To Rebate Or Not To Rebate? That's The Question

The topic of rebates, and whether they are good for the pari-mutuel industry, headed the opening day of the International Simulcasting Conference in Bal Harbour, Fla. Nearly 400 individuals representing more than 200 different organizations registered for the annual meeting.

This 10th simulcasting conference, co-hosted by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, The American Quarter Horse Racetrack Association, Harness Tracks of America, and The American Greyhound Tracks of America, will be "among the biggest and most important in its history," TRA executive vice president Chris Scherf said.

The opening session consisted of presentations from four separate perspectives regarding account wagering, and though the presenters were cordial, they expressed some divergent views on the hot-button issue.

In his presentation titled "Worlds are colliding," Fair Grounds consultant Dick Powell traced a history of simulcasting and suggested that "every big bettor in this country has been approached by rebaters, and most have taken advantage." He painted a picture, chilling to track operators, of "the bettor sitting in your clubhouse dining room, eating the meal you've paid for, while using his cell phone to bet off shore."

"As the technology advances, it will become easier and easier to bet off track," Powell said.

Dave Cuscuna, a self-styled large bettor, took issue with the notion that facilities that offer rebates to large bettors are harmful to the industry. He said rebates increase the volume of customers' bets and therefore increase handle.

"My handle alone has been more than enough to fund a Breeders' Cup race," Cuscuna said. "So I, too, have made a commitment to racing."

Cuscuna also addressed the issues, expounded upon by Scherf, of how account wagering facilities treat their customers. He detailed the frustration of bettors forced to deal with multiple account wagering services due to exclusive agreements.

Scherf presented the findings from the TRA's March report. "Customers must establish accounts with at least three separate providers to gain access to all--or a majority--of racetracks," the report said.

The final speaker was Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, who updated attendees on the status of federal legislation regarding account wagering. "As much as can be done has been done," Hickey said of the AHC's lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry on a pair of bills relevant to simulcasting. "Stay tuned."