THE PARI-MUTUEL FUTURE IS VIRTUAL

The demise of the NYC off-track betting operations was not surprising. It is just another example of how brick-and-mortar businesses are being confronted and sometimes rendered obsolete by online competitors.

The latest illustration is bookstores. Barnes & Noble is the largest bookstore in the world. During the 9-week 2010 year-end holiday season, the chain had a 9.7 percent comparable-store sales increase over 2009, its best performance in a decade. However, this is not a reason for optimism, quite the contrary, once the cause is examined. The sales spurt was due to the Nook, an electronic reader that is the number 1 bestseller in Barnes & Noble history. In effect, Barnes & Noble sold the rope that may eventually end up hanging it as e-books grow in popularity.

Similarly, the online approach of Amazon has disrupted the business of conventional bookstores. Borders has closed many of its stores and filed for bankruptcy.

The lesson is unmistakable: Racetracks must continue to aggressively develop their virtual businesses in the form of advance deposit wagering. ADW is the best means available for expanding the overall size of the pari-mutuel pie. The critical error that the bookstore chains made early on was in not vigorously answering the Amazon threat with their own online retail component. Instead, they were hesitant and upstart Amazon capitalized on it.

Concurrent with the escalating success of virtual retailers is the displacement of personal computers and laptops by smart phones and tablets. These latter devices can connect to remote servers that are the repository for email, picture and file storage, and application software. Such “cloud computing” provides smart phones and tablets with remarkable capabilities. ADW is made to order for this technological advancement in mobile computing.

Some aficionados of traditional racing lament that the gambling emphasis of ADW diminishes the sport. This kind of concern is nothing new. In the late 19th century, the aristocrats in New York who ran horse racing also thought that racing’s increased reliance on gambling to fund purses was an unseemly step in the wrong direction. A founding member of the fledgling Jockey Club even wanted to see legalized gambling on horse racing banned so that the sport could return to being a gentlemanly pastime for patrician owners. This sport-versus-gambling dichotomy was false then and it is false today.

By all means, racetracks can and should endeavor to cultivate fans by getting more people to attend live races. Moreover, the Triple Crown events and the Breeders’ Cup showcase horse racing on television as well as to large on-track audiences. However, for the comparatively fast-paced 21st century lifestyle, ADW is the best avenue for attracting new bettors, expanding handle, and augmenting purses. ADW caters to people’s busy schedules, leverages the latest communications and information technologies, compensates for the fact that passionate racing fans often do not live anywhere near a racetrack, and is consistent with the needs and requirements of large-scale bettors.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.

Comments

  1. Absolutely. The ship has already sailed. I still like going to the track provided the venue provides some value added. But even there I place my bets on my phone through my account(s). That’s my gambling money; I want credit towards rebates, and I don’t want to stand on line and deal with a teller who may or may not be pleasant and may or may not know his or her machine.
    Horse racing lends itself very nicely to the internet. The industry should build on that. It has the legal, US monopoly there.

  2. This is not a surprise at all:

    While there will always be a need for brick-and-mortar outlets, especially in Horse Racing between on-track and off-track outlets, the off-track outlets in particular are not as necessary as they once were as more and more people wager either via telephone or more importantly on-line. Being able to wager and watch races from home is the biggest change the sport has had and is one more states need to embrace that have not already.

    The same is true for traditional publishing. More and more people now for instance buy the Daily Racing Form or other past performance publications exclusively on-line, often at a far lower cost than the $7.00 the DRF now charges for its print edition. And the DRF is obviously far from it, as people now are more inclined to get their news and other information online than from traditional media outlets than in the past, and the same is true with books.

    In fact, at present, all of the books offered published by Ray Gordon (creator of the Price and Probability Method, http://www.toosmarttofaill.com/pap.html) are ONLY available on Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook EXCEPT for the PAP Book itself, which is only offered as part of a subscription (including his most recent book, “Between Jackpots: My Life As A Semi-Professional Horseplayer” at: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/betweenjackpots.html). As more people move to those platforms, tracks are going to need to adjust, including perhaps working with Equibase and Daily Racing Form to create Kindle and NOOK editions of their programs and DRF respectively. These are just some of the changes that are going to have to be made as people continue to adjust to the new era on many fronts.

  3. Concerned observer says

    Once again the leadership of racing snooozes during a watershed period when a change in technology will change the business forever.

    Race track management is good at sweeping floors, harrowing tracks, manning the windows….but historically unable to visualize and react to a major change in the way customers interact with the sport of horseracing.

    Remember when they shot down TV coverage? Remember how slowly they embraced simulcast? Why would this ADW shift be any different. Track managers are day to day operators….not visionary leaders.

  4. Clem Cadiddlehopper says

    Exactly what do you people believe track management has to do with ADW???

    They tolerate it, and little more, otherwise it is a non-entity.

    What track management needs to do is lift the first finger ever toward DOING SOMETHING for those in attendance AT their establishments.

    If you’re running a track in Kentucky, you have little reason to give a damn about what is going on at some ADW hub in Oregon.

    Worry about the people and issues there at your venue and prioritize the other crap well beneath those priorities.

    This isn’t that difficult.

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  1. […] The Pari-Mutuel Future is Virtual.  Good article on how technology can help racing by a longtime industry watcher. […]

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