Archive for wagering

Gaming Decisions Dating Back to 1999 Doomed Hollywood

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Matt Hegarty of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Losing bet on gaming doomed historic track

When Hollywood Park closes its doors for good Sunday, it will become the inevitable financial casualty of two bets reaching back to 1999. Those wagers worked out well for the two companies that tied their money to the track – a perverse turn of events considering the gaping hole the track’s closing will leave on the national racing landscape and the track’s deep history.

Hollywood Park was first targeted for a big payoff by Churchill Downs Inc., which bought the track in 1999 as part of a national expansion that had two goals: acquiring simulcast signals and planting stakes in potential casino-gambling markets. Six years later, however, frustrated by the state’s opposition to expanding casino gambling beyond Native American reservations, Churchill unloaded the track – at a $120 million markup from the price it paid.

The buyer in 2005 was a real-estate company, Bay Meadows Land Company, controlled by a California Democratic businessman with deep ties to the state’s legislature, Terry Fancher. His company, too, was betting on getting slot machines or casino games at the track, but unsuccessful efforts supported by Fancher and the rest of the California racing industry to improve Hollywood’s chances at reaping the rewards of expanded gambling failed miserably in the next three years.

Then the real-estate market collapsed.

That collapse was the only reason Hollywood Park held on until 2013. With the track located on valuable real estate, with quick access to nearby LAX and the city’s ports, Hollywood Park’s owners kept it operating solely because razing the facility and redeveloping the land wasn’t prudent until the real-estate market recovered. What’s more, it’s become apparent since a referendum failed in 2007 that the state has no interest in giving racetracks slot machines, and so Hollywood’s owners are finally cashing in their chips for the lucrative world of retail and housing development.

That reality might be off-putting to many local racing fans and historians, but the simple fact is that real-estate developers look at one crucial statistic in gauging the worth of a property: profit per square foot. Hollywood Park sits on a lot of square feet, 238 acres worth of sprawling property that includes a backside generating far more expenses than revenues and a spacious infield unused but by birds, a pretty park no one can picnic in, with value only as a backdrop for photographs that rarely make the papers these days.

Meanwhile, handle nationally on racing went into a free fall at the start of the 2008 economic meltdown after years of stagnation or small declines, although it has stabilized over the past two years. Handle at Hollywood’s summer meeting in 2008 averaged $11.8 million a day, a number that declined to $9.1 million in 2012, while average handle at its 2008 fall meeting was $8.3 million, below its 2012 fall meet average of $8.9 million. At the same time, real-estate values have been steadily creeping up.

“From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 autumn meet is completed,” said the track’s president, Jack Liebau, when finally announcing the closing earlier this year.

Both Churchill Downs and Bay Meadows Land Company made no secret of their goals for Hollywood – slot machines. Churchill decided to bow out as the result of a breathtaking miscalculation by the state’s racing constituents in 2004 to support an industry-drafted referendum that would have forced Native American casinos to contribute 25 percent of their gambling revenues to the state and to local governments. Under the language of the referendum, if a single Native American casino refused to make the payments within 90 days of the referendum passing, the state’s racetracks and card rooms would get a backdoor right to operate as many as 30,000 slot machines.

The referendum was shot down by 84 percent of the voters. In defeat, the racing industry came off as petty and vindictive, eroding support for their efforts for expanded gambling while simultaneously serving up a stark reminder of the unbreakable political clout of the Native American casino lobby.

Frustrated by the vote and bowing to reality, Churchill reached its agreement to sell the track to Fancher’s company in 2005 for $260 million. Tom Meeker, Churchill’s chief executive when the company purchased the track for $140 million in cash from a company controlled by R.D. Hubbard, said after reaching the deal that the state “seems to have forsaken racing,” a reference to the company’s inability to get any authorization for casino gambling. That comment probably didn’t endear the state racing industry to lawmakers, either.

