12/09/2015 12:26PM

Giwner: Online handicapping contests provide good exposure

Derick Giwner
Some sites are offering online handicapping contests from tracks like Northfield Park.

Have you ever played in an online handicapping contest for horse racing? There are those that think they could adversely affect handle, but personally I’m noticing a different trend.

The concept behind the contests is simple. A limited number of people (as few as two or as many as thousands) put up a set amount of money (.25 cents to over $1,000) and make selections in a set number of races. The person who produces the best return on investment (typically based on a $2 win/place wager with maximum caps on payouts) finishes first and gets the lion’s share of the prize pool. Payouts would also be available to second, third, etc. depending on the number of entrants.

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There are also “Survivor” contests where each participant must pick a horse that will finish at least third to advance to the next race. The last person(s) standing share the total pool.

One of the misconceptions of racing contests is that people will shun pari-mutuel wagering in favor of tournaments. In theory, the tracks are left high and dry since they are not compensated by the sites running the tournaments.  But I just haven’t seen any hard facts to support this opinion.

Over the last five weeks I have entered approximately 25-30 contests with many based at Northfield Park. In all honesty, I’ve never been a regular Northfield player, but since these contests have popped up my handle on Northfield Park has grown from virtually nil to substantial for my budget.

To put it into better perspective, I put $71 through the ADW windows on Northfield during September and October combined and more than 10 times that amount from the beginning of November through the first week of December. Northfield went from a track that was barely on my daily radar to a regular part of my wagering schedule.

Northfield isn’t the only track that lured my wallet, either. Woodbine and Yonkers also got attention from me during this period on nights when I never would have considered wagering. I found myself playing on days when I would normally be sitting on the sidelines. The contests spurred pari-mutuel handle.

Taking it one step further, I’ve found reasonable success in these tournaments which have allowed me to parlay extra money into the pari-mutuel pools.

The above said, just because I react one way doesn’t mean others will behave in kind. Tracks probably deserve some compensation for their role as the content provider for these tournaments. With most tournaments running on a VIG of 10%, I don’t think it would be too much to ask for a 1-3% fee for tracks.

The bottom line is that online handicapping contests provide added exposure for harness racing, and lord knows we can use it.

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