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Playing the Odds – Gateway to the Game™

“What’s the best experience a newbie could have at the track?”

By Tom Amello

AGameofskill.com offers this first installment of fan education and player development opportunities for Essential Core Players. Our long-term goal is to provide effective fan education and player development opportunities in a variety of formats. Today’s presentation targets new fans.

As the Thoroughbred racing industry fine tunes the concept of “Big Race-Day” events that entice new fans, racing venues, more than ever, face the challenge of helping these newbies gain a quick understanding of how to play the game.

Ask anyone in the industry this question: “What’s the best experience a newbie could have at the track?” The near-universal answer: “Win!” But, since the fact is that not everyone at the track can or will win, so what then? This question: “What’s the second best experience for newbies when they don’t win?” The near-universal answer: “Have fun, of course.” Which means exactly what, in terms of growing the fan base?

Woman and Man playing the horse racesI agree about having fun, and America’s Best Racing is doing a fine job of bringing the fun everyone experiences at the track to the crucial 18-35 demographic. But, if the answer to the first question is found in the context of wagering, then the answer to the second question must lie in that same context…making a wager. Newbies must be taught to wager in a way that empowers them, more often than not, to be on horses that will be in contention. Therefore, the second best experience for the “newbie” is cheering and rooting for horses in contention in the run to the wire because they are holding tickets on those horses. That’s the real excitement and fun to experience at the track…even when you don’t win.

Current on-track instructional programs, to the extent they exist, attempt to introduce newbies to handicapping, a difficult task made daunting by the limits of time. “Figurating”, the words of Colonel John R. Stingo in A.J. Lieblinngs’ The Honest Rainmaker, involves a process for working towards some form of opinion about race contestants and various outcome scenarios. The wagering that follows is the expression of those opinions. What, then, is a newbie, unskilled in past performances, and thus devoid of opinion, to do? How, in the absence of experience with past performances, can a newbie be expected to develop an opinion about a race?

For newbies, one immediate solution is Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™, and this is for several reasons. First, the Odds Board is the single constant at every racing venue. Second, the Odds Board represents the opinion of all bettors. Third, experienced horseplayers, players with informed opinions, makeup the bulk of the betting crowd. Fourth, the “informed” crowd’s opinions are represented on the Odds Board. Fifth, the Odds Board is a relatively “efficient market” in that, for all races, the crowd’s favorite (the horse at the lowest odds) wins more than the second favorite; the second choice wins more than the third choice; the third choice wins more than the fourth choice…and so on. The crowd’s long-term opinion is quite sound. Therefore, an understanding of the odds board is crucial for newbies. Experienced horseplayers have a context in which to evaluate the crowd’s opinion…the odds…and decide whether to play with or against the crowd. Newbies, without context or opinion, should, more often than not, play WITH the crowd.

Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ , our betting guide for newbies, features a limited glossary of key terminology, four unique concepts for mastering the Odds Board, facts to support our concept, and specific examples for making wagers grounded in the Odds Board. Applying these concepts increases the probability that a newbie will wager on “live” horses, horses the informed crowd supports, and gain an appreciation for the game. The guide is the “Gateway to the Game”™.

To be clear, concepts about the power of the Odds Board are useful to all players. The guide is, however, intended as a road map into the game for the uninitiated and unfamiliar, not in any way a system that promises to change one’s life with a winning system of methodology.

Gateway to the Game by writer Tom AmelloDOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE & LEARN TO ENJOY HORSE RACING!
Get a printed version of the brochure at no extra cost

Purchase Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ and receive a downloadable pdf file which you can view on any type of device. Additionally, for a limited-time you will receive a hard copy in the mail. Questions about the guide will be answered here on our website at agameofskill.com.  The two-for-one “Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™” is only $7.00.

This short guide is power packed and offers:

  • Four unique concepts for mastering the odds board
  • Facts to support our unique concept
  •  Specific examples for making wagers grounded in the Odds Board

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When you place your order for the instant download, please add a note with your mailing address so we can send you the printed brochure at no extra charge.