The sale allowed Churchill to retire nearly all of its long-term debt and post a $72 million profit for the quarter. Hollywood’s average handle when Churchill acquired the track in 1999 was $10.38 million for the summer meet and $9.66 million for the fall meet. When the company sold the track in 2005, those numbers were $10.42 million (little change) and $8.94 million (a 7.4 percent decline), respectively.

Fancher picked up right where Churchill left off, even if his language was coded in the type of business-speak that is familiar to anyone who has watched a racetrack set the stage for lobbying efforts to get slot machines. During a conference call to discuss the purchase of the track, Fancher said: “[We] will seek alternative uses for the current racetrack site, in collaboration with the city of Inglewood, in the event that our best efforts are unable to improve the underlying economics of the horse racing industry and stem the tide of horses leaving the state.”

Then he issued a warning to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It would be tragic to see racing fall off the landscape in California. Governor, you can do something about it.”

Fancher and supporters of expanded gambling wasted no time in pursuing their goals, working behind the scenes to try to strike a deal to bring slots to the state’s tracks. Those efforts failed to bear any fruit. In 2007, a referendum that would have nullified the state’s agreements with Native American tribes – and opened the door to slots at tracks – failed nearly as spectacularly as the 2004 vote. Efforts to revive the issue have fallen flat ever since.

Fancher had vowed to keep Hollywood up and running as a racetrack only until 2008, but any plans for redeveloping the property then faded in the wake of the dramatic pullback in real-estate investment when credit and land values collapsed as part of the recession. Just in case anyone had any lingering confidence in Hollywood’s future as a racetrack as a result of the delay, however, the owner quickly put those hopes to rest when Bay Meadows Race Course, the company’s other racetrack holding, located in an industrial area south of San Francisco, was torn down late in 2008 and promptly redeveloped.

The larger concern for the racing industry is whether Hollywood’s fate will be shared by other similar racetracks. While crosstown circuit member Santa Anita is probably safe from redevelopment over the short run due to a combination of its billionaire owner’s ability to absorb losses and the property’s few viable redevelopment options in a tony location already crowded with retail and housing, other tracks without expanded gambling will face the same pressures over the long term unless they receive the right to operate slot machines.

With casino-type gambling reaching into nearly every nook and cranny of the continental United States, tracks without gaming have now become few and far between. Tracks in Illinois, Arizona, and Washington fit the bill. Kentucky, surrounded by casino states, obviously stands out, but only one Kentucky track, Turfway Park, is in dire financial straits. Churchill has the cash-cow Kentucky Derby; Keeneland is a not-for-profit that has consistently posted record attendance and handle figures despite the recession (and has sales revenue to fall back on); and both Kentucky Downs and, to a lesser extent, Ellis Park are reaping revenues from Instant Racing machines, devices that so nearly resemble slot machines that they are hardly distinguishable from the real things.

But in Texas and Virginia, two states where casino gambling seems a longshot at best, the future is grim. Tracks in those states, each with its own long equine pedigree, opened in places where racing seemed a sure thing, and at a time when the national gambling expansion was beginning to carry racetracks with it to the land of riches. But that has changed, seemingly irreversibly. Unless racing finds a way to resurrect its fortunes – and wean itself from the slot-machine subsidies that have so distorted the economic and political incentives shaping its present and future – more tracks will go the way of Hollywood Park, white elephants whose once best uses expired long ago.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Advertisements

What Does The Horse Player Survive to Play the Game????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jay Cronley of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Horse Racing Story of the Year

What’s the story of the year in horse racing?

Slot machine profits rule the industry, there’s one possibility: we rely on gambling junkies thinking maybe next time will be their time and pushing the buttons and spinning the dials around the clock.

The failure of “Luck” is another important story.

“Luck” was the HBO series about horse race people possessed by the demon that suggests everybody is due tomorrow. This series was over-baked, freaks as art, that uppity Hollywood notion. But it starred Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, name another show that could do that.

Horses died in the filming of “Luck,” that was a wrap.

The demise of the series figures to expand a void in horse racing literature.

