The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Unlocking Woodbine’s Success

by | 06.24.2011 | 6:33am
Woodbine Racetrack

Many recognize the Woodbine Entertainment Group as the most successful racing and gaming operation in North America. The addition of video lottery terminals in 2000 saved racing at the suburban Toronto, Canada, track, but the organization formerly known as the Ontario Jockey Club does not live by slots alone.

Gaming revenue has turned Woodbine into a modern, multi-dimensional facility with more development on the way. But this weekend, more than any other on the Canadian racing calendar, the focus will be on the Sport of Kings and Queens, with Sunday's 152nd running of the Queen's Plate.

Nick Eaves succeeded David Willmot as CEO of the Woodbine Entertainent Group in June 2010. He joined the company in 1994 and has held numerous senior positions in the interim. He took time out of a very busy week to answer questions about WEG's efforts to strengthen Canadian racing.

What are some of the things Woodbine Entertainment Group is doing in the way of player or fan development, something we frankly haven't seen much of at American tracks that get expanded gaming through VLTs or slots?
-Trackside parties on our big event days featuring live music and sponsored by global brands such as Budweiser, Pepsi, etc.
-Renovated, modern dining rooms which host corporate & charity events for new customers; exceptional food & beverage
-Extensive customer service presence
-On-track day accounts for new customers
-Wireless devices available on track (wireless network)
-Various on-track promotions, theme days, give aways, handicapping sessions etc.

The downtown Turf Lounge and suburban WEGZ Stadium Bar are meant to bring racing to people who might not ordinarily wager on it: the Turf Lounge being in the financial district and the WEGZ designed to showcase racing alongside other sports in a sports bar atmosphere. Are they delivering?

Yes, those sites are delivering what we hoped.

The Turf Lounge attracts a younger professional demographic who bet for a living (lawyers, brokers, traders). It is a very successful food and beverage operation regularly booked for weekday lunch and doing brisk corporate dinner and event business. Wagering is building. Turf Lounge showcases horse racing in a way that the downtown urban professional can relate to.

WEGZ Stadium Bar attracts a younger, sports-focused betting customer. Very strong food and beverage business, particularly when there is a sporting event on. It is now the fourth-largest wagering location in our off-track network.

What's been WEG's experience with its account wagering business? Is it considered a strategy for player development or is it merely a convenience tool for existing racing customers?
Mostly a convenience tool but it's becoming more of a strategy for new player development

WEG's account wagering business (HorsePlayer Interactive or HPI) has been growing at approximately 15% per year. This year it is up 20%, due in large part to growth in Quebec
-HPI is a national service under license to all tracks across Canada
-HPI now represents 28% of handle in WEG's home market.

We have recently begun featuring HPI on our network television shows to expose this wagering option to new viewers. We have run promotions where we fund the account for the first bet which has produced a lot of new accounts.

What is WEG's position on exchange wagering? Are you considering developing your own exchange platform?
We are looking at it.  We can't rely on pari-mutuel wagering only. Betfair has five million active customers and is growing at a staggering rate.

We can't ignore that.

How has WEG refocused its television strategy over the last couple years?

WEG continues to partner with major cable and satellite providers to distribute our 24-hour day horse racing channel.

WEG has revamped our network programming (rebranded Bet Night Live) on The Score Network to attract the betting customer. As a result, account sign-ups are up.  Viewership is up.  Wagering is up.

WEG's major thoroughbred races are broadcast in HD on CBC, Canada's national TV network – including the Queen's Plate this Sunday.

What keeps you from lowering takeout on racing to levels that are more competitive with other types of gambling? Is WEG experimenting at all in
this area?

This year we reduced triactor (trifecta) takeout by 2 percentage points. We hope to further reduce takeout on all bet types by an additional 2 percentage point by eliminating a government levy.

We experimented by reducing Pick 4 takeout to 14.75% between 2002 and 2006 and saw no impact on handle.

Our current strategy is to guarantee Win 4 pools. This year we have seen a 28% increase on our standardbred Pick 4 pools.

Our take-out reduction strategy is targeted at our highest volume players. In addition to our posted rebates (ranging from 0.5% to 3%), we offer further takeout reductions to our highest volume customers.

It is important to note that, after purses and regulatory reductions, the track is left with 6.5%!

Finally, Queen Elizabeth attended last year's Queen's Plate and you had a huge day at Woodbine. That's a tough act to follow, but what should we look forward to this week?
It is a tough act to follow. However, we have momentum from the 150th Queen's Plate two years ago and the Royal visit last year. We have a deep field of 17 in this year's Queen's Plate with the best from Canada and multiple U.S. connections including Mill House, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, Garrett Gomez…available on TVG.

We have been showing encouraging growth on our big event days this year including a 20% increase on Woodbine Oaks Day. We're hoping for a big day!

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