Players' Panel Recommendations Still Await Action

A few racetracks have adopted recommendations made last year by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Players' Panel, but NTRA officials and panel members said Sept. 28 the response generally has been sparse if not disappointing.

A few members of the Players' Panel took the stage on the second day of the NTRA Annual Meeting and Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. The panel's report, which touched on everything from tote security to customer service, has been in circulation for about a year.

The NTRA recently sent a memo to member racetracks asking for a status report on implementation of recommendations in the document, but only a handful responded, said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for the NTRA.

"That's somewhat disappointing," Chamblin said. "We know some of the tracks have read the document and instituted some of the panel's recommendations. We're not going to let this document collect dust. These are our best customers telling us what to do with our product."

Jim Quinn, a handicapper and author who chairs the Players' Panel, said Keeneland officials recently met with panel representative Mike Maloney to discuss the report. Quinn and other panel members suggested other tracks have similar meetings with their best customers to devise a strategy.

Panel member Dave Gutfreund again discussed the common situation whereby pick three players receive a substitute horse -- the favorite -- when one of their selections is scratched. He said Churchill Downs Simulcast Network adopted a refund policy per the Players' Panel recommendation, but other tracks haven't budged.

Ken Kirchner, senior vice president of product development for the NTRA, said the organization has proposed a model rule for regulators that could be adopted by the end of this year. It would call for refunds so bettors don't get stuck with horses they didn't include on their tickets.

Panel member Paul Cornman called for better customer service at wagering outlets. He also said the fact only a few tracks responded to the request for comments on the report isn't encouraging.

"Tell us you don't like our proposals," Cornman said. "Get some dialogue started. The bottom line is trying to give people a chance to win so maybe they'll come back."

In discussing a track-based education program the NTRA hopes to launch in 2005, Quinn, like he did last year, said the pari-mutuel industry must eliminate the public perception that people can't beat the races. Informed players who manage their money wisely can win over the long haul, but Quinn said the message people can't win is common and in fact spread by the industry itself.