12/22/2014 12:05AM

Bergman: Horsemen need to take the reins

Suffolk OTB along with Nassau OTB in Long Island are both getting up to 1,000 VLTs.

It is somewhat perplexing to hear reaction to the awarding of three casinos in New York this past week and understand where the sport of harness racing stands on the subject, or for that matter why the state’s racetracks supported any amendment to the Constitution to legalize them.

More purposely, the arrival of the new casinos should help galvanize the racing industry to understand that getting awarded a new casino license is no more a sure thing than any 1-9 shot a $2 bettor wagers on.

Clearly more competition is on the horizon, especially in the metropolitan New York area where Nassau and Suffolk County OTBs will be offering 1,000 slot machines each in the very near future. With New York City OTB now defunct and the powers that be on Long Island steering whatever little attention they already had towards the racing product away to an easier and more lucrative business, trouble looms.

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Perhaps the time has come for local horsemen both Standardbred and Thoroughbred to truly consider sponsoring tele-theaters of their own to lure and hopefully expand gambling on the racing product. With no legitimate allies in the region and a strong daily racing product, there has to be concern as a large audience shifts away from racing.

Any kind of new marketing scheme devised by the racing industry has to entertain connecting with a new audience. While OTBs in many ways were not friendly towards a new and younger fan base, racing needs to find a younger demographic. Allowing others with varied interests to do the bidding of the horsemen puts all future generations at peril. The metropolitan New York area is now wide open for development of a few locations designed to attract horseplayers and sports fans.

Competition has increased in every state. If we’re getting what we wished for in the form of expanded casino or slot facilities, we are also cutting into our own market of gamblers. Failure to contend for the gambling dollar in the future will prove to be a huge mistake on the part of the racing game.

There are no sure things.

I didn’t get to look at the full list of companies vying for the four available New York State casino licenses. However, the fact that only three locations were chosen would seem to indicate that despite what looks to be a “sure thing” to increase revenue to the state and provide jobs, the committee itself wasn’t willing to gamble on a fourth location.

The laws of diminishing returns suggest that there is in fact a saturation point where there are simply not enough gamblers to go around. Clearly competition for the gaming dollar has increased in all neighboring states and those in the Empire State accept that the three Upstate casinos are not likely to draw that much interest from outside the region.

But if we’re betting on our future and not that of casinos, it’s time to become more engaged in the daily events that exclusively impact horsemen and those racing horses.

We need horsemen to get angry when large amounts of their own money is spent on marketing our sport and they don’t get the desired results.

First we must find the money and a workable marketing strategy.

Variety makes things interesting

The voting for Horse of the Year took an interesting turn in 2014, but in the end a deserving horse named J K She’salady was awarded the title.

Along the way the voting got so tight that there were surprisingly three horses named to title positions, as Sweet Lou garnered Pacer of the Year but lost out in mixed voting for Horse of the Year.

In a democracy everyone has a right to an opinion. In today’s society social media has expounded on the premise and given rise to a wide-range of experts whether knowledgeable or not. Speech is freer today than ever in our country and that’s a positive.

To the surprise of many, J K She’salady was not a unanimous choice for two-year-old pacing filly honors despite going undefeated in a spectacular season. This brought rise to some in the field to suggest that the lone voter should be banned from future participation in this contest.

Having some historical context in the voting for Horse of the Year through my age if not my experience, I can recall countless elections more than 30 years ago where the voting took unexpected turns that failed dramatically to resemble what actually took place on the racetrack.

For one, many of the voters then and perhaps now don’t spend that much of their time focused on all of the divisional races. The U.S. Harness Writers tried more than 20 years ago to correct that problem by offering “cheat sheets” in the way of statistics to all voters. In other words, the Writers themselves recognized that voters were ill informed and figured some statistics would help them make a theoretically educated decision.

