Gordon Robinson, Contributor
It's official. The Keystone Cops are in control of Caymanas Track Limited (CTL). Their latest farcical decision is to increase unit stakes, including doubling the stake for Super 6 and Pick 9 bets. Other bets were increased by 25% to $50.
This latest edict comes in the midst of a stubborn economic recession without the slightest hint of quid pro quo for customers. No dialogue (a word we hear bandied about whenever 'stakeholders' entitlements' are disturbed); no attempt to reduce or eliminate corruption; no promise of more customer-friendly betting methods (it's the technology, stupid!); not a word about a proportionate increase of minimum payouts; NOTHING! Not even a "Sorry, valuable customers, we've no option ... ." It's take it or leave it. CTL doesn't need you. You need CTL.
No doubt campaigning for 2013's Dunce Move Award, CTL doesn't accept stakes offered below the minimum. This bankrupt company can afford to turn away customers unable to spend $50. It ignores the churn effect of persons spending $20 (or less) and some (winners) spending again and again.
In Europe, dividends are calculated based on a £1/€1 unit, but even 5p bets are accepted and winners paid proportionate shares of declared dividends. The unit stake on all bets in the USA has always been $2 because all who understand betting dynamics know that increasing unit stakes only produces a momentary spike, but in the long run, less is wagered.
In Jamaica, we solve every sales problem by jacking up prices first, thinking only when we're forced to think afterwards. Then CTL publishes loud adverts promising 'fractional betting' (Pick 6 and 9 only) with no timelines. This is exactly what we've suffered for most of the past 25 years, Promises Not Performance. Why not leave the Pick 6/9 as they are until you're able to programme fractional betting? Why's the mentality always a 'soak-the-customer' mentality?
The Keystone Cops insist on burying their heads in the racetrack sand, behaving as if local horse racing is Jamaicans' sole betting option. This was so up to 25 years ago. Now we have lotteries, slots and a World Wide Web that places betting on any game of chance, sport or any horse race on earth, a click away.
No longer must we buy petrol; drive long distances; park far away from the stands or some smoke-filled hole-in-the-wall (aka OTB); endure persistent harassment from resident pimps and touts; pay an excessive entrance fee; submit to a silly dress code; climb stairs (no escalator/elevator available) that would challenge Edmund Hillary, all for the privilege, upon attaining the mountaintop, of betting in a tote that deducts 30% of stakes (40% on exotics) before returning a paltry 'what lef'' to winners.Today, we can stay at home; dress as we like; read professionally produced form books anywhere in the world; bet on whatever we want instantly (tote and bookie takeout 9/10% for win/place/show); watch the event live supported by professionally produced previews/reviews with live interviews of all participants; and collect our winnings and bet again on the next race, all with the click of a mouse.
So, any mystery local racing continues to decline? Why should anybody bet with CTL? Instead of removing racing from live broadcast media, why isn't CTL working with a technology provider to produce (for subscribers to its website) live racing supported by professionally produced preview and raceday shows; unlimited form and breeding stats, plus properly indexed replays; and betting through subscribers' TV remote or computer mouse?
Would you pay J$10,000 per month for delivery of everything you need to bet on and watch races live to your computer, iPad or cell phone? I bet you would. You're paying $2,000/month for the worst form book in the world; about $3,200 per month for petrol plus wear and tear; $9,000 to park and sit upstairs (total $14,200 monthly).
At $10,000 a pop, only 10,000 subscribers would earn an additional $100 million per annum. As subscriptions (locally and internationally) come in and betting becomes simpler, one can only dream of the likely increased revenues. Then add the effect of reducing takeouts to 10-15%, because OTBs are redundant, and you'll have an idea of what's possible for local racing. Trust me, I'm only scratching the surface of the urgently required intelligent, professional, pragmatic management decisions.
Our local betting industry (bookies included) is a contemptible, anachronistic joke. Bookmakers continue to take the easy way out by attaching themselves to CTL's tote and declaring tote dividends as their own. So, in essence, Jamaica operates a tote monopoly because no bookie makes its own book. Then bookies weep copious crocodile tears when CTL charges them exorbitant rights fees for their leeching privileges.
In the real world, bookies don't pay 'rights fees' to racing promoters. Bookmakers make their own odds, set their own takeout percentages, and make comfortable profits. It requires hard work because bookies must constantly monitor their businesses and adjust betting lines as bets come in to keep their books balanced (or, as is the term-of-art in the trade, 'dutched'). It'll also require bookmakers' unity (in Jamaica, as oxymoronic a phrase as motherhood) as the more data used to calculating average starting prices, the less statistical chance of ad hoc losses.
