New machines get low Beyer

Jan 25, 2005 12:13 PM

Concerned that new racetrack attendees are intimidated by the pari-mutuel process, Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) has sponsored the development of a wagering device that looks like a slot machine but makes it easier for fans to play the horses.

The machine, called the Horse Wizard, was developed by Andy Stronach, whose father, Frank Stronach, is the majority shareholder in MECA. And since MECA is the largest operator of horse tracks in North America, it followed that the Horse Wizard would be installed at these tracks.

The company, which spent between $15 million and $20 million to develop the machines, has already installed some at Santa Anita, Lone Star Park and Golden Gate Fields. The company also has placed them in a specially constructed room at Laurel Park for the current winter meeting.

The Horse Wizard was introduced at the 2003 Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Ariz., and shortly afterward was brought to Las Vegas where attempts were made to attract interest among some casino operators. The effort was unsuccessful.

Recently, the machines were introduced at the Turf Club, an off-track betting parlor in Fargo, N.D., where they are being tested under North Dakota state law that permits any wager using the Internet or other electronic means provided they comply with state law.

At Laurel, well-known horse handicapper and Washington Post columnist Andy Beyer reviewed the Horse Wizard’s operation with a very negative report. He found that the machines select the race to be played, not the player, and that the only wages accepted are $2 show or across-the-board bets of $2, $5, $10 or $20 denominations.

"Certainly, no one with even a slight interest in racing will waste his time at a device that doesn’t let him pick the race he wants to play and restricts him to betting, win place and show," he wrote in the Post.

He summed his experience by adding, "The Horse Wizard is an absurd innovation that will appeal to very few of Laurel’s patrons."