04/12/2012 11:41AM

Hastings: Smartphone app newest device to attract younger horseplayers


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings, is hoping the momentum built at the end of last year will carry into the 2012 meet which begins Saturday.

It was a tale of two meets in 2011. After the first couple of months the live handle was down around 17 percent. A couple of factors contributed to the lackluster start: poor weather, and the Vancouver Canucks, who made a run for the Stanley Cup, ultimately losing in the seventh game of the final series. When the Canucks are playing the whole city just about shuts down. What looked like a disastrous year changed dramatically in midsummer and by the end of the meet the total live handle was up by 4 percent.

A large reason for the turnaround was the marketing program Hastings had initiated a few years ago aimed at a younger demographic. Hastings became a happening place, especially Friday nights, and the energy was palpable. This year Hastings will be targeting the younger set with new technology.

“One of our biggest investments is a new mobile website,” said Mutti. “It will have a betting functionality as well as handicapping information for the sophisticated player. It is also aimed at the novice. It will help them make selections based on top jockeys, trainers, statistics, etc. It should help make things a lot easier for the newer, younger demographic. It is also designed to take some of the intimidation factor away racing has for newbies.”

Smart phones will come in handy for patrons at Hastings. This year anyone with a smartphone and a Horseplayer Interactive Account can use their phone to place a bet.

“You have to be onsite to use the smartphone app,” said Mutti. “It links directly to our tote system and you can wager not only on the live product but also any tracks we are simulcasting. It’s something we’re really excited about. The younger generation is so technologically advanced and being at Hastings is a real social environment for them. Now they’ll be able to chat, make a bet, and not disrupt their conversation. We’re going to do everything we can to make the experience at Hastings an enjoyable one.”

With the younger generation in mind, Hastings is moving away from traditional mainstream media such as newspapers and television as a method of advertising.

“Our biggest expenditure is going to be on the social media side and direct marketing,” said Mutti. “We will still do some advertising in the local newspapers and we’re partnered with a few of our local radio stations. But, we have a large following on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve completely remodeled our Facebook page to make it more user-friendly and more promotional driven.”

Renegotiated lease key to track’s future

The lease agreement between Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which owns Hastings, and the City of Vancouver will hopefully be resolved in the near future.

Under the terms of the current lease, which expires in October but has an extension clause, Great Canadian is required to spend approximately $60 million to upgrade the barn area and build an underground parking structure. The terms of the lease were based on anticipated slot revenue from the 600 machines that were installed at Hastings in 2008. The revenue hasn’t come close to what was expected and there is no chance Great Canadian is going to spend $60 million to upgrade the facility. Great Canadian is currently in the process of renegotiating the lease.

When Great Canadian released a financial report in March, it said it would close Hastings if it didn’t get favorable terms on the extension of the lease. This caused a lot of concern for horsemen, particularly breeders.

Howard Blank, a vice president and spokesman for Great Canadian, said the group wouldn’t be investing the kind of money they are this year if they weren’t confident a new deal would be reached with the city.

“I feel very optimistic that we’ll come to a favorable conclusion,” said Blank.

Mutti echoed Blank’s sentiment.

“I am not involved in the lease negotiations but I can tell you the money we are spending in improving the site, especially on new technology, is significant,” said Mutti. “I don’t think we would be investing this heavily if we thought we weren’t going to be here in the future.”

The City of Vancouver is clearly interested in keeping Hastings open and when two sides have the same goal they usually come to an agreement.

“The city remains committed to hosting horse racing at Hastings Park,” said David McLellan, deputy city manager for the City of Vancouver.”

There is no guarantee the City and Great Canadian will come to an agreement. Nonetheless, the odds appear to be strongly in favor of the issues surrounding the lease being resolved and that racing will continue at Hastings for the foreseeable future.