Fill a Void and Grow the Game

Growing the essential core of new, interested but unskilled fans stands out as Thoroughbred racing’s greatest challenge. Current big race-day marketing efforts appear to be successful at drawing crowds.

by Tom Amello

Thinking about Thoroughbred racing’s current forms of fan education somehow brought to mind the title of a well-regarded 1975 country ballad. The title, you might remember, warns mothers. A paraphrased version warns: “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be horseplayers.” And, Mom, without innovative fan education and player development programs, you don’t need to worry…they probably won’t.

To further the point, consider these thoughts from the preface to noted author and educator James Quinn’s 2012 text The Complete Handicapper: You Can Beat the Races:
“Young adults that have come to racetracks for ancillary concerts and beer festivals, or to admire legendary champions such as Cigar or Zenyatta, ultimately will be confronted by the press of the handicapping and wagering. The experience can run downhill quickly.

From the moment the casual customer can be heard to remark, ‘Well, this is interesting, how do you do this?’ the industry has proved hapless to extend them a guided response. As a result, novices begin to lose more money than they would prefer to lose. The occasional payoffs and exotic windfalls do not reverse an inexorable pattern of defeat and financial loss.”

Thoroughbred racing is unlike any other major American sport…and “that’s a good thing.” In other sports, fans pay to watch players compete. In our great game, fans are players vying against each other via pari-mutuel wagering. For those new to the game, it’s a given that their early Thoroughbred racing experiences must be full of fun, friendship and excitement, but at its core this form of racing is “a game of skill,” a sport where, in the context of a horse race, fans who have acquired and refined a set of skills compete against other skilled horseplayers:

A Hierarchy of Skilled Horseplayers

Essential Core Players ripe for fan education and player development programs:
“Newbies”/novices/soon-to-be-horseplayers recently introduced to the game, lacking most basic understandings and skills about Thoroughbred racing, too often overwhelmed by past performances, arcane track jargon, and a steep learning curve; too often unsuccessful at wagering and driven away from the game.
Recreational players who regularly attend/participate in big race-day events like the Triple Crown Series and Breeders Cup, as well as occasionally/regularly attend or participate in boutique race meets such as Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland.
Serious Recreational players who follow racing year-round and participate in contests both on-track and on-line.
(Note: The following groups, essentially professionals, are equally important to the game but quite different in their play and needs:
“Wise Guys” are the near full-time or full-time players, many involved professionally in the industry, whose handicapping and wagering skills are known.
“Sharpies” are those astute individuals, largely unknown but successful bettors/syndicates, who opt to attack the betting pools while remaining well below the radar.
“Whales” are those few wagering giants often employing sophisticated programs and privately-purchased information, generating many millions in handle.

Growing the essential core of new, interested but unskilled fans stands out as Thoroughbred racing’s greatest challenge. Current big race-day marketing efforts appear to be successful at drawing crowds. The NYRA’s recent Triple Crown-enhanced Belmont Day attendance of over 102,000 with handle in excess of $150 million is further supported by significant July 5 Stars and Stripes program attendance and handle increases over this same Saturday in 2013. However, a significant gulf exists between efforts to draw new fans to the game and efforts to provide them with meaningful learning opportunities that facilitate transition from “newbie” to “Recreational Horseplayer.” Additionally, experienced players require more specific and targeted learning opportunities to fine tune their skills. Addressing and meeting this challenge begs a few questions: What must the “newbie” learn? Who will develop and provide a form of “continuing education” for experienced players? How to reach and teach all players so they learn both what we want them to learn and what they need to learn…the crossroads of curriculum and instruction.

Quality instruction causes learning. Educator Madeline Hunter said, “To say that you have taught when no one has learned is to say that you have sold when no one has bought.” That’s good advice for everyone in the teaching/learning business, including race tracks. To grow the fan base, Thoroughbred racing must reinvent fan education programs and ground them in good teaching. Good teaching involves:

• Presenting Learning Objectives (what learners will know, understand and be able to do)
• Offering both Guided Practice and Independent Practice (how to apply what you learn)
• Providing feedback (Q&A, maintaining a supportive relationship)

In coming weeks Agameofskill.com will present a series of fan education and player development opportunities for Essential Core Players. We will develop curriculum and provide instruction that adheres to the teaching-learning model described above. Our goal is to provide effective fan education and player development opportunities in a variety of formats.  Stay tuned.

