01/24/2014 1:34PM

Chinese-language account-wagering site enlists help of Raffetto

Benoit & Associates
Lou Raffetto is president of YUPRacing.com, a new account-wagering site that is serving the Chinese market in North America.

On Jan. 31, Lou Raffetto, the longtime racing executive, will be ushering in the Year of the Horse while manning a booth at Southern California’s largest Chinese New Year’s celebration, handing out red envelopes to anyone who provides him with an email address.

Red envelopes are traditionally used by the Chinese to hand out gifts on New Year’s Day. Inside Raffetto’s red envelopes will be a betting voucher worth at least $2, a parking pass, and a ticket for free admission at nearby Santa Anita Park in Arcadia for the next weekend. Also inside will be instructions on how to find a booth at the track where programs for the day’s races and admission to a private room with a buffet will be provided.

This is Raffetto’s new job – building the business of YUPracing.com, an account-wagering site launched late last year that is the only Chinese-language horse race betting site in North America. Everything provided to visitors at his New Year’s Day booth will be branded with the YUPracing.com logo, and the email addresses he gets that day will form part of the foundation for the company’s marketing efforts to reach out to the Chinese community of Southern California.

Raffetto, who was hired as YUPracing.com's first president earlier this week, said he does not know the exact size of the market in the United States, but he said the largest Chinese communities in the United States are in the Los Angeles area, San Francisco, and New York, in that order.

“They obviously like to gamble, and many of them like horse racing,” Raffetto said. “And they’re a lot more comfortable doing that in their own language, even if they know a little English.”

YUPracing.com is owned by Singpoli Group, a real-estate development conglomerate with offices in Southern California. Several of the principals in the company enjoy horse racing, Raffetto said, and they decided to launch the site last year under the belief that Chinese gamblers and racing fans would welcome a site written in native dialects and sensitive to cultural needs.

Raffetto, who has been the general manager at tracks in Boston and in Maryland, said he began consulting for the Singpoli group eight months ago, shortly after resigning as executive director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. After his resignation, Raffetto, 63, was on many shortlists for the open job of chief executive of the New York Racing Association, but the organization’s state-controlled board opted to look outside racing to fill the job.

Raffetto said he doesn’t expect YUPracing.com to be “an overnight success.” He said the site is still encountering difficulties on how best to present racing to Chinese customers, many of whom speak either Mandarin or Cantonese and read and write in different styles of the two dialects. The Los Angeles community is mostly Mandarin, Raffetto said, while the San Francisco community is mostly Cantonese, which will require two different website presentations.

Then there are the superstitions surrounding numbers. In Chinese culture, four is taboo, just as 13 is to many Westerners. Eight, on the other hand, is considered lucky.

Most account-wagering companies run promotions promising $100 when a bettor wagers $100. For YUPracing.com, the promotion will be “bet $88, get $88,” Raffetto said.

“Eight is great, and double-eight is even better,” Raffetto said. “You absolutely have to do things like that.”

Some racetracks have attempted to market to U.S. Chinese populations in the past, though the success of the efforts has been hard to gauge. More than a decade ago, the Meadowlands in New Jersey used to pay for buses to and from Chinatown in Lower Manhattan for late-night simulcasting of races from Hong Kong. Visitors were greeted with a buffet dinner and an oversized gong.

The reason for attempting to capture a piece of the market is obvious: betting in Hong Kong on a per capita basis far exceeds any other country in the world. The other per-capita leaders also are Asian countries, even if some of the countries’ governments discourage the practice.

The owner of YUPracing.com also plans to use the site to reach out to potential horse owners. Singpoli is developing a high-class hotel in Pasadena, Calif., and Raffetto said the company can market to horse owners by also providing them hotel rooms when they are in town to watch their horses race.

The site’s bet-processing functions will be provided by XpressBet, the account-wagering company owned by the Stronach Group, which also owns Santa Anita. (Bet-processing functions for Daily Racing Form ’s account-wagering portal, DRFBets.com, also are provided by XpressBet.) That will lead to cross-promotions with YUPracing and the Stronach Group, which also owns Golden Gate Fields north of San Francisco, Raffetto said.

“Obviously my relationships with a lot of people in the racing industry help along the way to get some of this stuff done,” Raffetto said.

As for the site name, surely “Yup” means something germane in either Mandarin or Cantonese, right?

“That’s funny, because I asked [a principal in Singpoli] the same thing,” Raffetto said. “He said, ‘Yes, it means yup.’ As in, it means yes, the slang way you or I might say yep or yup.”