By Bradford Cummings
Our society has become one of instant access and quick fixes to big problems. If you know my contact information, you can get a hold of me at any moment of the day through my “smart phone.” A football score you used to have to catch on SportsCenter or in your morning paper can be monitored by the second through one of several technologies. And people more and more are spending their money on games of chance like their state lottery or the overwhelming popular multi-state PowerBall.
So when I started talking with my friend, State Representative David Osborne (who also happens to be another Kentucky Republican on the David Williams shit list), my ears perked up when he offered a solution to getting everyday folks to the track. Tying into our instant society mentality, Rep. Osborne seemed perplexed that racing hasn't heavily promoted the quick-pick option for horse betting. And after weighing the pros and cons, it is hard to make an argument against it as we look for ways to mainstream Thoroughbred racing and deepen its coffers.
People avoid betting on horses because the process is too complex. Past performances look like Greek to the average person and the terms bandied about in our industry to describe races are confusing at best. Instead, the large majority of people like simplicity in their gambling. The popularity of the lottery and the love of slot machines prove people enjoy insurmountable odds without complication for the chance of a big payout.
With that in mind, let's keep it simple. Advertise that a quick pick at the racetrack gives you better odds to win $1,000 than buying a scratch-off lotto ticket at your local gas station. Inform the public that for less than it would cost to take your family to a baseball game, you can enjoy an equally beautiful sport and have the chance to walk away with a small jackpot to show for your efforts. (The Chicago White Sox have never offered me that deal. I'd probably go more often if that were the case.)
Here in Kentucky, the lottery has become such a huge part of our daily lives that commercials run by the state actually lead the viewer to believe you are a better wife/husband if you mindlessly give your money over for a one-in-a-million chance to land a significant win. It's mainstreamed and cool to play.
As we clamor to bring slot machines to racetracks in the Bluegrass State, we must also look at how to bring slots players over to the pari-mutuel machines for live racing or the simulcast of a race from another track. If they are drawn to shoving a $100 bill into a machine and pulling on the lever for an hour, it stands to reason they would be interested in playing some quick pick numbers at the same time.
The serious horseplayer's gut reaction is to call this strategy blasphemy, claiming it will take the art out of the art form of handicapping. But what is the problem there? At worst, you are putting more money in the pari-mutuel pools, meaning that the payouts will be better and the purses will be improved, eventually bringing a higher quality product to wager on. Furthermore, some will actually become horseplayers themselves after being around the sport more often.
As we continue to fight for slots as a quick fix for racing's short-term problems, it would behoove us to look at the opportunities already available to us to better market the sport. Gambling is part of our everyday life, even in a state that has yet to turn to slots at racetracks. And whether the serious horseplayer likes it or not, the average person is drawn towards gambling opportunities that take little or no thought.
Let's embrace the opportunity to bring new fans to the table even if they are brought in on training wheels. If you keep it simple, they will come.
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