A lack of a unified regulatory and policing policy is a continuing horror story. Horse racing drug and cheating policy is reminiscent of a scene out of something like “Paper Moon,” a moonshine hustler speeding all-out for the rickety bridge that separates one state from another — hit the middle of the river and you’re in another jurisdiction and home free. What’s legal in one state isn’t in another. Kick a big-time trainer out of a track in the sticks? Maybe after the offense after the next one? Appeals can last so long, a trainer alleged to have drugged a horse can be racing that animal’s offspring before some hearing, which is apt to be postponed.

My top story for 2012 is the horse player.

He and she had to survive the following:

Late money aimed at pulling fast one.

Early money aimed at pulling a fast one.

Odds that change when the horses are halfway down the back side.

Hidden workouts.

Drugged horses.

Drugged others.

Horrifically incompetent rides.

Hurt horses that are permitted to race.

Pathetic steward decisions.

Sneaky stewards.

Tellers who can’t count.

Tellers who talk too much.

Out and out cheaters.

Hygiene — you think the floor at the dollar movie is bad, look down at the simulcast joint.

The honestly impossible horses winning races — the victor in Remington Park’s chief two-year old race this weekend paid $259.

The questionable impossible horses winning races — last, last, last, last, next to last, last, first.

Drunks.

Irate spouses and loved ones.

Trendy touts.

The IRS.

Obvious bets.

Hot tips.

Broken glass in the parking lot.

A lack of free stuff.

Betting machines that don’t work.

Guards who shouldn’t have guns having guns.

Pitiful picks by so-called professional handicappers.

The deep fried Special.

Inside info.

And guess what, we’re still here.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Discipline and Wagering

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jeremy Plonk of Xpressbet…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Work and Play

All work and no play makes for a boring existence; but does working and playing the ponies ever really work out for you in the end? As someone who reads blogs on an online wagering site such as Xpressbet, my guess is that you probably mix in some of your favorite hobby in-between the day’s other labors.

I work in the industry, therefore, most days mean playing the ponies almost has to co-exist with working. For the past 20 years I’ve learned to juggle the two, and many of the lessons have been hard ones. When I used to work at the track and literally have a self-service machine in our office, discipline was a dirty word. Now that it’s a work-from-home and play-from-home co-existence discipline may be even more at the fore of horseplaying skills.

I’m proud to say that the single skill I’ve developed over the decades that has served my finances best has been discipline. Being disciplined doesn’t mean you have to bet less. In fact, that’s where my most rewarding (literally) approach has evolved. It just means you have to bet fewer races.

Let’s say you bet with the average $200-$300 bankroll on a given racing card or day of horseplay. Once upon a time, I promise you that I would have made 20-30 wagers in a full day, mostly in the $10-$20 range, with that type of bankroll. It’s an uphill battle and strategy that almost cannot fulfill itself for a few reasons.

First, you’re simply playing too many races. The numbers will catch up with anyone in any vocation. A baseball player may have a dream first-half of the season and hit .354 going to the All-Star break. But he’ll wind up at .320 by season’s end even if he’s among the very best hitters in the MLB. If he’s not a star, that .320 won’t even be on the radar when his baseball card is printed the following offseason.

Second, you’re not giving yourself a chance to hit someone of major significance. At $10-$20 per race, unless you’re one-punching a cold combination as my buddy Dick Jerardi likes to say, you’re most likely playing around in multiple combinations that add up to 10 or 20. When you are correct, you’re looking at $1 exactas, dime supers or $5 to win and place kind of situations. Those are fine and dandy; don’t get me wrong. But you must string many of those together during a day to add back up to $200-$300 and hit your break-even point. Can you seriously hit five $1 exactas that pay $50 apiece in 20 plays? That’s a fantastic bout of handicapping and horseplay, and you’ve managed to only break even.

Being more disciplined and still maintaining my normal, comfortable daily bankroll, I’ve given myself chances to have banner days with no more outlay than the norm. Take that same $200-$300 bankroll and consider the following strategy.

