Giving horseplayers a voice.

Why I Support the CA Boycott

December 14, 2010
Players are stakeholders too.


This week it was announced that there is a national boycott of California thoroughbred racing. As a good deal of you know, The California Horse Racing Board decided to raise takeout this past year, despite gambling experts, empirical data, most of the racing press, and horseplayers urging them not to.

The same board passed a takeout hike earlier in the year as a test case at Los Alamitos and on-track handle was off over 25%, with total handle off around 15%. Regardless, they pressed on and did it again.

California certainly is a dysfunctional state, in many ways. Their horse racing board, which makes wagering decisions, is mostly filled with horse owners, bureaucrats and political appointees. To many, this is a group that should not be making multi-million dollar gambling decisions - real gambling people should - while leaving horse decisions to them, yet they do.

As has been shown time and time again, raising purses through a takeout increase (or even through slots) does not help the long-term growth of your gambling business. Over time, your customer base always shrinks and we are left with less than we started with. In fact, the same group (the CHRB) did something similar in 2006, raising purses in the short term, and everything was supposed to be fine. It failed, and now they are back again doing the same thing. Unlike most businesses who correct mistakes after trying them and failing, California redoes them, hoping for a different result.

There are many people supporting this because they see a few more dollars waved in front of them, but in my opinion, they are focused on only one thing: Their pocketbook over the short term.

I know someone like Bob Baffert supports this hike in takeout, and he has said so. He will see a purse this spring of $20,000 for his horses that last year was $18,000. Who doesn’t like money? The problem is, ten years ago that $18,000 purse was $25,000. In ten years that purse will probably be less than $10,000.

Not long ago I saw a video of a California trainer say “we should take as much as we can when it’s there, because it won’t be around much longer.” It’s the way the business functions, and thinks (and not just in California; as a good friend likes to say “racing cannot look past its own nose”).

This takeout hike might have a pharma sales rep adding a few more dollars to his expense account for 2011, because people like John Sadler can put some of the purse increase into a new supplement. Awesome! But ten years ago the same pharma rep had ten stops on his horse route and drove a Lexus. In ten years he will have to move to Pennsylvania in his Impala.

It might help some others in the short term too. This takeout hike might get a groom tipped $20 more for a win because of a slight purse increase this spring. That’s wonderful. Who doesn’t like money? But ten years ago she got $50.

Ten years from now she will be unemployed.

Why am I supporting the boycott? Because I want horse racing to have a good future; and takeout hikes, a lack of customer appreciation and a dysfunctional management system whereby horsemen make gambling decisions assures a bad future, not a good one.

If people like Keith Brackpool, or Bob Baffert, or a groom, or a Pfizer sales rep won’t stand up for racing’s long-term health, who the hell will?

I bet $1833 a day on California thoroughbred racing last season. This season I will bet zero.

It is not because I want to hurt someone.

It is not because I am a fly-off-the-handle militant who wants something for free.

It is not because with takeout going up my betting ROI in California will go down.

It’s because in a decade’s time I want the sport I enjoy to be bigger and stronger than it is today, instead of smaller and weaker.

And it appears not a soul in racing other than my fellow horseplayers care enough about our sport to do something about it.

Copyright © 2010 Horseplayers Association of North America