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Racing & Gaming Symposium Recaps

Published: December 10, 2009 4:57 pm ET

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The University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program has recapped the first two days of the 36th annual Symposium on Racing & Gaming.

The symposium began Tuesday, December 7 and concludes today.

The symposium is taking place at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson, Arizona.

Recaps from the first two days appear below.



Tuesday, December 8 Recap

The growing presence of Betfair, the changing face of today’s racing fan, and the progress made in racetrack safety and integrity highlighted a busy opening day for the 36th annual Symposium on Racing & Gaming on Tuesday, December 8.

Gerard Cunningham, president of Betfair USA, discussed the exchange betting model in the panel 'A New Perspective on Racing – How Times Change.'

“Racing should become the envy of other sports,” said Cunningham, stressing the importance of innovation in its wagering model. The other options, he said, had a diminishing role in the future of the industry: “Hope – we can keep doing the same thing. Consolidation – shrinking your way to success does not work.”

In a dramatic demonstration of Betfair’s technology, Cunningham showed this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic alongside a chart plotting the in-running odds changes. He also stressed Betfair’s commitment to a conservative business model that welcomes regulation.

“(Racing has) a real problem not talking growth, how to bring in new owners and bettors,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the panel 'Exposing Yourself to Strangers,' Churchill Downs chief marketing officer, Dave Tompkins, and NBC Sports vice president of marketing, Mike McCarley, discussed exactly how they succeeded in promoting the Kentucky Derby and Oaks to a new fan base, resulting in the highest ratings in 20 years.

“The Kentucky Derby is one of three sports events that attract more women viewers,” said McCarley.

Tompkins added, “women most embrace the visceral aspects of the brand.”

Using NBC’s 'big event' strategy, the Derby and Oaks were imbedded into the network’s properties, from straightforward coverage on Today to even a mention on the sitcom The Office. The strategy also incorporated ivillage.com, a social networking site targeted toward women, where people could register their Derby parties and have access to party planning advice and recipes from celebrity chefs.

“Women can become the new fan,” said Tompkins, “we must create an event uniquely their own.”

Also on Tuesday, the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance released the findings of its independent counsel. The Honourable Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin and Health and Human Services secretary, praised the work of the alliance’s accreditation team.

“Accreditation did improve tracks in tangible ways,” he said. “The bad news is fans did not notice the improvements.”

Thompson recommended incorporating more public comment in the rulemaking process, as well as instituting a hotline for anonymous tips. He also called for more research into safety equipment for horses and jockeys as well as the aftercare of retired race horses.



Wednesday, December 8 Recap

Attendees of the 36th annual Symposium on Racing & Gaming got an in-depth look at the world of racinos on Wednesday, December 9, as well as a sneak peek at what lies ahead on the technology front.

Even in this unsteady economy, “slots are where the money is,” said Will Cummings, president of Cummings Associates and a longtime industry insider. Cummings moderated the panel “Looking Back – and Forward – At Racinos” Wednesday morning. Cummings described the evolution of alternative gaming at racetracks, from the beginnings in small states such as West Virginia, Rhode Island and Louisiana, to the full-scale casino operations in Iowa, to the troubles New York has had in implementing slots at its racetracks.

He also described the correlation between tax rates and a state’s 'power ranking' with slots, showing that states with lower taxes on slot income saw better revenue generation. Cummings warned of an impending storm in non-racino states, as cash-strapped governments wrangle with racing for funding.

“I see in the next year a collision between political logic and financial logic,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the states want or what the tracks want. The only people who matter are financial institutions who may or may not release the funds.”

Robert Scarpelli, of HLT Advisory, described the experience from a Canadian perspective.

“The two biggest issues used for funding racing are unfair gaming competition and economic benefits from job creation,” he said. “These arguments are becoming less relevant to government because the data no longer support it.”

Scarpelli showed in dramatic graphs just how flat the growth in racing has been over the past 15 years as compared to other forms of gaming.

“(Racing) has a narrow demographic appeal and unless you change that appeal you are not going to change that outcome,” he said.

Scarpelli also added that in the rush to help tracks and horsemen and states, “a lot of people have forgotten about the gaming customer.”

University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program graduate student Steve May also presented his work on the subject, announcing an updated database of racino legislation. The database was compiled in partnership with the late Brody Johnson of Harness Tracks of America and can be accessed through the UA RTIP website.

Also on Wednesday, tech gadgetry was on display in the panel 'Are We Dealing with Racing Technology or a Race With Technology?' moderated by twinspires.com’s Rohit Thukral. He demonstrated his company’s innovative wagering interface, which incorporates a high-definition signal. Scott Daruty, of HRTV described the network’s initial experiences with online content distribution. NBCSports.com producer Tom Seeley presented the innovative video format used during the network’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as Sunday Night Football live streams. Seeley said some of the tech used for the 2010 Vancouver Games would be incorporated into NBC’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.


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