Bet 40% of your day’s bankroll on the race or sequence (double, pick 3, pick 4) you like the most. Take another 40% of that daily budget and play on the race or sequence you like second-best. And finally, use the remaining 20% to divide up among action plays that help you enjoy a fuller day, reduce boredom, and to avoid that dastardly feeling of, “Damn it, I liked that one and didn’t bet it because I was sitting here trying to be disciplined!”

With $200 for your budget, that means you’re going to play $80 on one race, $80 on a second race and then nickel and dime the other $40 on a series of $2, $4, $6 kind of bets. Even at $6 per race, that gives you six more races to play for $36. Now you’ve managed to bet 8 races on the day for $196, under your $200 budget even if you don’t hit anything and have winnings to churn. And you’ve moved yourself from the small-time bettor to the $50 minimum window like the old days.

It doesn’t take a huge bankroll to play like the big boys. It only takes discipline. Try this strategy a few times and give yourself a serious shot at some big money a few times each day vs. nickel and diming your way to a life of treading water. Because when it comes to mixing work and play, you’ll find that a couple of big plays per day is all you have the time and need for anyway.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

The Internet: Made For Horse Racing?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jay Cronley of ESPN.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Home Sweet Home Page

The best sports moment of the weekend was not Danica Patrick going wall to wall; it was not some football guy in muscle tights scoring against thin air at the combine; it was not Pete Weber pinning Jason Belmonte (at bowling); it was not the match play golf finals watched live on the course by about the same number of people attending the Podunk Open; it was not LeBron James refusing to take the last shot in the NBA All Star Game; it was not the fish scales at the bass tournament (the weigh-in).

All these events received considerable mainstream media attention.

The best sporting events were the two Kentucky Derby prep races: the Risen Star in New Orleans won by the Godfather, El Padrino, by one full nose after a tooth-and-nail stretch run versus a speed demon on a fast track; and the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, devoured by probable Derby favorite Union Rags, who made a pool 1 futures bet at 7-1 look fat as he came down the stretch like a go cart at the soap box derby, easily winning under a fingertip ride.

There was not a word or an instant of film coverage of these two races on my local TV stations, not a mention in print in the hometown newspaper.

Why is major thoroughbred horse racing so often relegated to small-type “other” headings, like the makers of holes-in-one at the local municipal courses?

There’s no explaining most of it.

Big-time horse racing has great TV ratings, always underscored by the fact that the best fans are at the tracks on race day, not home with a Nielson book.

And horse racing fans have cash. True, it might not last long. But there is usually more where that came from. And the survivors of the handicapping games usually have more cash to spend than, say, college kids filling out 75 free college hoop brackets.

Local newspaper coverage is lacking in horse race coverage because local newspapers no longer have the paper to escort to the garbage much more than perch guts. Radical newspaper space restrictions push horse race coverage to the bone pile.

Local TV sports looks like the old FedEx commercials in which talking fast was the pitch. A typical local sports report lasts about four minutes, less if there’s a cloud and the weather coverage needs to borrow another minute.

Horse racing attendance is good at the spas, the vacation sites such as Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., where purses are being raised faster than beer cups. Slots in the sticks enable mom-and-pop stables to stay open and have plugs running for $30,000. Slots may not be a cure-all, but they’ll do until Social Security folds.

Yet national horse race coverage is comprised mostly of the Triple Crown races and the Breeder’s Cup in the fall. So be it: We have the Internet!

Sure, the Internet is populated by a fair share of schemers and scammers, shysters and suckers, liars, cheats and con artists.

But it’s perfect for horse players.

And here we are, just a click or a few away from an unlimited world of entertainment and excitement, and dreams that are more possible than most.

Horse race writing is the best in sports. Always has been, always will be.

Why?

We’re a heartbeat from the most intense emotions, miraculous victory or abject horror.

Emotional writing makes for good reading. Length is not an issue.

