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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Games of Skill and Chance

- Steve Crist writes in the Form about the big numbers for the Travers Day handle. Despite the smaller on-track crowd, the on-track handle of $8.57 million was the third highest ever, and the $1 million guaranteed Pick 4 had a pool of over $1.6 million.

There may be two lessons here. The first is that maybe, just maybe, people actually like betting on really good horses. The second is that horseplayers do not necessarily want pick-whatever sequences of one impossible race after another, and may prefer to have some reliable anchors in their multirace plays, for both confidence and affordability. The Breeders' Cup will not announce the order of its races this year until the races are drawn, presumably to put the smaller fields with heavier favorites earlier on the card and out of the multirace bets. That's not necessarily the best way to go. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
When I posted about that Pick 4, writing that it should be a hugely popular bet, I then thought about what I’d written and wondered if it was right. The common wisdom is that the betting public loves to have wide open races to play, induced by the possibility of a life-changing score. But the ‘reliable anchors’ that Crist wrote about is what drew me, not a regular Pick 4 player, to the bet, and apparently many others as well. I’m definitely amongst those who are put off by feeling as if I need to spread each race, not only for affordability but also because I’m wary about including horses in races after the first leg that I would usually wait to see the tote action on. It seemed like everyone had something or other going on in the Pick 4. In fact, the betting lines, which had been a bit of a problem at times during the day, were virtually non-existent for the 2nd and 3rd legs, as many in the crowd chose to just let their bet ride.

I also like those ‘reliable anchors’ because sometimes they ain’t so reliable, and being able to take a stand against one of them successfully is what leads to nice payoffs. I thought perhaps we’d be rewarded a bit more for beating Henny Hughes in the Hopeful than the $62.50 payoff. Crist says that First Samurai’s win was not the kind that summoned the aroma of roses in May
After chasing Too Much Bling through a quick half-mile in 44.81 seconds, he pulled clear through six furlongs in 1:09.25 but then needed exactly 14 seconds for his seventh furlong and lugged in while doing it.

The Travers card featured another remarkable 2-year-old performance, the winning debut of Discreet Cat, a son of Forestry and half-brother to Pretty Wild trained by Stan Hough. Discreet Cat ran six furlongs in 1:09.76 after a moderate opening half-mile in 45.41, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths over the promising Superfly (a full brother to Andromeda's Hero) and earning a lofty 106 Beyer. If he can rate and stretch out, he's going to make a lot of noise this fall.


- Pacific Classic winner Borrego will likely train up to the Breeders Cup Classic.

- Freshman sire Forest Camp has been a phenom with debut runners, having already sired eight first-time winning starters from his first crop. [Albany Times-Union]

- Wednesday has the making of an attendance embarrassment for NYRA at Saratoga. After only 12,376 showed up on Monday, the final week kicks off with the promise of rain from the remnants of Katrina, and a nine race card that includes two steeplechase races, not to mention two maiden claimers. I wonder if the run of crowds of 10,000 or more at the Spa could come to an inglorious end.

- When the Arkansas state government passed Senate Bill 999 last March, it gave Oaklawn Park the right to ask for, and conduct at their expense, citywide or countywide elections to determine whether other “electronic games of skill” can be played at the parks. [Arkansas House of Representatives Release]

Oaklawn had originally intended to conduct the referendum in March. But now, citing pressure from horsemen and city officials, the track has applied to conduct the vote on November 8, in advance of the 2006 race meeting. Oaklawn had the choice of conducting the referendum city or county wide, and opted to limit it to their home city of Hot Springs, citing the success of a city-wide vote to approve Sunday racing several years ago.

Oaklawn currently has 260 Instant Racing machines, on which patrons bet on old races. Oaklawn’s Terry Wallace said said that he didn’t foresee the new games supplanting Instant Racing any time soon. "It’s been tremendously popular.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] That’s for sure! I was astounded to read that during the 2005 live meet, betting on these machines constituted 19% of the total [of all-sources handle], with $38,681,732 wagered on the machines, more than double the $16,523,932 wagered on Instant Racing in 2004. [Thoroughbred Times]

The legislation, now referred to as Act 1511, would not add more Instant Racing machines; in fact they are specifically excluded. The question of what constitutes an “electronic game of skill” is a matter of dispute. The Arkansas State constitution prohibits lotteries or games of chance. The bill itself reads: "Electronic games of skill" means games played through any electronic device or machine that afford an opportunity for the exercise of skill or judgment where the outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone. [Gambling-Law-US.com] The House of Representatives release said that this “apparently” includes video poker, though some states have ruled otherwise. Video backgammon and keno are other possibilities.
The Arkansas Racing Commission has yet to define "electronic games of skill."

Shelby McCook, the commission manager, said Monday that the panel would define those games, as well as the number of video machines to be placed at each track, if and when voters in the two cities approve the games. [Ark Democrat Gazette]

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