Still, no matter how educated the voters become, it’s truly impossible to remove all bias from any election. Whether it’s voting for a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, bias runs strong throughout our society. Many people truly do not have their own opinion but they strongly share what they learn through other mediums as their personal belief.

So when an individual is so far off the track of what we consider normal thinking, the normal ones want to exclude the radicals.

That’s where I feel we all must draw the line. As we’ve learned through this year’s voting and many other ballots in the past, drawing perfect conclusions where everyone agrees is not an easy thing to accomplish. It is also not necessarily that important.

From a gambling point of view it’s always vital that we have bettors with varied points of view, specifically when looking at a race. Actually it’s what makes gambling on horse racing unique. So let’s all applaud those with different perspectives, life would be more boring without them.


Pat More than 1 year ago
Have said from Day One that casino money is the death knell of racing. What happens the first time there's a budget crunch in Albany and the question is: do they fund the schools or racing purses from casino monies. When that happens watch how quickly all these harness tracks around the state shutter their doors. Followed closely by two of the Thoroughbred tracks. The day is coming. The question is when.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Put the facts out there let the public know what the takeout is on all forms of gambling horses ,slots, table games any and all . How about a feature race each day at all tracks that has no takeout . Make parking cheaper programs less expensive all track related services cheaper . Players go to the casino because parking is free programs are complimentary to players like myself free drinks all day if you want . Race tracks need to wake up .You can't take advantage of people and expect them to come every day.
Marvin Friedman More than 1 year ago
Once the racinos divest themselves of their partnership with the horsemen,and that day is coming, both harness and thorobread tracks will need to find a way to stand alone on their own merits.Given the state of the game ,this may be impossible. But I believe there are a few answeres to prevent a shakeout that will leave all but the strongest as survivors.My interest is somewhat self serving because my home track ,Del Park , could be in jeopardy.To lose an historic landmark of our state would be heartbreaking. So that being said, what's needed among track operators is simple cooperation. A national commissioner , like every other major sport would be a great start.Uniform medication rules , non competitive dates , which would lead to larger fields. This person would have the authority to hand out suspensions that would be served immediately, and not at the choosing of the offender.cleaning up the game would be paramount.Finnaly , try to get more fans in the seats, this may be wishful thinking , but anyone who ever experienced the roar that goes up as the field turns for home is a fan for life.... It happened to me
racetrackandy More than 1 year ago
It's about the Gambling. Until Horse Racing sends home more winners and creates a class of professional Gamblers the Sport will keep shrinking. The takeout is way way too high especially on high churn wagers that keep people in the game. Once that happens you will have "word of mouth" marketing which is the best type and guess what? It's free.
Frank More than 1 year ago
I'm laughing at this piece -- Do you people even read what you write -- I know you don't practice what you preach. You (news media including DRF news) are the biggest hypocrites on the planet. You banned me from posting comments on here because you don't agree with my view. That is why DRF and other news medias are going out of business. You know longer have the power to relay just your hidden agenda views and ideas. This made me feel good because it shows what a hypocrite DRF news really is -- just like our liberal news media machine. As a 40+ yr horseplayer - I boycott DRF and only use Brisnet now -- converting as many horseplayers as I can also do this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would like to see the next generation of NY Lottery terminals enabled to accept racing wagers. There is one on every corner. Open up the game to the entire state and then begin promotional activities. Mike L
btr10000 rd More than 1 year ago
The windfall of slot money inflating the purses at Yonkers is only good for horsemen. This new found money separate from betting handle is temporary. Do Yonkers management really want people to bet their product? Someday soon when slot money goes down they will wish they did give some focus on the betting patron. Yonkers needs to change purse splits, emphasing WIN 70%. Reduce percentage for 2nd and 3rd. Until then there is no reason to bet Yonkers. It is an inside game where you only need to run 2nd or third once in a while to make a living. You can change the splits now and let people know. I think you will see more handle. If slot money goes down or away, you can change the splits back to old ones. RD
