04/27/2015 11:48AM

Bergman: Level playing field solves nothing

Yonkers Raceway
Harness tracks used to be packed with fans complaining about on-track shenanigans.

There’s this myth that abounds suggesting that great things can occur once there is a level playing field. The concept of equality is aligned with our sense of fairness and democracy, but it has nothing to do with capitalism.

Actually, it would seem more and more these days as the political clock turns towards 2016 and the moneyed set pushes for control of the playing field, that fairness and equality has nothing to do with power and ultimately success.

I’m always fascinated by those in power who are for the most part skilled in the idea of telling voters/people exactly what they want to hear. The idea of one for all and all for one is patriotic, but it has no place in a country that is run and powered by money, big money.

There has been a never-ending outcry that the problems with our sport stem from the perception that it is not balanced. At one time the crying emanated from the grandstand where players routinely tossed tickets to the floor and cursed the drivers. Now what passes for industry people tend to repeat in 24-hour news cycles that some trainers have taken over the game and tilted it in such a way that it has forced “honest” people to leave in droves.

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I kind of wonder what would have happened to this sport had the Internet been invented during a time when bettors had legitimate complaints about conduct on the racetrack?

But the idea that honest people are turned off by dishonest people would suggest that in America people run from competition and don’t fight back. Or for that part, citizens in this country don’t accept with open arms the concept that while all is not necessarily equal and fair, opportunity exists for everyone.

People in all walks of life look for edges and attempt to take advantage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re investing fortunes in politicians to get favorable legislation passed, looking for an inside tip on a stock or asking an owner whether he thinks his horse will win.

Success and achievement is not always honed with ethics or fairness. Many times smarter people that can grab an edge achieve greatness. Very often those who can shade the standards and find gray area between the black and white lines of a program page or a rulebook are the ones that do the best.

Ideally maybe it would be great if everyone started at the same exact position in life. That would truly be the only way a level playing field would be possible. But clearly in this sport and this country there is no going back to the beginning and retracing our steps (probably a bad idea if we did). The field has been set, as have the rules. No one person whether Czar, Dictator or President could change the capitalistic ideals we have become familiar with in the sport or in the country.

It’s never been about good guys versus bad guys or rich guys versus poor guys, or even honest guys versus dishonest guys. Labeling of individuals puts an unfair burden on the players in the game. Any bias leads to conceptions and misconceptions of people.

As someone who frequented the live harness races in the 70’s, it was quite common to hear the name of almost every harness driver followed by the words, “He’s a crook.” Even the biggest names, Hall of Famers now, couldn’t escape the wrath of those placing $2 wagers.

There was an intrinsic belief that “All” races were fixed by so many during that time. It wasn’t a matter of honest people leaving the sport because the dishonest were profiting. It was people eventually finding other places to gamble their money and hopefully lose less of it.

But make no mistake, gambling on racing in many circles is no different than any other form of capitalism, whether the playing field is level or not. Those with money and knowledge (or the last 4 letters of that word) seek to profit from those without either.

The problem with the level playing field concept is that it enlivens so many into a feeling of righteousness. Point fingers at anyone you like and call them a crook. It’s exactly what was going on in the grandstand in the 60’s and 70’s at harness tracks. “Those evil guys on the track are stealing my money.”

Even those with the highest moral characteristics would be hard pressed to walk away if someone came up and offered them a “sure thing.”

Morals do have a place in society and so does civility. It’s just getting harder and harder to find them these days.

This country was founded on the legal concept of innocent until proven guilty. Thinking that people are crooks is not the same as proving them guilty of a crime. It’s somewhat ironic that the most patriotic people in this country are the quickest to shout down individuals that belong to a group but are unrelated to criminal behavior.

Too many people put down others as a means of elevating themselves. Too many bettors shout at the racetrack because they bought a losing ticket.

There does need to be a level playing field in this sport and that field should be of human ideas and the ability to advance our industry in a positive way. Extending the olive branch to others and listening is the most fitting way to achieve democratic values. It may not be the most capitalistic, however.

Unfortunately that’s where the divide exists.

When the conversation is about what I want rather than what We need, it is doomed.


Cold More than 1 year ago
I for one love the standardbreds. I love the fact that the harness game has the most Crooks, has wife beating drunks and cokeheads as drivers, fixes races on a daily bases, has so much collusion and so much animal cruelty. If you watch it enough these trends become very apparent and can give the handicapper an edge which is all I really care about. Fairness LOL who cares just give me an edge and let these crooks do as they please.
trotting More than 1 year ago
In the old days crooked drivers may have driven away gamblers, in today's world, trainers who use drugs illegally on their horses are driving out honest trainers and owners.
Walter More than 1 year ago
It's pretty lame that all the articles are now under the DRF + label. Horseplayers spend enough on the DRF paper version which should give access to the online version. DRF you are greedy
Derick More than 1 year ago
Walter - I thought if you bought the print version you got a 2-day pass for Plus content.
RaceTrackDaddy More than 1 year ago
The biggest problem with harness racing as compared to thoroughbreds is that racing every week makes it possible to not use the horse to the maximum unless the post position and competition is at the level where one can compete. Just look at eliminations, just get to the final is the goal and winning the elimination is not imperative (of course some stakes have post positions determined by finish of the elims). Whenever a race is held where the combatants are not all committed to winning leads to all those comments from the grandstand. The best comment I heard after an effortless race was "Hey, why don't you train your horse on your dime, not mine?"
Chris Smuzinick More than 1 year ago
I agree with you 100% racetrack. I don't bet but a couple tracks( meadowlands mostly) and you don't know how many times I hear cause I watch the whole program where in the post parade they will say so n so is putting the horse in for a tightener for a bigger race. If your at a off track wagering n you can't hear the commentary you don't know that. That's part of the bs because people are wagering on that horse not knowing they are not going full out with him
Geoffrey Coleman More than 1 year ago
In the long run, the sport can only flourish if the handles increase. And I'm not talking about a 10 or 20% increase; I'm talking about at least tripling or quadrupling the handles. And so what is needed are more fans betting more money. A lot more fans and a lot more money. The fans of our generation have moved onto other things, and are getting old and dying anyway. So what is needed is the acquisition of a young fan base. Young people actually love to gamble. So there is no shortage of the gambling mentality out there. The problem is the competition for these gambling dollars. These young people are not idiots. Why would they gamble with a 20% take-out rate on horses when they can choose other games where the take-out rate is one tenth of that? This is the first problem. The second problem is the pace of the event, and the attention span of the people of this new generation. I used to like 30 minutes between races, so I could think. But that won't cut it for this new generation. The races should be run one right after another, as quickly as possible. Otherwise it will be difficult to attract new blood. And finally, you need more exciting races and higher payoffs. This can at least partially be accomplished with bigger fields (yes, having multiple trailers in every race). Another way to accomplish this is to changed the formula for dividing purses--make it more top heavy--say 75% for 1st place instead of 50%. Also I don't like this so-called passing lane. It encourages drovers to sit in and wait, knowing they will always have room at the end. Just a few things off the top of my head. Quickly off the
JD Yoder More than 1 year ago
Would need more time (including multiple re-reads) before commenting on the entire article - however, on the last portion (about "what I want rather than what WE need" . . . ) that is, in my estimation, among the top reasons why our industry is not doing nearly as well as it could. We, it seems, find it very hard to listen, and when disagreeing, do so with civility while seeking "together we go" actionable solutions.