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DAK Productions, Inc. 12/31/05

Contact: Joe Kristufek (312) 399-8277

No Racing Seems All Too Appropriate

By Marc Borczon – DAK Racing Columnist

Well the end of the year is upon us and once again we’re faced with a horseman’s strike/boycott that has already cancelled the first few programs of the New Year. Considering the way harness racing is going in Illinois, it seems all too appropriate.

As much as I hate to say it, ten years from now we may well look back and see that 2005 was the beginning of the end of major league harness racing in the Prairie State. Purses have dropped throughout the year, the quality of racing is as low as it’s ever been, our leading drivers are heading elsewhere and there’s no solution in sight. How did we get to this point?

On a personal note, this will be my last column for DAK Racing. Unfortunately my “real” job is taking too much time to continue to be involved in the racing scene on a day to day basis. I have loved every minute of doing these articles as well as picks a couple of days a week, and I’m sure that DAK will continue to thrive.

Since I’m not qualified to offer comments on the dispute between the horsemen and management (I’ve never understood how recapture works anyway) and this is my “farewell” column, I’ll offer a plan on how to bring Illinois harness racing back. It consists of two parts.

First, we need to get our current customer base to bet on our product more, and second, we need to attract new fans.

Four or five years ago services like and xpressbet started to pop up. These websites allowed people to bet on racing from the comfort of their own homes. Shortly thereafter, racing television channels TVG and HRTV were offered on various cable and satellite services, meaning that in addition to betting from home players could now watch the races on their television sets. Instead of aligning with one of these services (as most states did) or coming up with their own account wagering service, Illinois officials chose to stick their heads in the sand and apparently hope that these services would go away. Guess what, they’re not going anywhere.

Nearly all experts agree that by the end of this decade more money will be bet online on horse racing than is bet live at the tracks and OTBs. In addition to the “legal” services (where the money goes into the pools) hundreds of off-shore sportsbooks began taking action on racing. The larger of these sportsbooks offer full-track odds and rebates of up to 7%.

So now let’s say I’m sitting at home in Naperville (or wherever) and I want to bet some harness racing. I can get in my car and drive to an intertrack or OTB facility. Or, I can stay in the comfort of my home, watch the races on my own TV and make my bets online with one of the offshore services. I can enjoy all the comforts of home and the next day I’ll have 7% of my action returned into my account as a rebate. What would you do?

What we’re getting at here is that Illinois needs to stop waiting around for slots and legalize account wagering now. Slots aren’t the answer anyway, as anyone who’s ever been to a racino can tell you. It’s only a matter of time before the corporations that control casino gambling are going to say “we can really improve our bottom line if we just get rid of this horse racing thing altogether and just operate the slots”.

Illinois needs to either align with one of the existing account wagering services or offer their own. Along with it they need to implement an aggressive rebate/reward program. The programs offered now pale in comparison to what one can get online. If a heavy bettor is offered 5% to play “legally” in the pools as opposed to 7% to play illegally (technically) offshore, we have a chance to get back some of the players we’ve lost. When we do get account wagering it needs to be marketed aggressively. Sign-up bonuses, no “per wager” fees and easy deposit and withdrawl of funds are all musts.

Now that we’re expanding the play of our current base by giving them the opportunity to bet from home, how do we attract new fans? Well the marketing minds of the world are certainly more qualified to address this than I am, but let me relate a short story.

This past summer, I was in the Minneapolis area on business. It was a Thursday evening, and several of us were wondering what to do. Being the only racing fan in the group (of course) I suggested we head to Canterbury Downs. One of the younger people in the group related “I’ll go, I heard on the radio it’s dollar beer night,” so off we went. I believe that we were charged $1 for admission, which included a program, and draft beers were, as advertised, just a dollar. The place was PACKED with young people. The apron was so crowded you could barely find a place to stand. (I’ve seen the exact same thing at Hollywood Park when they offer Friday night racing).

Are all of these young folks going to turn into die-hard race fans? Of course not, but what they’re getting is a cheap night out and a taste of the sport. A few of them will even have a good time and choose to return. While at the track, we need to do our best to educate these people. Teach them how to read past performances and what goes into picking a winner. If we can educate them on the thrills of picking a winner and cashing a ticket they will return again and again.

So how can harness racing in Illinois try to make this happen? Start with free parking, admission and programs. After all, the casino doesn’t charge admission, do they? Next, offer food and drink specials and market them aggressively. Radio ads on the stations that young people listen to is a sure way to get the word out. Trust me, there’s nothing young men like more than cheap beer and where the young men go, the young women will follow. Show these fans a good time and they’ll return. Harness racing has a big edge over the Thoroughbreds in that our horses tend to race on the same night each week. This gives people the opportunity to develop into fans of their favorite horses and allows them to see them race again and again.

So there it is, my plan to get Illinois harness racing back on track. It’s pretty simple really, account wagering and cheap beer. Now let’s hope someone takes some action, because if it’s not too late already it will be soon.

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy and Prosperous 2006!

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Horsin’ Around TV recently completed its third broadcast season, and our target date for return is Saturday, March 18, 2006. For more information on Horsin’ Around TV and for up to date Thoroughbred and Harness racing news, visit our website at

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