Horse racing

Nov 23, 2010 7:06 AM

The Global Gaming Expo addressed horse racing’s declining popularity, producing a model for the Sport of Kings that keys into the poker explosion of the past 13 years.

Unfortunately the problem was right in front of the panel. Just over 40, in a room seating 180, attended the mid-morning seminar at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Horse racing interest to the average fan is basically the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.

The blueprint for recovery is there. Selling it is a whole other animal.

"There is a big disconnect between watching horse racing and understanding it," said Michael Calderone, CEO of Horse Racing Simulation. "We are in the age of video games. Education and technology can do for horse racing what it did for poker in 1997, what Madden did for the NFL and what took NASCAR into mainstream America."

Calderone believes history does repeat itself and his statistics are revealing.

"The average age of horse players is 50 and over, which is similar to what poker used to be," Calderone said. "Both are social events that need a venue to educate people on how to play to win. We found that 63 percent of people age 36 were playing video games compared to 50 percent watching movies in the last month."

Tony Fontaine, president of Pro Pick Racing, said horse racing needs a better way to make money than just adding slot machines to tracks.

"Slot machines bring in money, but haven’t increased the handle," Fontaine said. "Horse racing is a difficult sport to watch on television. We don’t know what to watch. Who knew about Blame before the Breeders’ Cup or which horses and jockeys to follow? People at tracks play slots, they’re not betting horses."

So how does this change? Enter the video game and cable TV market.

"HRTV and TVG have done a great job, but each is a single channel," said Todd Roberts, president of Roberts Communication Network. "RTN will be offering 80 channels that will show all the races at every major track in the country as well having channels for harness racing, greyhounds, jai-alai and handicapping shows 24 hours a day."

Hey, people laughed at ESPN when they launched a 24-hour sports programming channel and look where it’s gone. That’s not to say horse racing’s popularity can ever approach ESPN’s, but you can see where the thought process is headed.

"Distribution of RTN is in its infancy," Roberts said. "We’re mainly going through the Dish Channel at a cost of $50 a month. It’s also available through DIRECT TV. RTV was modeled from the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA networks). Choice sells."

Robert Holmes, president of Race U Win, said that the online industry is the way horse racing can survive.

"Horse racing is a $10 billion industry and online play is growing 17 percent annually," said Holmes, whose company has been in existence for only five months. "We are in the entertainment business and give the consumer an experience second to none."

Holmes, a former VP of Bet America, believes gambling in the U.S. is ageless and has stood the test of time.

"The challenges we face are money and gaining customer loyalty," Holmes said. "All of us on the panel are the small guys. The big fish like Magna and Churchill Downs don’t want us to succeed. We need to show the public that our plan can work."

If the demographics Holmes cites are accurate, horse racing does have a chance to be reborn.

"The average bettor is 35, male with three accounts and a college degree," Holmes said. "I think we can make a great living by attracting just 1-2 percent of the market."

Drawing more than 30 percent at a seminar would be a good start.

OTM’s Top 5 college plays (lines c/o Wynn)

Texas A&M -3 at Texas: As bad as Texas has played, getting 3 against A&M in Austin is a bargain. Horns finally showed life last week. TEXAS.

Colorado +20 at Nebraska: Colorado a perfect 2-0 since coaching change. Nebraska is winning, but on an 0-3 ATS slide. COLORADO.

S. Carolina -3 at Clemson: This isn’t Troy, but these Tigers aren’t Auburn either. Another big game for RB Marcus Lattimore. S. CAROLINA.

Iowa +15 at Minnesota: Nothing for Iowa to play for after heartbreaking loss to Ohio St. A win would be huge for Gophers in new home. MINNY. New Mexico +43 at TCU: The visiting Lobos opened the season losing 72-0 at Oregon. They can end it the same way. TCU.

last week                 NCAA             PCT

3-2                           22-17-1           56.4