10/19/2001 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Signal is clear: give fans best

What is wrong with this picture?

Economists studying the racing industry have long held that one foolproof way to stimulate wagering and promote goodwill is to lower the parimutuel takeout, allowing the betting patron a larger return on investment. Racing associations have often contemplated the move, but few have actually shown the fortitude necessary.

This year, Saratoga stepped forward and initiated a lower takeout and showed impressive gains in ontrack and simulcast wagering. Keeneland, under the impressive first-year tutelage of its president, Nick Nicholson, announced that it, too, would offer betting patrons throughout the world the opportunity to wager on a quality product at bargain prices. Patrons and horsemen alike hailed the innovative decision.

A few days before Keeneland's opening, the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative of racetracks announced that they would not offer Keeneland's signal because of the lower takeout. Supposedly, the purpose of these tracks joining together was to form a strong united front in the event that racing juggernauts such as Churchill Downs or Magna Entertainment decided to increase the cost of simulcast signals. The consortium decided that if they are not in agreement with the price, none of the tracks or offtrack betting sites in the region would offer the signal.

In the matter of Keeneland's reduced takeout, the group's mission appeared to take on a broader meaning and ventured into the realm of conspiring to fix prices. If a company like Keeneland does not agree with their demands, the group will attempt to restrain trade.

On the surface it would appear that this type of intransigence is actionable. Then again, perhaps the initial decision had more to do with protecting their turf, so to speak, and their concern that comparing the Keeneland product, with quality full fields and lower takeout, to their own racing is a source of supreme embarrassment.

When confronted with widespread criticism and talk of a boycott of their own product, however, they relented and handled Keeneland's product.

Yet New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. and that state's other OTB's continue to deny their patrons Keeneland. Since the inception of NYC OTB many have marveled at its ineptitude. Actually, we owe it a debt of gratitude. We have all learned from the mistakes of the New York fiasco. So I guess it is easy to understand why it slights its betting patrons by denying quality racing at an attractive price: It has a long history of not understanding the game.

In the end, Keeneland will weather the storm. It has the financial means to stick to its guns, and everyone in racing should applaud its efforts. Other tracks, which may be contemplating lowering their takeout, will not be so inclined based on the potential tremendous loss in wagering sites.

Everyone involved with the sport of racing should roundly criticize any policy of greed that hurts overall business. How can we begin to market racing when individuals treat the customers with such disdain?

Marty Maline, Executive Director - Kentucky Division, Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association

Keeneland has a prince honoring commoners

Kudos to Nick Nicholson, Keeneland's president, on all the innovations put in place during his first year at the track's helm.

As a patron of Keeneland for 25 years, I have been quite impressed. If every manager or president of a racetrack cared about the fans as much as Nicholson and his terrific staff, then I really believe that the problems that afflict the Sport of Kings would not be around for long.

What other president of a racetrack, comes in on a Saturday, his day off, just to shake hands, introduce himself, and thank the participants for getting into a handicapping contest?

Nicholson can be seen chatting with fans just as often in the grandstand as one would expect he does in the clubhouse.

Nick Nicholson has proven that he not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. He cares about the fans, the sport, and its future. The Keeneland board of directors can pat themselves on the back for hiring the best track president in the country today.

Greg Pittman - Lexington, Ky