Public in Japan Against Mindless Games of Chance

Slot MachinesJapan’s ruling bloc steamrolls controversial casino bill through upper house amid growing social concerns

Ditch attempts by opposition parties. The ruling coalition shut down by majority the attempts by the opposition camp, including the main opposition Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party, to stall the bill, agreeing to submit a no-confidence motion against Abe’s cabinet in the lower house earlier in the day. Were the… [Read more…]

Regulators to finalize MGM & Wynn casino licenses

BOSTON (AP) – State gambling regulators are completing casino licenses for MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts after voters emphatically rejected repealing the state’s casino law. The gambling giants were granted the state licenses pending the outcome of the November election. Residents voted by a 20 percentage point margin on Tuesday to keep the 2011 law…

Skilled Blackjack Player & Former Horseracing Executive Crushes Casinos

Don Johnson knows math. He knows what it takes to gain the “edge” needed to profit at the end of the day.

“Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled.”

By exploiting the VIP system and employing his outstanding blackjack skill to its greatest potential, Johnson took the Tropicana for over $6 million, the Borgata for over $5 million, and Caesars for over $4 million.  Mark Bowden of “The Atlantic” explains how this former track executive at Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing) accomplished these amazing feats.

Racing Education for Newcomers

by Dave Markant

Everywhere I turn, I find that commercial entities are blanketing their marketplaces with FREE training for existing and potential new customers, whether their businesses are brick and mortar, or on-line.

Just in our local papers in the Rochester, NY area, I’ve seen free classes in various vertical markets, on topics such as the ones below, held or sponsored on a regular basis, usually directly on-site where their businesses are conducted, or on-line, or both:

  • Food chains on how to cook.
  • Fabric and crafts chains on how to sew.
  • Financial services firms on how to invest.
  • Auto insurance firms on how to drive safely.
  • Health care providers on how to stay well.
  • Funeral directors on how to plan for death.
  • Spas on how to relax.
  • Software developers on how to use their programs.
  • Travel agencies on where to go.
  • Universities/colleges on how to choose one.
  • Camera shops on how to take pictures and videos.
  • Home improvement chains on how to “build it yourself.”

Need I go on?

By contrast, what is being done by the thoroughbred racing industry that approximates what’s being done in other marketplaces?

The short answer is increasingly more, but nowhere near enough.  Why not?

How to InvestIn my opinion, because learning how to make a soufflé or building a deck is fairly simple vs. learning how to handicap, which is more akin to learning how to make a full formal banquet (vs. just a soufflé) or building your own house (vs. just a deck). Learning to such extents is through semester-long courses at some vo-tech schools or junior colleges. Certificates are provided to those who complete curricula to demonstrate competencies for customers who might need such services.

In casinos, racing’s formidable competitor, even if you don’t win on your first visit, every few minutes there’s enough ding-ding-dings within earshot and enough strobe lights flashing within eyesight to reinforce you (consciously or unconsciously) and whet your appetite for a return visit. Sure, a newbie to the racetrack might see huge payoffs on the tote board, on occasion, but there’s little audibility or visibility of anyone actually collecting. In fact, it’s likely that no one on track actually collected on the big payoff.

The short attention spans of the prime generations needing to be attracted NOW clearly don’t mesh with the degree of learning required to be reinforced positively enough to stimulate their desire to learn more and play more.

Much of this is due to the vastness and complexity of the information presented and the need to learn a second language (the language of racing). It just requires too much time those younger generations are unwilling to spend. I cringe when I hear on-air racing personalities say things like “this race is for non-winners of 2 other than…”  A more understandable alternative would be “this race is for horses who have not ever won two races, excluding races where none of the horses had ever won a race- (maidens), or races in which the horse was available for sale (claiming), or special races for horses which had been available for sale at specific $$ amounts, but were not available for sale in those races (starters)”. Yes, it takes that many words to translate the conditions lingo we old-timers take for granted into English. Even with the translation, an explanation would still be needed for most new players. Adding “b” elements to the race conditions makes the translation incomprehensible for some old-timers as well.

