Betting was a topic during National HBPA convention Feb. 4

Betting was a topic during National HBPA convention Feb. 4

Anne M. Eberhardt

HBPA Forum: Are Biggest Bettors Demonized?

Question was addressed during horsemen's convention Feb. 4 in Florida.

Are racing's biggest bettors not appreciated given the revenue they generate for purses? A consultant for one high-end advance deposit wagering operation believes they aren't, as do horsemen's groups that work with them to maximize revenue.

The topic was addressed Feb. 4 during a forum titled "Working With, Not Against, Professional Gamblers" on the first day of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in Clearwater Beach, Fla.

"We as an industry don't treat big bettors well," said Dick Powell, a New York-based consultant who counts Racing and Gaming Services among his clients. "In many ways they're demonized and the subject of intense suspicion. People ask, 'How are they winning?' I've challenged the industry to show me another industry that can reject technology and demonize its biggest players and succeed."

Powell referenced tracks that have cut off wagering outlets because "they are winning too much," and those who criticize players than employ computer batch-wagering programs. He said there are misconceptions.

RGS is a high-volume betting shop that offers rebates. Powell said the objective is to "take big, successful bettors, give them rebates, and put them over the top" so they increase their wagering. He acknowledged they are very price-sensitive, but not to the point of not understanding horsemen and racetracks.

"At the same time, they live in the real world," Powell said. "If the simulcast rate was zero, of course it would help them, but they know that doesn't help the industry. We've enabled some tracks to do better than they might normally be able to do. But if pools aren't big enough they're not betting much money into those pools."

Powell also said it's a misconception that big bettors who get rebates oppose lower pari-mutuel takeout rates.

"When there is more liquidity in the pools, which lower takeout can bring, that's better than a tweak to the (simulcast) rates," he said.

Powell said HBPA affiliates have been helpful in establishing simulcast rates that benefit all parties.

Christina Bossinakis, services director for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Owner Concierge, noted that many owners are handicappers and horseplayers—but the industry doesn't always acknowledge that fact.

"We have discussions about owners, and then we have discussions about bettors," she said. "They don't always seem to align. When you speak to many owners you realize there is an overlap. What I find interesting is there is a correlation between how tracks take care of owners and how they take care of bettors, particularly high-end bettors."

National HBPA chief executive officer Eric Hamelback said the organization has regular discussions with wagering providers to maximize revenue.

"It is imperative for HBPA affiliates to remain committed to offer what we perceive as the best account wagering possible for the mutual benefit of the racetracks, horsemen, and its customers by creating and expanding handle that would otherwise be minimal or non-existent," he said.