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Betting big on our customers

The View

You walk into your local convenience store, with five dollars in hand, ready to purchase a lottery ticket. You select your lucky numbers, and inform the attendant on the other side of the counter that you’d like a ticket for the million dollar jackpot pool.

Now imagine that the attendant hands you the five dollars back and informs you that the next time the pool will reach $1 million is likely in April, and even that is no sure thing.

This, sadly, is a little like what we do in horse racing.

On Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final night at Mohawk last month, the Jackpot Hi-5 bet on the last race of the card saw the new pool soar past $2.7 million, thanks to a $978,000 carryover, and a guaranteed payout.

At the London Selected Yearling Sale earlier that day, at the track, and on social media, excitement was high. Tickets were being assembled, and it didn’t take much to convince friends and neighbours to throw money into the exciting wager. I personally heard numerous stories of people getting together to build a ticket for the wager – even non-racing fans.

The money was bet. The race went off. Some lucky people walked away with $2,446.33 for every $.20 winning wager they made. All was a success.

But what about afterward?

The pool of course falls back to zero, and it is months before another similar opportunity comes along. All the gained momentum is lost, and even the anticipation isn’t able to build as customers never really know when the next major pool will come along.

It was good, but quite frankly, it’s not good enough. It wouldn’t be good enough for a lottery to have no major prize. It wouldn’t be good enough for a slot machine to have no jackpot. And it mustn’t be good enough for us.

An expert in pari-mutuel wagering recently told me that there appears to be a threshold at which jackpot pool betting begins to flatten out.

So, instead of allowing a pool to grow to well over a million dollars, or beyond, it’s of similar benefit to offer the guaranteed payout at a lower number, and wagering will likely be nearly the same. Harness racing needs big bets more often. Our customers are speaking loud and clear with their money, and we need to listen.

What if we offered Jackpot Hi-5 pools indefinitely? But instead of continuing to allow the carryover to grow, once it reached a $500,000 threshold, we’d begin moving carryover money into a jackpot bank account, to fund future major pools. Similar to the cap of a progressive slot machine, when our pool reaches that $500,000, the carryover would stay there forever, until it’s hit with a single ticket, and starts over. With that possibility extremely low, we are now funding a jackpot bank account with tens of thousands of dollars every time the bet is offered. To build our funds faster, we would offer Jackpot Hi-5s more often than once a card, and offer them at other tracks, remembering that the goal is to grow our jackpot bank account.

Now we have an account in hand that is constantly replenishing itself. At this point, we’d build a consistent guaranteed payout schedule that is fully sustained from our Jackpot Hi-5. The first Saturday of every month, we could offer a $500,000 guaranteed payout at Mohawk or Woodbine, and every other Saturday, we could offer a $100,000 guaranteed payout at a smaller Canadian track. This way, the wagering excitement can spread across our country.

In order for this to happen, a few things have to change. Jackpot Hi-5 pools could churn money at multiple tracks, over many races, to fund the big pools. We must set loftier goals, work together, and never accept the current reality as a simple fact of life. If things can improve, let’s improve them.

The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency may not allow this model at the moment, but we can work on making it happen, or another model for that matter. For the betterment of the industry, and the benefit of our customers from coast-to-coast, it is essential that we get creative and deliver to them what they clearly want.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

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