Live races and replays are all over the Internet. There is horrific handicapping advice galore. There’s nothing like an array of bad picking to clear the way to victory.

We’re a click away from the feature race at a major track, several clicks from a tout of a guaranteed loser, a few clicks from some actual literature, four clicks from alleged inside info galore, and reactions from some of the better anonymous nicknames around.

Possibly there’s not enough hate in horse racing to be out there on a more regular basis.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Tracks, Horseplayers Differ on Importance of Takeout

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from John Grupp of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Pa. horse racing: Not a sure bet

Imagine placing a $100 bet at the blackjack table. The dealer reaches over, grabs $30 of your wager and then deals the cards.

If you win, the profit is $70. If you lose, your $100 is gone.

Sound appealing? When it comes to thoroughbred or harness racing in Pennsylvania, those are the odds many bettors are working against.

Despite having one of the healthiest, slot-fueled equine racing industries in the nation, Pennsylvania tracks continue to have some of the highest takeout rates in the business, according to figures compiled this month by the Horseplayers Association of North America.

The takeout rate is the percentage of a betting pool that a racetrack keeps to defray costs — such as race purses, operational costs and taxes — and to benefit the owners.

“The player who is betting $25,000 a year at the (off-track betting parlor), a lot of them are avoiding Pennsylvania tracks like the plague,” HANA executive Dean Towers said.

Penn National outside Harrisburg has the highest trifecta and superfecta takeouts among 67 North American thoroughbred tracks at 31 and 30 percent. Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park) is right behind with a 30 percent takeout on both bets.

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County has a 35 percent takeout on trifecta bets, the maximum allowed by state law. According to HANA, that is the highest takeout of any bet at any track in the nation — harness or thoroughbred.

“I’m really depressed about this,” said Bob Zanakis, 56, of Canonsburg, a long-time Meadows bettor. “They are making more money on slots, (so) they should lower the (takeout).”

The cost of business

When bettors wager on a race, all of the money goes into a pool. Bettors who pick the winners share the money from the pool — minus the takeout.

If the takeout is 20 percent for the trifecta — in which the bettor picks the first three finishers in a race — and there is $10,000 in the betting pool, only $8,000 will be paid out for winning tickets.

Pennsylvania Director of Racing Daniel Tufano said the takeout rates are the cost of doing business at the state’s six tracks: Penn National, Parx Racing and Presque Isle in Erie for thoroughbred racing and the Meadows, Pocono Downs and Harrah’s in Chester for harness racing.

“That’s basically their revenue,” he said.

Takeout rates are submitted by each track to the state racing commission, which can approve or deny them. Tufano said rates have stayed fairly consistent in Pennsylvania, although two years ago the Meadows raised its trifecta takeout from 29 to 35 percent.

Takeout rates across the country typically vary from 15 to 25 percent. In Pennsylvania, the takeout includes a state tax of between 1.5 and 2.5 percent.

“If the takeout rates get too low, the tracks will lose money on those wagers,” Meadows president Mike Jeannot said. “We’ve lowered them and watched what happens, and there’s never been any evidence that lowering the takeout increases the (betting) handle.”

The Meadows isn’t a bettors’ graveyard. While the trifecta retention rate is the worst in the nation, the track collects 20 percent on all other exotics, the best value in Pennsylvania and competitive with the top U.S. harness tracks.

But there are wildly fluctuating takeouts on some bets in Pennsylvania. Many of them have profit-sapping grabs that give even the most astute handicapper barely much of a chance at getting ahead.

� Pocono Downs has trifecta and superfecta takeouts of 35 percent, matching the highest of any bet in the land.

� Penn National has the highest trifecta takeout (31 percent) among the 67 North American thoroughbred tracks. Parx Racing is the next highest at 30 percent.

� The two also have a nation-worst takeout of 30 percent for superfecta bets (picking the top four finishers in order). By comparison, Kentucky tracks Churchill Downs and Keeneland stand at 19 percent for both bets.

