Mobile phone technology is becoming an increasingly important asset for horse racing as more applications are developed for customers who want to gather data and wager with greater convenience.
Representatives from some of the innovation leaders in the field -- Equibase, TrackMaster, United Tote, and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club -- talked about what's been developed so far and why the future is promising for such applications. Their comments came Oct. 4 during the second day of the International Simulcast Conference, hosted by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Simple to use and increasingly available as costs decrease, experts predict that hand-held devices such as the iPhone and iPad will be bigger than desktop computers within five years, said Josh Rubenstein, senior vice president for development for DMTC.
For Del Mar, Rubenstein said, a "one-stop website" was developed for mobile device users that can be accessed on-track through wireless hotspots that provides an easy-to-use wagering platform. The site continuously updates calendar information with links to the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, and provides basic track information such as scratches, will-pays, and live video as well as replays.
"The more we can educate people, the more they are going to bet," Rubenstein said.
He said that beginning next season, an application will be available to allow people to make food and beverage and gift-shop purchases, buy reserved seats, and even pay for parking.
In its first season in 2011, there were 75,504 vistors to Del Mar Mobile and they spent an average of five minutes and 39 seconds on each visit, Rubenstein said.
The site attracted 26,736 bets totaling $516,656 during the meet.
"Not great numbers," he said. "But we expect those numbers to increase very quickly."
Jim Vanderbosch, TrackMaster's vice president for sales and marketing, underscored the importance of racing availing itself of the latest technology. He noted that 263 million people, or "83% of your customers have cell phones.
"In two years, 55% of those customers will have a smart phone," he said.
TrackMaster, Vanderbosch said, has developed an application for such users that provides key statistics for making race selections. It is designed for both the advanced player and the newcomer using a simplified format. Customers can download just the tracks they want and can have that information within 10 seconds.
He said the availability of tablet devices such as the iPad is growing quickly.
"There are 27 million tablets in 2011 and that should double next year," Vanderbosch said. "The number will top 80 million by 2015."
Designers are currently struggling with how to make traditional past performances available in the smaller tablet viewing format.
"Right now, all of our efforts in the tablet market are focused on the iPad due to its domination of the market," Vanderbosch added.
Victor Espinosa Jr., vice president of sales for Equibase, said the company is engaged in making much of its data available to smart phone and electronic tablet users through its "Today's Racing" application. Entries, results, scratches, replays, race charts, and other stats that can be found on its regular Equibase web page are included.
"On Mobile Equibase.com, people can follow all of their favorite tracks," he said.
United Tote has also developed its own mobile application for on-track use, "FastBet Mobile," which works with iPhones, iPads, and Android tablet applications, said Ben Murr, the company's president.
"The tote business is a tough business and it doesn't see a lot of R & D (research and development)," Murr said. But the use of wireless connections for a mobile wagering application is important because it can enhance the customers experience by keeping them out of betting lines.
"It helps the customer retain his relationship with the brick and mortar facility," Murr noted.
He said the application has been tested at Keeneland and Churchill Downs so far and has shown itself capable of handling large volume.
"The sky is the limit as far as this is concerned," he said
An earlier panel at the simulcast conference dealt with complementary betting products and services.
Joe Asher, president and CEO of Brandywine Bookmaking, said Delaware Park has started a football betting experiment during the NFL season that allows patrons to make parlay bets on games and has produced "a record handle week" each week of the season so far.
He said "meaningful spikes in handle" have also been noted at the company's Las Vegas locations during Super Bowl week in particular. Other special Las Vegas wagering events, such as the opening week of the NCAA men's basketball playoffs, have not produced the same upturn.
"We don't see as great an increase during March Madness for horseracing that we see for the Super Bowl, only about 2%," Asher said. "The reason is people are watching the games, not betting horses."
Tom Large, commercial director for TVG-Betfair, said the 11-year-old company is now the world's largest betting exchange with more than 3.5 million registered customers. Betfair purchased TVG in 2009.
The "heart of the proposition (that) is the wagering engine" is in its simplicity, Large said. One person "backs" a horse while a second "lays" it. Betfair makes its money by holding the bet.
The numbers provided by Large are staggering. The company handles more than seven million transactionsworldwide on a typical day, or about 4,500 per second. He said "99.9% of wagers are matched in under one second."
Large noted that the average exchange wagering player at Betfair, at age 36, is 18 years younger than the average TVG player.
Players have the option of a number of different types of wagers. Players can download any of about 250 applications from an online Betfair store to help them, he said.
"You don't have to be a handicapper in order to participate in exchange wagering," Large said.