Some newbies to racing who hit a good-priced winner or exotic more out of pure luck will be motivated to try again, perhaps after learning a little more about the game. Most others will be lost to other forms of entertainment and betting where the learning curve is not so daunting. The lucky newbies will be lost as well when their luck runs out, unless they get positive reinforcement from what little bit more they learned since their first experience.

Most current racing industry commentators agree that education is part of the answer to the future vitality of the industry. Some are actually trying to provide more of it. But, I would hypothesize here that racing education without racing simplification is a non-starter. It can’t require a semester-long curriculum to get newcomers to the point of stimulating enough positive pari-mutuel reinforcement to hold their interest. Early classes in any such curriculum should focus less on the esoteric and arcane language of racing and more on the use of simpler tools to make initial wagering decisions. There are plenty of them out there. Call them public handicappers, or touts, or selection services, or purveyors of simple handicapping guides or whatever; some of them are good enough to get newcomers to the payout window early in their education.

The industry would do well to segregate the wheat from the chaff in the crop of such services through a performance-based certification program. Then, newbies could be guided toward proven professionals and away from shysters and con artists as a strategy to facilitate newbies’ successes early in their racing experiences.

Once the newcomers have been positively reinforced by the initial racing experiences, the motivational foundation has been laid upon which further education can be constructed.

In casinos, racing’s formidable competitor, even if you don’t win on your first visit, every few minutes there’s enough ding-ding-dings within earshot and enough strobe lights flashing within eyesight to reinforce you (consciously or unconsciously) and whet your appetite for a return visit.

To achieve the overall objective of restoring the racing fan base through simplification and education, I’ve drafted a proposed job description for Racing Simplification and Education Coordinator positions. This job description can be found at this link.

In order to provide the necessary funds to support the Racing Simplification and Education initiatives, I propose that the Coordinator positions be created under the authority of each state that has jurisdiction over racing, wagering, and pari-mutuel “takeout” mechanisms for their state. The full power of each state’s authority will also be needed to compel the fundamental changes in how racing information is presented, in order to accomplish the educational goals I have described for newcomers to racing. Don’t expect those who have reaped rewards from perpetuation of the status quo to consent voluntarily to simplification when their rewards have historically been based on complexity, inaccuracy, and obfuscation of racing information.

Yes, the old timers will squeal about any increase in takeout; however, their view may be ameliorated by the fact that this increase is intended to help insure the survival of the industry they love.

Additional contributions for financial support should be solicited from other industry organizations with a stake in the industry’s survival.  The Association of Racing Commissioners should provide executive board oversight of the program.

Further commentary here is welcomed.

Internet Gambling – How Far Away is it?

Internet GamblingAs one of the world’s largest suppliers of slot machines and systems that operate casinos, Bally Technologies, Inc. and many other similar companies are preparing for what many say will be gambling’s next frontier: the Internet. If e-gaming does becomes legal in the United States it will unfurl a whole new market and have serious consequences.

“Legalizing Internet gambling would allow government to open a casino in every home, dorm room, and office in America, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a nonprofit group based in Washington that works with local, state, and federal groups to oppose casinos and state lotteries. E-gaming “represents one of the purest forms of predatory gambling.”

I couldn’t agree more. Gambling is absolutely out of control in this country, and it is because of the proliferation of casino and lottery legislation in numerous states. Mindless games of chances. The one-arm bandit. Check your brain at the door.

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A Simple Way to Get New Fans

The following piece appeared in the Oct. 8, 2011 edition of Thoroughbred Times and has been reprinted with their permission.

Racing needs to pay attention to P. T. Barnum


Mark Simon, editor of the Thoroughbred Times

Mark Simon, editor of the Thoroughbred Times

SOME racing executives or track owners believe the sport has to compete with lotteries. So they come up with bets that are difficult to win and are likely to produce a large payoff. That, they think, will draw attention to the sport, and result in more people coming to the track. It has not worked out that way. If racing wants to attract new fans, it is time to go back to the basics and keep things simple.

