07/13/2016 2:46PM

Players band together to build Del Mar bonus


It’s safe to say that the term “game changer” is overused at this point. But it’s still the term that leaps to mind when it comes to the $1 million bonus that Santa Anita Park is offering to any player who can win one of its contests and go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

The idea was the brainchild of Santa Anita’s Nate Newby, one of the leading marketers in racing today. Newby was inspired by the $1 million bonus for any horse who wins Del Mar’s Pacific Classic, Santa Anita’s Awesome Again, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He thought to himself, “Why can’t we do the same type of thing for a horseplayer?”

Now, thanks to a small group of committed horseplayers, it’s possible that the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge on July 22-23 may join the million-dollar act. Del Mar was not able to sponsor the bonus for 2016. It’s prize pool had already been budgeted for and announced by the time Newby’s idea came to light, but Del Mar is working with players on an opt-in version of the bonus.

Essentially, players willing to put up $100 – which will fund the insurance policy that covers the bonus – will be eligible to win $1 million should they sweep the DMHC and the BCBC. Should the winner at Del Mar not be among the players to put up the $100, the highest finisher at Del Mar who opted in will be eligible for the bonus – not unlike a seat to the National Handicapping Championship if the overall winner was already double-qualified or wasn’t signed up for the NHC Tour.

Interested players should go to Tilt.com to help crowd-fund the bonus. The easiest way to get there is by the following link: http://tilt.tc/mj78?s=wb&u=kmcfarland3.

The idea has drawn the support of many horseplayers, but it’s been driven by three names in particular. They first came to prominence via a 1999 TVG spot where they were known as “The Pick 6 Boys,” but these days “The Pick 6 Men” might be a more appropriate moniker. They are Nisan Gabbay, Christian Hellmers, and Kevin McFarland, all active live-bankroll players in Southern California and beyond.

“When you add a million-dollar bonus, you add more drama, more sweating, more excitement, and a much bigger spotlight,” said McFarland, who finished second in the 2013 BCBC. “This can be an important step toward bringing new blood, new money, and new attention to the game.”

McFarland’s words ring true. The state of the handicapping-contest world is reminiscent of the poker world before the boom. Perhaps a player, maybe even one qualifying for low money at a site like DRF Tournaments, parlaying that entry into $1 million could be the racing world’s “Moneymaker moment.” (Chris Moneymaker used a qualifier to gain entry into and win the 2003 World Series of Poker main event, which many believe started the poker boom.)

Hellmers agreed that the addition of seven-figure prizes could elevate the game into the stratosphere. “I love that technology allows us to take horseplayer matters into our own hands to validate the demand for higher stakes,” said Hellmers, twice second in the BCBC and a familiar face from the “Horseplayers” television show. “If the gods allow all my hard work to win me the million, I plan on buying a horse and naming it after Nate Newby for coming up with this brilliant marketing concept.”

Players with questions about the bonus are encouraged to reach out to McFarland at kevinmcfarlandsd@yahoo.com.

Friday feeders

On Friday at DRF Tournaments, players have a chance to win into the Santa Anita Autumn Championship, and its potential million-dollar-plus payday, for just $21. No crowd-funding necessary. The top 10 percent of finishers will win a $190 entry in Sunday’s Santa Anita qualifier. This feeder, like all of Friday’s contests, will use the all-in format, where all picks must be in before the scheduled post time of the first race. So, while you’re sitting in traffic waiting to get to Del Mar on opening day, why not play in a contest?

There are also feeders for the July 24 NHCQualify event ($18), Saturday’s BCQualify contest ($21), and Saturday’s Battle of Saratoga qualifier ($12).

Credit-builder contests will also be on offer. Go to DRF Tournaments for more details.

Dahorsecapper 9 months ago
Add another $1 or $ 2  on all the feeder tourneys and let the sheer volume of contests and participants cover the bonus  for whatever contest in the future. 

Love to see the contest world explode  over the next few years  and paydays become bigger.
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
Peter - thanks for the great article.  Really well-written!  

If players successfully crowdfund this bonus, it will demonstrate to the tracks & tourney organizers that bonuses should become a standard feature for every major tournament.  If racing is to grow, we need to attract new players, and $1M+ bonuses are a great tool to draw interest so that eventually the actual prize pools will become much larger than they are today.  We need our "main event" to be worth over $1M to the winner, and ideally $5M, if racing is to take market share from poker, fantasy sports, etc. for the wagering dollar.  This is something racing desperately needs.  Aren't you tired of reading about handle declines in DRF?  I know I am.  How about we do something to reverse that trend?  For anyone playing in the Del Mar tournament, for $100 (or an additional ~1% of your $7,000 entry fee) we can get the ball rolling in the right direction.  Let's make it happen!

Anonymous 9 months ago
LOL....No...this event sets a bad precedent....maybe tracks will guess that this is what horseplayers want...like the rampant plague of  jackpot bets....and then the next contest they take $68K out of the prize pool so they can have a $10M bonus all at the horseplayers expense and 76% takeout.

I guess having foresight at what lengths tracks might take this in the future is not allowed.
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
As a long-time player, I can understand the cynism, but let's be fair to the tracks in regards to live-money tournaments and judge them on their record.  Most do not try to make money on the entry fees.  Del Mar does not take any portion of the entry fees, and indeed pays out of pocket for an additional 8 NHC seats.  Santa Anita typically does the same.  The tracks are mostly looking for increased handle, not to make an additional margin on players.  They understand that this bonus should be less than 5% of the prize pool.  For Del Mar, it is 2% ($6,800 of $300,000).

