Playing the Future - By John Fradkin

(Originally published in the July 3, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)  

It’s no secret that these are not the best of times in the Thoroughbred business. However, unlike most other participants in this business, I think the future holds a great deal of promise. We could be just around the corner from an explosion in betting handle if we embrace the future instead of clinging to the past.

The Internet and advance deposit wagering are the future of our industry, and they are powerful forces. The Internet fits our data-rich sport of horse racing better than any other sport, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the positive impact it will ultimately have. Playing the horses from home just might be the ultimate video game, and its appeal could be huge to an Internet-savvy segment of the population we haven’t reached yet.

I don’t think it’s an impossible dream to think of tripling or even quadrupling our national betting handle if we can get these new players to try our game. However, we need to treat our existing players better as they have the potential to grow handle pretty dramatically and we need them to attract and educate the new players. 

This is how I see the future. I’m not sure how or when we are going to get there, but our ship has momentum and it’s moving in this direction already. If racetracks, horsemen, and the account wagering companies can cooperate to see the light at the end of the tunnel, then my vision—or something similar—is possible and the ride will be smoother, shorter, and less painful for all of us already in the business.

  • New contracts are put in place so that the horsemen and racetracks putting on the show receive a fair share of the takeout dollar no matter where the wager is placed. This is by far the most important issue facing our industry today. It should not matter to the racetrack or the horsemen where a bet is placed. Racetracks start to view the account wagering companies as allies instead of competitors.

  • Account wagering becomes the norm, both on track and off track. Racetracks install robust Wi-Fi routers on track to handle ontrack account wagering. Racetracks and account wagering companies give wagering devices such as the Apple iPad free to their best customers. Customers use these devices to wager both on track and off track but especially when on track and away from their computers. Wealthy horseowners at Del Mar and Saratoga who don’t feel comfortable carrying a lot of cash start to make the occasional $10,000 bet from the privacy of their own box.

  • Rebates become legal in all states that allow account wagering. Accounts wagering over $10,000 per month, receive a 10% rebate at the end of every month deposited automatically into their account. More players actually win consistently. Some casual players become semi-professional, and their handle goes up exponentially.

  • The game of betting on horses starts to shed the “it can’t be beaten” stigma that it currently has as more and more stories get out about people actually making money playing the horses.

  • New players start opening accounts. “Gamers” start to realize that playing the horses online is a pretty fun game and could be profitable too. Online poker players give it a try. Daytraders give it a try. College kids start opening accounts. Grandpa gives his math-whiz grandson, who is already online five hours a day, the password to his Xpressbet account. He mentors Junior on how to read the Racing Form and encourages him to play the late Pick 4 at Santa Anita every day.

  • These new players actually start coming to the track a few times a year. They bring their laptops and their iPads. They also bring friends. Ontrack attendance numbers start to improve. Horse racing starts to re-enter the mainstream of American pastimes. Prognosticators project that horse racing might soon become as popular as poker.

There are millions of people already sitting in front of their computers for many hours a day playing games for fun and profit, and if we can just get them to try our game, it could be a beautiful thing.

I’m a huge proponent of ADW because I’ve tried it and I love it. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to. It is so much superior to the cash system in so many ways that I miss my account wagering system when I’m at the racetrack! 

John Fradkin is a breeder, owner, and horseplayer based in California.

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