KISSING UP TO TOTES
But, why work when you can routinely attach your lips to the tote's backside; make a huge vacuuming noise; and ensure a gross profit of 35% or more. How? Well, the tote takeout (gross profit) is 30%. Bookies' 'betting spreads' are the same because their customers come from the identical betting sample. Bookies ensure greater gross profit by laying off bets in the tote. Meanwhile, punters don't realise they're buying the exact same product wherever they go and are doomed to be perennial losers. It's like going to Burger King, Wendy's, McDonald's, and Mother's, but getting the same burger every time.
It's in this climate that the Keystone Cops have the audacity to increase unit stakes. They must be high! Bad enough CTL offers the gambling equivalent of liquid crap, it wants to insist we pay more for it!
As if that wasn't enough, there's a plan afoot to convert the Super Stakes and Caribbean Sprint into handicaps, thus diminishing their status and destroying the integrity of their history. I'm told it's to make the races more competitive and attract increased betting. Well, test my prostate with a rusty totem pole. Surely they jest?
These races are uncompetitive for the same reason that all races are no longer competitive. We've killed the breeding industry by refusing incentives and taxing the importation of mares. But UTech and Luton Shelton can import luxury cars with tax waivers.
We sell yearlings in November who can't even hack and then trainers pamper them while delivering exorbitant monthly bills to owners to the extent that we're still running four-furlong two-year-old races in July. Elsewhere, two-year-olds are racing five furlongs in March.
The racing programme for three-year-olds is a disaster, with no coordinated thought into developing a triple crown series and then a series for older horses in time for a coming together in November. We apply ad hoc race-track maintenance, resulting in multiple unnecessary injuries. We discourage investors by neglecting racing's infrastructure and obstinately maintaining an archaic system of financial fundamentals. Owners pay 100% of bills, but when horses earn, owners get only 70% of purses. WHY?
Until these fundamentals are addressed, you could change the Super Stakes to a cross-country race in the Yukon and race every Sunday, racing will slowly die. But the Keystone Cops prefer to seek negligible, short-term benefits; destroy tradition and status; and cheapen the achievements of racing heroes like Legal Light; Viceroy; Menudo; and Mark My Word by adding ordinary handicappers carrying 48.5kg to that illustrious list rather than knuckle down and introduce needed fundamental change.
Is the Breeders Cup Classic a handicap? Is the Arc de Triomphe a handicap? Is the King George VI/Queen Elizabeth Stakes or the Coral-Eclipse a handicap? None of the world's championship clashes of the best of generations is handicapped for the simple reason that this produces no champions; only winners at the weights. Before long, Super Stakes winners will enter the race with form figures of '000' manipulated for a false handicap mark and our championship event will become just another corrupt opportunity to land a gambling coup. Mark my word.
Finally, divestment. This Government is turning a simple exercise into convoluted nonsense and seems anxious to spend as much pork-barrel money on this divestment as possible before the music stops and the party ends.
DBJ has advertised for a 'strategic consultant':
"The Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), on behalf of the Government of Jamaica and [CTL] Enterprise Team, invites eligible consultants to respond to its request for proposal to provide strategic consultancy services to privatise the assets/operations of CTL."
But Government is in possession of an unsolicited offer to purchase CTL from persons most intimately involved in racing ('stakeholders'). This offer signals unprecedented racetrack unity; has been professionally packaged; and is supported by Sagicor Bank, which will locate the required venture capital.
Yet, Government needs a 'strategic consultant'. Good grief. Based on the history of stakeholders' hard feelings carried for more than 25 years, the concept of some outsider 'winning the bid' and trying to operate the racetrack with these same stakeholders is a pipe dream. In the vernacular, it caan wuk.
Why are we conducting this absurd process? DBJ's website announced a plan is to pay the 'strategic consultant' $20 million over one year. FOR WHAT? WHY? WHOSE MONEY?
Please stop running around to Benny Hill's theme music. Stop fanciful pretences of transparency. Accept the stakeholders' offer. Dispose of the Keystone Cops and replace them with persons forced to put up or shut up, and start working on the root of the problem.
The Keystone Cops enjoy spending other people's money and boasting about non-achievement. So they trumpet a financially reckless and dangerous decision to maintain purses at current unrealistic levels while treating punters' concerns with disrespect. They don't appreciate that closed mouth gathers no foot. It's the technology, stupid. It's the financial fundamentals, stupid. All else is illusion.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email