Tournaments are one thing that all of the industry agrees is a good thing to promote the game and attract new players.  Let's try to create some multi-million dollar winners for the benefit of growing the pie, so maybe a $10M bonus costing $68K would only be 5% of the prize pool.  Maybe then all those fantasy sports players would take notice of racing if they could win $10M! That's the carrot that racing needs.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Yes, Del Mar, SA, BCBC don't make money on entry fees but they get the handle benefits that the contests create so they should never do that.

The problem with your DFS comparison is that players actually win the millions when they advertise/offer them...they are not bonuses that are highly unlikely to be won or ever be won.

Also the players should never ever pay for the carrot when the carrot is basically a mirage.  
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
Plenty of the daily fantasy sports sites, and previously poker sites, offered feeder tourneys with low buy-ins ($100) so that you could parlay that into a big score if you won consecutive tourneys. Is it unlikely any one person pulls that off?  Yes!  Does it motivate people to play?  Absolutely - that was a big part of the success of those games.

Further, hitting a large paying traditional pick6 is a low probability event. Does that make it a mirage?  Not in my opinion.  It just means you'll need to play many times before you win.  Same here.  
Adam 9 months ago
Wow I!!! This is why I love the comments board on drf. Nothing better than the pure bitterness and vitriol spewing forth from every kind of horseplayer.
Anonymous 9 months ago
So BCBC is hoping for 350 entries....The investors are paying $6800 for a policy that pays out $575K....that means they are paying out 83-1 on a 349-1 shot....that is 76% takeout....contest horseplayers love 76% takeout....especially when they think they are going to win a $ million....ummmm $575K....clowns.

This is proof that the dumbest insurance actuary is smarter than the smartest handicapping contest regular participant.
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
I respectively disagree with this argument from a number of different perspectives. First, if as a horseplayer, if you don't believe you are better than the average player, why even play?  I believe I am at least a few times better than the average player.  If someone offered me 100-1 to bet on myself to win the BCBC, I'd take it in a heartbeat.  Second, the insurance provider understands that someone who wins a major live money tournament like Del Mar has a higher probability than the average player, so they need to be compensated for that risk.  Given there has been such a small sample of BCBC events, and there has already been a repeat winner, understanding the true odds of this outcome is not as simple as the math you present above.  Finally, this is FUN.  It's FUN to think about winning the BCBC with an added $575K in cash bonus, which means you would likely net over $1M on that day.  For an infrequent bet like this, with a small amount of money to be invested ($100), it doesn't matter if the takeout is 20%, 40%, 76% - there are still plenty of good reasons to play it from a risk-utility theory perspective for an individual player.     
Anonymous 9 months ago
Trust me...I understand everyone of your arguments and also know there is merit to all of them. While you, or certain other individuals might be less than 100-1 to win the BCBC, the majority are not, some having no chance to win whatsoever as I'm sure you know. The only way to look at it as a whole is the way I projected it monetarily. On an individual basis it would be much different obviously. While it might be FUN on a somewhat harmless basis, if this catches hold on the circuit with the tracks offering contests and the bonuses become bigger, the insurance payments become larger all out of the prize pool, the insurance company will be the big winner unless someone hits the miracle double...the circuit and the players as a whole will be the huge losers in all of this.
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
I think this all goes back to trust.  I trust the tournament organizers like Nate Newby & Chris Bahr who are in close contact with the players to effectively balance the bonus as a small percentage of the prize pool.  These tourneys require $3K-$7K entry fees for each player - no one would enter if they didn't think they could make a good return on the actual tournament itself.  The bonus is exactly that, a bonus.  It's not a substitute for the prize pool.  Further, if more players are attracted to the tourney by the bonus, then there are more entry fees to increase the prize pool and the bonus.  I don't see any possible scenario where the players and circuit become losers if you assume rational behavior from the tourney organizer.

And frankly, if some players have no chance to win a live money tourney, they shouldn't be playing in the tourney.  There are less risky ways to win NHC seats.  If you don't have a chance to win, your entry fee becomes the huge takeout itself.  I believe that every player believes they have a legitimate chance of winning or else they wouldn't play.   

Anonymous 9 months ago
Horseplayers pay $11000-$12000 in qualifying entry fees online for a entry in the NHC that is worth $3600 in EV when they sit down. So I'm not in the "no one would enter if they didn't think they could make a good return on the actual tournament itself" boat that you are captaining.
Nisan Gabbay 9 months ago
LOL - you crack me up!  If you are playing at Del Mar, come by and say hello.  I agree that on an expected value basis NHC is not a fair value relative to live money tourneys like Del Mar, which is why that's where players should be investing their money. The expected value (EV) at Del Mar according to your math is actually a positive expectation.

However, if you look at the world purely through an EV lense with your math, no one should be playing racing at all with an average takeout of 20%, which is much higher than most other forms of wagering that have some skill involved.  Yet here we are!  My point being that all decisions can't be made purely on an EV basis which is why Decision Analysis theory added Risk Utility theory to adjust for the shortcomings of pure EV analysis.
Kenneth R. Wiener 8 months ago
This is the most sophisticated exchange ever at DRF!
herrity1 8 months ago
I understand your numbers and they are correct, but please remember they only apply if what is being done for the Del Mar contest (player funding) applies.  The SA contests bonus did NOT come from the contestants prize pool monies.  In the future, if the ever growing live money contest host's want large player participation, they may have to fund much like SA has done.