Remember the customer

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Some months ago, at the beginning of what has become the coronavirus pandemic, I wrote a column about how Nevada must move into the 21st Century by permitting lottery ticket sales.

As we approach this first Saturday in September (very peculiar sounding) and the 146th Kentucky Derby, I’m back with another “suggestion” here in The Silver State.

Up until last week, local Nevada horseplayers betting either in race books or on an app, along with visitors to resorts over the Labor Day Weekend, were not guaranteed the ability to wager on the Derby. Did you understand that last sentence? In 2020, there was a possibility that the epicenter of legalized gambling in the U.S. would not take pari-mutuel wagers on the sport’s biggest event.

For Nevada horseplayers like myself, especially those among us who love the entire betting experience of Derby weekend, I can only think of the line from Dominic Chianese’s character in the epic television show, The Sopranos: “You’re giving me agita.”

Are we not the world’s biggest consumer based economy? Haven’t companies like Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks focused on making the customer experience most important? How has that worked out for them?

Without boring you in an entire investigative report about why this issue occurs every few years, I’ll write an extremely abridged version. The two sides in this dispute are the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and CDI. The NPMA obtains regulatory approval for all off-track pari-mutuel wagering and acts as a liaison for its race book members and the state Gaming Control Board. CDI is the parent company of historic Churchill Downs. Not only do they own the historic race track in Louisville, but other notable venues such as Arlington and Fair Grounds.

The age-old dispute is over the agreed upon takeout of each race. Basically a fee collected on every bet in order to provide wagering to casino customers. Again, details of the negotiations, including the actual percentage for each side is monotonous. The caveat to this is several Nevada race book operators told me that CDI was requesting an unreasonable percentage for the Derby itself. This is not surprising given the spectacle of the event vs. ordinary everyday races at the venue. 

Without coming off as disrespectful to either party, I say just make a long term deal already. Think about the consumer, especially given the other challenges you face in the sport.

As of this writing, the NPMA member race books received permission to book the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks in-house. If history repeats itself, a deal will be struck by Friday and everyone will rejoice, until the next negotiation. 

I spoke with Art Manteris, Vice President of Race & Sports for Las Vegas’ local resort chain, Station Casinos. They are the market share leader and dominant player in the state’s pari-mutuel industry. 

“We take racing very seriously,” said Manteris. “Not only do we have a great players’ reward program, but we’ve reinvested in our sportsbooks with high resolution screens, interactive personal terminals (IPT’s), and a race book app that contains video race replays.” 

When I asked Manteris, who is also on the NPMA committee, specifically about the Derby dispute, he said: “We hope to resolve the matter and give guests the products they want and deserve.

“A healthy and thriving Nevada race industry is everyone’s goal. Our relationship with NYRA and the California tracks has been great.”

If a pari-mutuel deal isn’t struck before the weekend, Manteris was a bit giddy about the prospect of booking bets. 

“There are very few of us in the bookmaking community who actually booked horse bets back in the day.,” he said. “I started at the Fremont in 1978. From there I went to the Stardust. We booked horses in Nevada the old fashioned way up till 1990.” 

Given the in-house booking, I asked Manteris about the inherent risk in that Derbies can sometimes produce monstrous prices. He said, “We will pay full track odds on win, place and show bets. We will also book exactas, quinellas, trifectas and the Oaks/Derby daily double.”

The limits on exotic payouts at Stations properties will be 150-1 on exactas, quinellas and the Oaks-Derby Daily Double and 500-1 on trifectas. 

What those outside of Nevada may not know is that as horse playing consumers, we cannot participate on ADW (advance-deposit wagering) platforms such as TVG or Twin Spires. These companies provide rebates and the ability for a player to travel and wager outside of your home state. Arguments for or against this in Nevada also make for an entirely different column.

A welcome piece of Nevada-related horse racing news is that the Gaming Control Board is moving closer to approving “same wallet” funds. This would allow race and sports bettors to comingle their gambling dollars for either activity on the apps. 

“This will give us the ability to cross market and customers won’t have to change their seats,” Manteris said.  

If I were to exercise wishful thinking (tough this year), the parties will strike an 11th-hour deal and we’ll be betting the entire Friday and Saturday Churchill Downs cards. Manteris makes the line 3-1 against a deal but said the yes is a “live ‘dog.” 

Yet these last-minute agreements every few years are nearly as grating as the $5 foot-long jingle from Subway. Although in all fairness, they understand customers’ desires quite well. 

When I do bet on Saturday, regardless if it’s pari-mutuel or traditionally booked, it will be on Honor A.P. His pedigree is made for this race and trainer John Shirreffs knows how to get the great ones ready. 

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