Want New Fans? Make It Simple - By Gary Popoli, Ph.D.

  (Originally published in the January 22, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

GARY POPOLI, Ph.D., has been a racing fan and handicapper for 40 years

 Why hasn’t the Thoroughbred industry done everything in its power to make the game simpler instead of more complex? And why hasn’t Thoroughbred racing taken a hard look at every facet of the game that would enhance the possibility of luring new fans rather than driving them away?
In an industry that is not only desperate for new fans but hard-pressed to hold on to the ones it has, racing has unknowingly created yet another obstacle for patrons to overcome—the types of bets that one can make and the denomination of those bets.

Racing has created such a level of diversity among racetracks and their betting options that patrons new and old continue to wonder why there are different types of bets and different minimums for those wagers depending on the track. Racing as an industry needs to realize a more simplified, unified, and universal betting menu is much more appealing to the fans than the present “a la carte” betting options being offered. Creativity in providing fans with a variety of exotic betting options is one thing, but having different options at different tracks for different minimums is confusing and puzzling to say the least. It can be downright discouraging to bettors.

In today’s world of slot machines, table games, poker rooms, and sports betting, racing must make attracting new fans and keeping the ones it has its top priority. Otherwise, the sport will collapse. Bettors, especially new ones, are looking for uniformity, not inconsistency. Just understanding all of the different bets at one track is challenging enough. The novice bettor at a racetrack is similar to the first-time craps player. The endless variety of wagers to be made on each roll of the dice can be more than intimidating; it can be frightening to the point that the potential new customer simply gives up and walks away from the table.  

With so much wagering being done online and with fans’ having access to multiple tracks, the novice racing fan faces a plethora of bets and different minimum wagers. For example, isn’t it confusing that tracks in West Virginia offer only $.50 superfectas, Maryland tracks only offer $1 superfectas, but tracks in New York, California, Florida, and Kentucky all offer $.10 superfectas? In addition, Indiana and Kentucky tracks offer $.50 Pick 3s, but New York, California, Florida, West Virginia, and Maryland offer only $1 Pick 3s. The list goes on, and the confusion mounts. Some tracks have only $1 Pick 4s; some have $.50. Some have $1 minimum win, place, and show bets; most others have a $2 minimum. Some tracks offer quinella wagering; some don’t. And only a select few tracks offer Pick 5, Place Pick 8, Pick 9, Pick 10, and Super High Five wagering. Unless one is a daily track patron who also wagers on multiple simulcast signals, the likelihood that one is familiar with and understands this list of options is huge.

The racing community is risking the loss of promising fans by complicating the core purpose of the patron’s attendance, which is betting. How nice it would be for the new as well as the experienced bettor to be offered a standard betting “menu” that carried with it standard “fare.”

Suppose all tracks in the United States offered the same 10 wagers for the same minimal bet? For instance, what if every racetrack in the country offered win, place, show, and Pick 6 wagers for a minimum of $2; daily double, exacta, triple, Pick 3, and Pick 4 wagers for a minimum of $1; and superfectas for a minimum of $.10? The simplest approach is the best approach.

Removing as many barriers in the racing industry as possible and making the game simpler can only help to lure more fans to its base. If the potential new fan becomes discouraged and walks away from the sport because of its complexity just like the new craps player, the fan base will continue to decline and eventually fade away altogether. The sooner we can standardize as many aspects of the game as possible on a national level, the better.
Would it be safe to say “united they will stand and divided they will fall?”

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