Growing the Game – Educating Horse Racing Newbies

Belmont Park crowd

copyright Agameofskill.com

by Tom Amello

The New York Racing Association and the success of its Belmont Stakes program are always held hostage to the outcome of the Preakness Stakes. To increase both on-track attendance and total handle, in the event there might be no Triple Crown on the line at Belmont, NYRA in early February of 2014 announced significant changes to its traditional Belmont Stakes Day card. President and CEO Chris Kay explained NYRA’s intention to “create a day that would grab people’s attention in classic, bigger-than-life, New York Style.” Good idea.

But, California Chrome’s convincing wins in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, coupled with three weeks of hype across all forms of media, dealt both NYRA, and to some extent the Thoroughbred industry, an interesting hand. Instead of hosting a normal Belmont Stakes crowd in the 35,000-45,000 range, upwards of 100,000 (102,199) could be expected. Great for NYRA, great for growing the game…or was it?

Thoroughbred racing’s single greatest challenge in growing the game is turning fans into horseplayers. Logistics of handling the comings, goings and comforts of a huge Belmont crowd to assure a great experience aside, prior to Belmont week I wondered what, if anything, NYRA would do to capitalize on the untold thousands of “newbies” and casual fans filling the house. Specifically, would NYRA attempt to differentiate between the ‘newbie,’ aka casual race fan, and the regular? Would ‘guests’ be invited to identify themselves? Would they be asked to complete a mini-survey? Would NYRA glean personal info to identify needs, or establish and maintain contact? Would there be on- track ‘fan education’ programs for the uninitiated? By not appearing before NY turf press and media as of this writing, Mr. Kay prevented these (and other questions) from being raised.

Thoroughbred racing gets “newbies” and fans to the track.  Just look at big race day events. The more pressing problem is what to do FOR newbies to enable and empower them to feel comfortable “playing” our game; comfortable enough to come back sooner and more often. I’m in the game because of my father and uncle, two NYC punters who never met a favorite they could like, and consequently, endured long losing streaks between scores. Most horseplayers I know, were first brought to the game by someone, often older, who introduced, mentored and nurtured them. My point goes to the steep learning curve caused by the arcane numbers, trainer stats and angles that are the past performances, a learning curve that discourages and drives ‘newbies’ lacking a nurturing mentor away from the game.

My good friend Vic Zast maintains a horseplayer must learn to “have fun while losing.”  I agree because it’s so difficult to win money at the track. But wagering fuels and drives the game. So, for new comers to the sport to become horseplayers, they MUST, in my opinion, be given some expectation that they can make winning or near-winning wagers…because holding a ticket on a horse in contention from the sixteenth pole to the wire IS the “sizzle” that Thoroughbred racing has to sell. How can a horse racing ‘newbie’ be expected to “have fun while losing” and come back to the track if always holding tickets on horses never in contention and “dead” at the top of the stretch?

I’m not engaging in rocket science here. Thoroughbred racing may be viewed as a three-legged stool, each stool representing tracks, owners/trainers/jockeys, and bettors. IN this model, wagering is integral. Therefore, ‘newbies’ must learn to wager, and I’m not talking about mere terminology. In this context, in my opinion, all other forms of marketing intended to “enhance the on-track experience” and draw folks into the game, surely important efforts, are incidental.

The New York Racing Association implemented a good idea with changes to its Belmont Stakes program. That plus California Chrome’s quest for the Triple Crown resulted in non-stop buzz about Thoroughbred racing and record handle for NYRA. But, other than another big-race-day event, how did this particular big race-day grow the game? What else could be done?

Only pundits offer opinions without offering solutions. I’m not a pundit, so here’s a solution with potential to address the problem: “Gateway to the Game”(TM) is my unique concept and successful model for fan education designed to increase the probability ‘newbies’ and casual recreational players to wager on “live” horses, horses that will be in contention in the race to the wire. The model flattens the learning curve by not relying on past performances. For more information, individuals and industry personnel may contact me at trkfacts@nycap.rr.com.