� Only four tracks in North America have a higher Pick 3 takeout than Pennsylvania’s thoroughbred tracks (26 percent), and three of them are in Canada. (Calder in Florida is the other.) Penn National has the highest Pick 4 takeout (28 percent) in the United States. (To win the Pick 3 or Pick 4, a bettor must correctly choose the winner in three or four consecutive races.)

Impact at the track

The high takeout rates come as the industry has flourished with the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, which uses a portion of slot profits to benefit the equine business. Ten percent of all slot revenue in Pennsylvania goes to the horse tracks — $200.6 million last year.

A study released by the Pennsylvania Racing Equine Industry in June shows the growth has created 8,760 ongoing jobs with a total economic impact of more than $875 million from 2006, when slots were introduced, through the end of 2009.

The average purse per race in Pennsylvania thoroughbred ($25,100) and harness ($15,300) racing is ranked seventh and third in the nation. The handle at Pennsylvania tracks — the total amount bet from all outlets, in-state, out-of-state and call-a-bet — has increased each of the past five years.

“We have discussions from time to time whether lower takeout rates will attract bettors,” said Sal DeBunda, the president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association, which represents the horsemen at Parx Racing. “To be honest, I have not heard a lot of complaining from our bettors. The payoffs are big enough that the bettors don’t really realize what (the takeout) is.”

Industry experts believe a majority of bettors, especially casual ones, aren’t deterred by takeout rates. A trip to the track or off-track facility is more about entertainment, they say. If the trifecta takeout at the big New York tracks is a profit-gouging 26 percent, so be it.

“If you are going to the track trying to make a fortune, find something else,” Tufano said. “If you are looking solely to win at gambling, there are better options.”

Odds-wise, horse racing trails the field. Among casino games, blackjack has a house edge of less than 1 percent. Craps is 1.5 percent, roulette 5.3 percent and slot machines about 10 percent. The lowest “house edge” on any horse race in the United States is about 15 percent. But because the bettors are playing against each other — not against the house — and because some exotic bets can pay thousands of dollars on a $2 ticket, they are willing to accept the high takeout.

“That’s the great thing about wagering on horse racing,” Tufano said. “You think you are smarter than anyone else.”

Bettors up in arms

But some big-time players are fighting back. When the California tracks this year raised their takeout rates on all exotic (multi-horse) wagers from 20 percent to 22.68 percent or 23.68 percent, there were calls for a national boycott.

The total handle at Santa Anita Park was down more than $77 million from last year’s meet — an average of more than $106,000 per race. Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley was down nearly $23.8 million — roughly $48,000 per race.

“If you are moving the opposite way, the bettors are going to hammer you,” Towers said. “They are going to be up in arms.”

When Tampa Bay Downs this year lowered takeout rates from 19 to 18 percent for its Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick 6 bets, its handle increased more than $11.7 million.

“Obviously, the bettors reacted very favorably,” said Margo Flynn, the track’s vice president of marketing. “They were overwhelmingly supportive.”

In the 2011 HANA ratings, which rank tracks based on their takeout and other fan-friendly factors, the Pennsylvania thoroughbred tracks received poor grades. Presque Isle (45th), Parx Racing (56th) and Penn National (57th) ranked in the bottom third of the 67 North American tracks. Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester, W.Va., was 28th.

Nearly 65 percent of the participants in a 2009 HANA survey were “extremely concerned” with pari-mutuel takeout rates, the highest among nine issues in the survey.

“Ultimately, they are getting less value for their dollar,” Flynn said. “It’s that much harder to win, and anybody who is a regular patron should have a concern for the takeout.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

American Morally Accepting of Gambling, But Can Horse Racing Position Itself to Take Advantage???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from John Pricci of HorseRaceInsider.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

America’s Ready For Horse Play

Even in this regressive society, it’s OK to promote gambling. That’s the sense one gets from reading a poll on morality, a study the Gallup organization calls its 2011 Values and Beliefs poll.

