'Horse Wizard' Machines Ready to Go at Lone Star Park

The Texas Racing Commission has approved the use of 31 "Horse Wizard" pari-mutuel wagering machines at Lone Star Park for the remainder of the fall meet that ends Oct. 31.

The machines, which can best be described as a slots-self service teller hybrid, will be in use during the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at the Grand Prairie track.

After receiving commission approval, Lone Star planned to have the machines operational in time for the Thursday night race program.

The sleek electronic machines installed in a first-floor grandstand area of Lone Star Park have the look and feel of a slot machine: There is a clanging bell and flashing light familiar to slots players when they have hit a winner. A stool is positioned in front of each machine for the comfort of the user. A plastic card is inserted to begin play and to track the customer's accounts, much like those used at casinos and slots facilities.

In reality, "Horse Wizard" is a souped-up pari-mutuel wagering machine designed to make horse betting more user-friendly and less intimidating to first-time or infrequent track patrons, according to Jeff Greco, Lone Star's vice president and general manager.

"A simple difference in this machine (from conventional pari-mutuel self-service wagering machines) is it has a little bit of color and flash," Greco said. "This is ideally designed for the novice fan who comes to the track only occassionally. While there are a lot of resources at the track to educate fans on how to bet, a lot of people won't even ask questions because they are intimidated. What this machine is intended to do is break down those barriers and walk you through the process."

After the user inserts the plastic account card, the machine displays the name of a track and race number on which wagers are currently being taken. The race selection is based on the one that will be run next. The user then selects a runner decides whether to place a win, place, or show wager in denominations of $2, $6, $15, $30, or $60. Rather than display odds, "Horse Wizard" displays possible winning payoffs.

For the undecided, there is an option to have three mythical handicappers describe possible horses on which a wager can be placed. The "handicappers" selections are in line with the morning-line odds for the race.

For example, clicking on "Solid Sam" gets the race's best bets, horses best suited for a conservative wager. "Gypsy Rose" purports to provide information on horses with "medium risk" and "Major Mac" is the longshot specialist.

"This is the same information that is included in the track program, it's just that it is in a different foramt," Greco said.

Once wagering has closed, the "Horse Wager" video screen will show the race, so the customer never has to leave their seat in order to wager and watch the race. If a winning wager has been made, a bell rings and light on top of the machine flashes and the bettors account is credited with the payoff.

The machines are manufactured by Magna Entertainment Corp., the racetrack operating company that owns Lone Star. "Horse Wizard" has been in use at Magna's Santa Anita since earlier this year. Magna chairman Frank Stronach told the Dallas Morning News that the company has invested between $10 million to $15 million in the conception and construction of "Horse Wizard."

Greco said Magna plans to monitor the rollout of Horse Wizard and after three to five months of use will determine the machines have "long-term value. Magna believes there is value in a machine like this, but the fans will vote with their dollars."