Global Symposium on Racing focused upon ideas and research

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TwinSpires Staff

December 8th, 2017

by Dick Powell

I had the pleasure of attending the University of Arizona’s 44th annual Global Symposium on Racing this week and, unlike other years, there were some excellent ideas and research.

Throughout this year’s symposium, the cloud of sports betting was hanging over the events as nobody knows what will come out of Monday’s Supreme Court hearing on the state of New Jersey’s challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Most agree that PASPA will be struck down in some way by a majority of the nine Justices, but the devil will be in the details as to what part of sports betting they will legalize.

A couple of speakers disagreed with our current “bet a little, win a lot culture,” not just because of the higher takeout on these bets but the damage they do to churn. They demonstrated how low the churn rate is when horizontal wagers tie up money across multiple races and when one does hit, not all the money from the score is going back into the pool.

Bill Nader, formerly with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, made the point that despite the vast sums of betting that takes place at Sha Tin and Happy Valley, 85 percent of the handle comes from win, place (similar to our show betting), quinella and quinella place bets where you cash if your two horses finish in the top three. Simple, easy to teach and they generate high churn rates.

Sidebar: Charlie J. Cella passed away this week at the age of 81. Owner and operator Oaklawn Park, he ushered in Instant Racing and Electronic Gaming to make Oaklawn’s purse structure as strong as anyone’s. If you go back far enough, Oaklawn Park was one of the last track’s to embrace the giant gimmick menu that we throw at our customers. Oaklawn Park had win, place, show, a daily double and a couple of exactas.

The day after he passed away, younger analysts were showing the downside of gimmick wagering. Cella was right.

A few of the panelists were from out of the country and some had ideas that we would consider revolutionary since we are not keeping up with what is going on around us. One had a program that gave the bettor the ability to cash out before the final leg of his horizontal bet was run.

If you are alive after four legs in a Pick 5, you have the choice to cash out or ride it to the finish. Instead of needing a big bankroll to try to hedge the other starters in the last leg, you could decide to cash out and take less money with all the risk eliminated from the decision making.

Racing in other countries have survived competition from casinos and sports betting, and their primary tool seems to be fixed-odds wagering. The big question at the Symposium was not whether the Supreme Court would strike down PASPA, but how will racing in the United States respond to it?

Based on past performances the answers range from catastrophic to some damage.