In a telephone canvas of 1,018 U.S. adults, with a 95 percent confidence level based on a sampling error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points, three age groups were asked how they viewed moral acceptability in seven categories.

The poll’s results ring true in areas you’d expect. The youngest age group, adults 18 to 34, were much more liberal in their views on morality when compared to adults 55 and older. The third group, a demographic most coveted by business and advertisers, were adults 35 to 54.

On the controversial subject of abortion, for instance, results were exactly what you would expect with one out of three older adults believing abortion is morally unacceptable, only 34% believing it would be acceptable.

One might surmise that so-called middle-aged Americans would have a significant edge over disapproving young adults when it came to abortion, but the spread was a narrow 42% to 44% of those believing abortion is morally unacceptable.

Another category running to form were the views adults had on pornography, the least morally acceptable of the remaining six categories which included divorce, pre-marital sex, embryonic stem-cell research, gay/lesbian relations, and gambling.

Pornography was morally acceptable to less than half the population, running straight along age demographic lines: 42% of young adults, 29% middle-aged adults, and only 19% of the 55-and-over set believe pornography is OK.

Premarital sex was surprising in that even older Americans don’t believe it’s verboten any longer with, from youngest to oldest, 71%, 58% and 53%, a clear majority, believing it’s still a moral imperative to wait until the honeymoon.

It should surprise no one that the 43rd President of the United States was in the minority on the subject of embryonic stem-cell research. Americans believe this type of study is acceptable by margins of, oldest to youngest, 62%, 59% and 66%.

With more than half of America’s couples ranking among the formerly married, it came as no surprise that divorce is the least objectionable of all the 1950s mores in the modern era–except if you’re a politician, of course.

Age is no factor when it comes to divorce, it being considered morally acceptable to 72% of the 18-34 group, 66% to the 35-54s and 70% of those 55 and older, the last margin seemingly high. But we saved the best for last.

Of the seven categories as delineated by the Gallup organization, gambling ranked second only to divorce a moral acceptability.

If these 1,018 adults are representative of all Americans, then the racing industry is missing a bet by not promoting the gambling aspect of the sport.

Gambling is not a moral issue to 59% of older Americans, a majority you would expect because it’s become an accepted form of entertainment for those most inclined to have disposable income, even in this economy.

Two out of three middle-aged citizens don’t consider gambling a moral hazard, either, acceptable by a margin of 65% to 35%.

Likely owing to the popularity of poker, particularly Texas hold’em which, like handicapping horse races, is a game where skill and intellect can trump chance, young adults have no moral qualms with gambling by a wide margin, 71% to 29.

Much is made of the fact that takeout in hold’em is far less than that of horse racing, and that’s true, but at some point poker players have to risk their entire stake to win big. Not so at the races, yet racing never makes the argument.

In parimutuel betting, it’s the crowd that sets the price. The bettor can choose to play or not play. This is a huge advantage since until you place the wager, the outcome costs you nothing. there are no pools to seed via blinds big or small.

Chances are that the big hold’em winner will have much of his money in the pot, a situation in which he’s betting blindly by definition. A highly skilled handicapper can know more than the crowd, and even more than insiders who rely on the opinion of others.

Racing has done an awful job positioning its gambling vs. other games of chance. Worse, it’s never taken the time to educate the public on handicapping and betting in a studious manner.

As was stated in Tuesday’s piece on the new Racing Fan Advisory Council in Ne York, the NTRA pushed for the creation of a fan education component at racetracks back in 2005. Name one that did so.

Sorry, pre-race seminars have more to do with touting winners than educating fans: Teach the man to fish.

The industry never has taken fan education seriously enough to see it as a means to service existing customers and creating new ones.

Polls like this are encouraging news for the industry if it wishes to target the 35-54 demographic, still vital and in their prime earning years. So, too, the 21-to-34 set, young and looking for a new and exciting challenge.