Delroy Brower More than 1 year ago
Harness racing need to distribute the purse the same way they do in the flats .60% to the winner , 20% to 2nd and 12% to third. Drivers should also get paid 10.% like the flats. At least in stakes race. Why should a driver who pilot the winner of a million dollar purse take home 1/2 as much as the jockey who wins a race with a similar dollar purse. The driver actually make 1/3 that of the flat based on the purse distribution structure. In flats a $1mil purse $600,000 to the winner and $60k to the jockey. The same purse in harness race $500,000 to the winner and $25k to the jockey. Its not fair I would be pissed since they both take the same risk and work just as hard. The owners and trainers also pay the same vet bills and medication for their horses . I am sure the horse feed is the same for both standard and thoroughbred . The tracks probably charge the same to rent stall space and use the training centers. Harness men pay the same to truck their horses. Horsemen should wake up and demand equal pay.Who is the money going to. Yingras won $17 mil in purse and Burke $28 mil in purse yet they both take home half as much as the guys in throughbred. These guys put in more time just to accumulate those statistic. Ron burke sent out five times as many horses as Pletcher did when his horses made $28 mil which mean he spent more time at the track and he is paying more assistants since he races all over. I don't begrudge them . I respect them even more than the flats guy since they run for smaller purses except in some major stakes races and must work twice or thrice as hard sending out 5 times as many horses and driving four times as many horses in some cases and only the very elite drivers make any where near what an average no talent jockey makes winning overnight races at Aqueduct.. . Most top tier drivers to accumulate any money drives bot night and day 6 days a week. They work twice as hard and make 1/2 as much. I sometime wonder how they survive. No wonder they cheat. Driver makes chump change even when they win a race you have to wonder sometime do they actually bet against themselves and collect more than if they drove to win. To eliminate or cut down on the temptation to cheat pay the trainers and driver same as the flat especially for purses under $10k. The driver of such a race take home$250. A jockey winning a $10k purse take home $600. Something is wrong here drivers especially the better ones knows the competition. He can drive for second and use two formidable10/1 shots on top and easily pick up two to three time as much as winning the race. The owner is the loser. Same could go for the trainer. He could send a horse out who is not race ready but base on his past performance the public will bet him heavily while he is in the race to tour the track or have a public workout at bettors expense. So what, he pops next week at 20/1 moving up in class and going from the 1 to 7 hole. Driver and trainer collect at the window to make up for the small purse and we curse at them. But do the same thing the very next race. I see horses who look as sure as death and taxes not show up and it makes me wonder. I scratch my head and ask how does this horse win from the seven when he shows nothing against less as the favorite from an inside post. This may not happen but I wonder. There is no more Walter Case out there riding for the $2 better who tries on every horse. Help us gambler by paying the guys what they are worth and reduce the temptation to cheat. We need more trainers like Burke and Pena who when they send out horses you can bet with some degree of confidence that this horse is in the race to compete. All we should have to do is handicap him against the competition. Too many times we see horse going parked or racing on the rim a long way from bad post then you bet him next time out from an inside post and watch the driver not come to the gate, take back at the start make a brief 1st over bid and call it a day when you use him as a single on all exotic bets. Maywood is notorious for this. It is the only Harness track that I play where there is absolutely no predictable gate drivers on a live horse that you can bet with confidence only hope he leaves the gate.Every Track has at leat one gate driver . Northfield Park Merriman and Wrenn, Yonkers Brennan , Sears , Bartlett., just about everybody. Same for the Meadowlands and so on. Want to pack the stands have the drivers leave and protect positions when they can like they used to at the Meadowlands and still do. Call up drivers like they used to and have them explain they drives like they used to at both Yonkers and the Meadowlands and if necessary do like they used to at Yonkers just quietly ask the drivers to take their business else where and watch the fans return. Also more advetisement on TV like they used to at Yonkers Raceway with free betting vouchers and other giveaways on slow nights. People in general love the word free parking & adm.