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Finding a way to make racing prosper and survive

Published:Saturday | May 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Howard Hamilton, HORSE SENSE

Discussions with respect to the role of our local bookmakers in the racing industry will now be a serious topic following the release of the report commissioned by the minister of finance. It is timely that we look at what is the position in other racing jurisdictions.

There is only one thing certain in racing right now the world over - it is having to compete more and more with other leisure activities. The consumer is king and racing is finding it difficult to attract a new younger crowd who have so many other choices on which to spend their leisure dollar.

The United Kingdom (UK) continues to increase attendances at the track which is fantastic but has a weak tote and an eternal battle between collecting and increasing the bookmakers levy and an alternative commercial model to fund racing.

The United States (US), due to its size and geography, has embarked on the simulcast route sending New York's racing to California and vice versa. Some tracks race to empty stands.

Many observers claim the 3% - 5% racing charges to have its product simulcast many miles away is too low. The cash though is extra to that previously received betting only to the local market and those actually at the track and the pools are stronger as a result. Most important is the increased pool which reduces the opportunity for manipulation.

The USA continues to diversify into slots and instant racing terminals to help fund the purses and increase the taxes paid to government.

Australia has three totes, a monopoly in the high street and bookmakers and totes both available on course.

France is a tote monopoly, so is Japan and Hong Kong which both have the highest tote turnovers on the planet.

South Korea plays virtual computerised racing in a big way.

South Africa has both fixed odds and tote but nonetheless has a united front with racing owning the tracks and the tote and forges ahead strongly with its international expansion programme moving its race times and programmes to fit in with an increasing global audience.

embracing change

There really is no right or wrong way with each country's model having its merits. What is important is that all bets that use the data of the racetrack are passed through that track's tote system.

How does the world bolster the industry, strengthen it for its children and its children's children for racing to grow and prosper?

There is much migration in the world today and technology, satellites, and in racing's case, simulcasting is enabling racing from different countries to be beamed around the globe.

Everyone loves to pick a winner and enjoys the thrill of the races. Ask the owner, the breeder, the promoter and they will tell you racing is a fantastic sport. Ask the bookmaker and they tell you racing is a fantastic betting product.

The answer is that neither can survive alone, racing needs betting and betting needs racing for future prosperity everywhere in the world today. This question has been pondered the world over to ensure racing's longevity rather than its decline into the virtual world of computer graphics and random number-generated races that today is virtual racing.

Owners, breeders, promoters, bookmakers, regulators and Government need to work together to put on a great show for the public and ensure racing's future against an ever-increasing reason for that public to spend their leisure dollar on something else

There needs to be a balance and a trust between the parties if growth and unity is to succeed. The breeders supply the horses; they want better bloodstock and higher prices for their foals or yearlings. This can only happen through more confidence by owners, a strong economy, good purses and higher quality mares and stallions capable of performing on a local or world stage.

The owners pay the fees so they desire a first-class track with facilities to match and a programme where they have a chance of good purses to help cover their costs. This can only happen by more investment and reinvestment by either reallocation of taxes, direct or indirect, in the form of levies or commercial arrangements with bookmakers for the product and the show put on by the track. The promoters and track put on the show and need to ensure enough income to be profitable and pay its staff, reinvest for the future in facilities for the public and ensure good purses to encourage competitive racing. This can only happen if the public come to the racetrack, the owners, breeders and trainers continue to supply competitive racing and the racing commissioners ensure the integrity of the industry and give the public the confidence that racing is straight and everyone has a fair chance.

place your bets

The public bet on the horses and want racing to be regulated with good information to help in handicapping the action, more ways to bet in a comfortable environment either at the bookmakers, in their own home or at the track. They want a fair return with more money paid back in winnings, which in turn encourages the churn effect.

This can happen in many ways, by putting tote terminals side by side with lottery terminals or betting shop terminals. Giving the bookmakers the opportunity and desire to want to bet into the promoter's pools and creating exciting bet types with big and fair payouts to encourage tote betting to sit side by side with fixed odds betting. In a free economy, it's about choice and ease of entry. Moving on with technology and enabling telephone betting, Internet betting, betting by SMS (short messaging service) or WAP (wireless application protocol) , account wagering, credit betting, betting using credit or debit cards but at the same time strong regulation to protect minors and disadvantaged groups under a well-licensed and policed regime.

The UK betting shops have introduced fixed odds betting terminals to help offset a lower margin in horse racing. In the UK each betting outlet is allowed three slot machines or random number-generated roulette machines.

In the USA more and more racetracks are getting slot machines that are taxed at an average of 50% to pay for schooling and health care but at the same time still giving enough profits to see purses grow exponentially and racetracks reinvest in infrastructure and facilities.

There are many ways to fund racing and I hope and pray it survives and prospers for many years to come and that Jamaica can find its own unique way of helping the industry survive and grow.

Howard L. Hamilton, CD, JP is a former chairman of Caymanas Track Limited. He is the current president of Thoroughbred Owners and Breeder's Association. He can be contacted at