Gambling–no matter how right wing-nuts try to control the message–is no longer considered taboo. The industry needs to know this, step up, and act with the courage of a Thoroughbred.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is Takeout the Key to California Racing’s Struggles???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of Inland Valley Daily Bulletin…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

TOC just doesn’t seem to get it

The guys and gals who comprise the Thoroughbred Owners of California may soon be receiving a huge thank-you note from the folks at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.

The TOC may not realize it, but it had a huge hand in Tampa Bay Downs’ 8 percent increase in all-sources handle for a 90-day record meet that wrapped up last Saturday.

A lot of large bettors who normally might have been wagering on California races turned to Tampa Bay Downs this year after a new bill in Sacramento, strongly supported by the TOC, raised the takeout on exotic bets as much as 3 percent and spurred a players’ boycott of the California tracks.

The biggest winner was Tampa Bay Downs, which lowered the takeout on its pick three, pick four, super high five and pick six from 19 to 18 percent and saw its business flourish during a time when others in the industry are blaming the economy for slumping numbers instead of looking in the mirror.

The officials at Tampa Bay Downs obviously get it – less (takeout) equals more (handle).

It’s a simple formula, really, but one the folks at the TOC seem to have trouble grasping.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of our season,” Tampa Bay Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in a statement. “Fans and horsemen alike enjoyed a relatively dry and warm winter here, which certainly helped us increase attendance and on-track handle.

“Overall, we credit our lower takeout, large fields, 18 percent more turf racing and greater access to the California market as key to our success, as well as a larger simulcast following nationwide.”

Large fields?

Whereas local bettors are stuck with more six- and seven-horse lineups than we can stomach, Tampa Bay’s field size increased 1.8 percent to 9.11 horses per race this meet.

Track management also rolled the dice and went with an 18.5 percent increase in turf races, which generally draw more horses, as a way to boost field sizes.

It all led to $30.4 million more in all-sources handle.

The boom in business also led track officials to raise purses in February, and they were able to do it without an increase in takeout like the one that hamstrung Santa Anita this past meeting.

Santa Anita president George Haines admitted on closing day of the Arcadia track’s meet that he would love to have had a low-takeout early exotic bet like the 50-cent pick five that Hollywood Park debuted on opening day of its spring-summer meet.

Unfortunately, the TOC didn’t see the need until it was too late for Santa Anita.

Now, Hollywood Park is reaping the rewards of an early pick five that has a 14 percent takeout and is quickly becoming the most popular bet in Southern California.

Want proof?

On Thursday, Hollywood Park had its first pick five and pick six carryovers of the season. Guess which one had the larger handle – the low-takeout pick five or the pick six, which includes a takeout of 23.86 percent?

Uh huh.

The pick five had a total handle, including a $107,487 carryover, of $907,117, compared to the pick six, which produced a handle of $655,774, including a carryover of $91,681.

There was $235,537 more bet into the pick five Thursday than the pick six, which is quickly taking a backseat to the new kid on the block.

As one longtime bettor wrote in a mass e-mail to industry officials: “It’s not rocket science yet it took how many months/years to get the (low-takeout pick five) put in? Good for Hollywood Park and everyone else that fought for this bet. I wonder how many CHRB board members and TOC board members get it? Lower the takeout and get on the right side of things for once.”

According to Equibase charts, Hollywood Park’s all-sources handle was down 8.4 percent through the first three weeks of the meet, and the total exotic handle showed a 10.8 percent decline from a year ago.

Hollywood Park’s numbers for all-sources handle would be down even more if not for the pick five, which has generated more than $2.7 million through the first 13 days of the meet – $352,750 more than pick six wagering.

The field sizes, which we were told would increase with the larger takeout, have shown a small decrease from 8 horses per race in 2010 to 7.72 – a 3.5 percent decline.

Yes, the TOC needs to wake up and admit that lower takeout means higher handle, which in turn leads to an increase in purses.

The folks at Tampa Bay Downs get it.

Let’s hope the TOC realizes the error of its ways soon, before we’re all betting Tampa Bay Downs when there’s no more racing in California.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?