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Sports Betting and Horse Racing

The debate in New Jersey continues to rage concerning the attempt to allow sports betting at Monmouth Park. What I don't understand is the belief that gambling is a zero sum game.

Rolling deep in cash.
Rolling deep in cash.
Alan Crowhurst

You can read the article from the Paulick Report in its entirety here.

Now to be honest, I love sports betting. The dynamic between giving or getting points versus using the moneyline to pick a straight up winner certainly fascinates me. Additionally, I love blackjack. But when it comes down to it all, I'd much rather lay my dollars on the line on any horse race than any other gambling proposition.

Here's my reasoning: every race is a puzzle that is just waiting to be unlocked. Additionally, where else can you find 7-1 odds where there is a realistic chance to actually make money in the long run? Each race is a unique combination of hundreds of factors where even if you're not exactly right, you can still make some money. How do you effectively hedge a bet in the Eagles-Bengals game tonight? Unless you're knee deep in all kinds of exotic, ridiculous wagers, you can't. How do you do it on the track? Two win bets = bet hedged. Wanna Dutch two runners you like? Easy.

I think the real issue, like has been brought up here hundreds of times, is not that the spread of gambling is taking away from the horsemen's action, but instead the newer wagering opportunities attract newer gamblers that understand slots or poker or sports betting, but have never been educated as to how horse racing works. Like I've said before, show me one person who has been to the races with an experienced horse player that didn't have an absolute blast. Bet you have to look pretty hard. Adding to that, Gambling is not an absolute zero sum game. A dollar wagered on a point spread in college football is not a dollar taken out of the pari-mutuel pools. Horse racing's woes are not 100% correlated with the spread of legalized gambling, but instead due to the apathy and lack of exposure by the general public.

Does the industry have deep issues? No doubt. Could the presentation of information be done more simply to allow new players better and quicker access to the sport? Absolutely.

But the ultimate question is will new bettors find thoroughbred racing interesting? I honestly believe the answer is yes. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal article from May of this year (2012). The head of the Hong Kong Jockey Club discusses his initiaitives on how to grow horse racing in East Asia.

Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges: For Hong Kong people, racing isn't a chance game, it's a mind game.

Get to it, American racing.

So what does this lowly observer think? Three things:

  1. Information. The form is great, once you learn how to read it. But check out this free (HKJC Form) spreadsheet that details all of the past performances for every runner in the field at Happy Valley in Hong Kong. It has all works, vet reports, past performances (with usable trip notes) and more. Simple to read, free to download. (*note: there are tons of macros and embedded links in the excel sheet, but due to some issues with uploading, it was way easier to not upload all of the macros, so most of the functionality of the sheet doesn't work, but it still is a good example)
  2. Communication. HIGH DEFINITION. Enough said. Get NBC (or whomever hold the TV rights) to talk about wagering strategies, and payoffs, and handicapping (aka THE RACE), and ADW opportunities, and not 100% about human interest crap that has little or nothing to do with actual racing. AND I DON'T CARE ABOUT HATS OR CELEBRITIES (caveat: except for Jerry O'Connell. He's always hammered and actually funny at the Derby. Keep interviewing him)
  3. Marketing. Quit focusing on the bets that have huge pools (Pick 6) and instead focus on the individual race. Yes, lots of people bet into the large carryover pools. But no one ever hits the Pick 6, or Rainbow Pick 5, or whatever. The idea is to have bettors cash tickets to get them interested, not play the lottery. Even cashing a ticket where you take a net loss ($5 back on a $2 across bet, for example) still feels kinda good, since you got something. Then let the bettor develop their wagering strategy to include vertical and horizontal bets but don't encourage them to jump right into the deep end where expected payoffs are statistically near zero.

So what do you think? Does widespread sports wagering pose an imminent and dire threat to the survival of horse racing? Or is it an opportunity to expose a larger section of the American public to gambling and thusly an opportunity to get more people interested in wagering on horses?