposit to make a wager.
As horse racing’s national annual handle began to decline, ADW business exploded and some, mistakenly thought the decline was because of ADWs. Yes, there was some migration from racetracks and bricks-and-mortar businesses. But ADWs have been a net-positive for horse racing and the reason that national handle was dropping was due to many other factors.
We talked about the evolution of betting – from when the only way to bet on a horse race was to be at a horse racing venue and make a bet with a pari-mutuel teller all the way to today’s world with international simulcasting and betting available on your smart phone. In fact, Michele Fischer of Sportech raised the very real possibility of telling “Siri” or “Alexa” to make your bet.
The world changed, and while it was happening horse racing had lost its monopoly of being the only legal betting available to the American public. Lottery, off-track wagering, casinos, racinos, Native American casinos, etc. have sprouted in hard-to-foreseen numbers, eating away at horse racing’s business.
We can pick the scab until it bleeds but there was nothing that was going to save the original horse racing model after it lost its monopoly and ADWs have helped out. Think about where the national wagering handle would be if there were not computer-assisted-wagering.
One factor that occurred to me was what small fields are doing to horse racing. I have written before that we want seven races a day with 10 horses in each race, but instead we get 10 races a day with seven horses in each race. Three of the four panelists either own horses in whole or in partnerships and we all agreed that we never mind when a field that we have a horse in comes up short and weak.
But short fields are not sustainable for the industry. I spoke about how betting is the last remaining revenue stream for most racetracks. No longer can a track depend on parking, admission, program and food/beverage sales. The only or main revenue stream that they have left is the bettor.
Small fields also have another untended consequence. I spoke about how having too many short fields in a row almost forces the bettor to avoid vertical betting and enter the horizontal pools, which have higher takeout. I said that there have not been any takeout increases in a few years but the effective takeout has gone up since the Pick N bets (Pick 3s, Pick 4s, etc.), with a few exceptions, have higher takeout.
In New York, we have opened up three casinos this year and it will take a while to see what impact they are having on horse racing. They can’t help!
MASTERY (Candy Ride) was everything I hoped for in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. He cruised to an easy lead and, when challenged at the top of the stretch, pulled away to a dominant 6 3/4-length masterful win over three other graded stakes winners.
When he hit the wire, he was the immediate Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite. About five steps after the wire, rider Mike Smith felt something was wrong, slowed him down, got him to stop and got off. The horse ambulance arrived, Mastery walked on, walked off back at trainer Bob Baffert’s barn but it was soon discovered that he had a condylar fracture in his left front and was off the Derby trail. At best, we might see him in the second half of the year. What a shame.
At Tampa Bay Downs, TAPWRIT (Tapit) rallied from off the pace to win the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in impressive fashion. What I liked about his victory was that he was able to pass horses while weaving through traffic, something he will have to do on the first Saturday in May.
The Tampa Bay Downs main track can be quirky and its form does not always transfer to other tracks. But this colt ran fast and showed a lot of maturity. Trainer Todd Pletcher is going to find one more prep race for him before the Derby.