Bets such as the super high five, superfecta, and pick six can produce large payoffs, but they are not substitutes for lotteries or competition with lotteries. First, they appeal to two different audiences. Second, they are nothing alike.

Lotteries—and by the same token slot machines and video lottery terminals (VLTs)—require no skill or thought. The results are random. 

With super high fives, superfectas, and pick sixes, the results are not random. The horses with the better form, jockeys, trainers, class, post, distance proclivity, surface proclivity, et cetera, have a better chance of winning or finishing in the first four or five. Handicapping—skill—comes into play.

The large majority of those attracted to mindless lotteries and VLTs because they are mindless and random are poor candidates to ever be involved betting on races. First, they have to find themselves at the racetrack. Second, if they are at the track, how could they compete in a game of skill with no prior experience?

When that fan starts to look at each individual horse and why it could win, then you have someone who may move on to show or win betting.

In racing, those with more money, and who can cover more combinations, have a much greater chance of winning than someone who randomly plays a single ticket.

An advantage that lotteries have on racing is distribution, with countless stores and outlets, as opposed to racing, which has a brick-and-mortar facility, and maybe some off-track betting outlets. Lotteries reach millions of potential players daily, and they are well promoted through television and newspapers ads.

Racing has a difficult time promoting new bets, even to existing fans. The super high five was introduced in 2007, but has not gotten much traction. With a $1 minimum, it also is expensive, so not popular among those with little resources. In a ten-horse field, the super high five has 30,240 possible combinations.

Its unpopularity is evident on racing’s biggest day, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, when all the big bettors come out and play in earnest since all the pools are large.

Last year, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the super high five pool was just $269,513. By comparison, the superfecta had a pool of $3,289,617, the trifecta a pool of $5,983,837, and the exacta a pool of $5,909,080.

Rather than try promoting an obscure bet with limited appeal, racing should introduce a simple wager easily understood by a novice. When a couple goes to the track and one knows a lot more about racing than the other, while one is betting superfectas and trifectas and exactas, the other can get their feet wet by betting an odd-even proposition, for example. If the race winner carries an odd-numbered saddle cloth, that is the bet winner, and if the winner carries an even-numbered saddle cloth, that is the bet winner. In a Breeders’ Cup race, that would give a novice bettor six or seven chances to win.

After a few races, someone making that bet may start to wonder why the payoffs between odd and even are not exactly the same, and you have the beginning of the education of a fan. When that fan starts to look at each individual horse and why it could win, then you have someone who may move on to show or win betting.

That process, of getting new fans started in the sport relatively simply so they are not intimidated to play or worried about looking foolish, is worth far more than the meager returns from an obscure, hard-to-win bet like the super high five.

P. T. Barnum had it figured out a century ago: No one ever got rich overestimating the intelligence of the American public. Do we need any more evidence today than slots, VLTs, and lotteries?

Let’s keep it simple, folks.

Mark Simon is editor of Thoroughbred Times. His e-mail address is

Casinos in Mass. to offer a Lifeline to Suffolk Downs

Slot MachinesLegislative leaders in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts released a new bill this month to license three destination resort casinos, including one in Southeastern Massachusetts for a Native American tribe, and a single, competitively bid slot machine parlor license.

Mr. Patrick, who first called for three casinos in 2007, last year rejected a bill because it included two racetrack slot parlors. The governor recently offered a compromise, saying he would go along with a bill with three destination resort casinos and one publicly bid slot parlor license.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said any of the existing tracks could bid for the slot facility that would include up to 1,250 slot machines.

The speaker said the bill, which would divert 9 percent of the revenues from the slot machine facility to a fund to increase horse racing purses, will provide a lifeline to the race tracks at Suffolk Downs and Plainville.