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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jockey Club Pushes Push-Poll at Round Table

Apparently I wasn't the only one getting a negative vibe from the Jockey Club Round Table conference.  Matt Hegarty reported in the Daily Racing Form that some racing officials reacted with frustration at the portrayal of the sport and its ongoing reform efforts.

“I thought it was inexplicably negative, in both tone and tenor,” said Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a Mid-Atlantic-based group that has led the effort to obtain pledges from states to pass the uniform rules by Jan. 1. “Frankly, I can’t understand it. It was as if nothing is happening. They refused to even acknowledge that progress has been made.”
And as Teresa reports in Bloodhorse, similar sentiments were expressed at Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Institute conference in Saratoga on Tuesday.

Let's go back to Drape's article on the Round Table - we got no further than the headline in the last post.  The article quite prominently features the results of a poll that the Jockey Club presented in order to make the case that illicit medication and cheating was having a direct and material effect on the industry's bottom line.
The poll found that when handicapping races at certain racetracks or in certain states, nearly four in five bettors — 79 percent — considered the possibility of illegal drug use.

By a 9 to 1 margin, bettors said they bet less, not more, because they had to factor in the possibility of illegal drug use. In the study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers nationally, the strongest advocates for change were those who bet more than $10,000 per month: 89 percent “strongly support” national uniform medication rules; 93 percent want those rules sooner.   
“It is critically important that strict, uniform rules be adopted immediately because of the commercial consequences," said Robert Green of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll.. 
Paulick discussed the poll results as well, and added:
As Janney said after Green’s presentation, those who ignore the survey results are “numb, delusional, or possibly both.”
Well, I read this stuff with interest because I've always been highly skeptical of the notion that the issue was doing significant damage to the bottom line.  I can surely be wrong about that.  And I definitely don't want to be numb and delusional.  Or possibly both.

But I later found this interesting tidbit in another article by Hegarty.
Green said the poll respondents were directed to the survey by the Horseplayers Association of North America and the sheet-maker Thoro-Graph, whose founders administer Internet sites that often encourage spirited commentary about drugs in racing.
Oh.  Well, that's a bit different than just a "study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers nationally."  It's a study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers who frequent the HANA and Thoro-graph sites.  I only know what I'm told about the latter, but I think it's pretty clear that people who visit HANA would tend to be more opinionated on the topics addressed in the poll than the general degenerate gambler population, and likely lean toward a more militant anti-drug stance; and please correct me if you think I'm wrong. So I think that's pretty significant information.  If I was reading results of a poll showing overwhelming opposition to laws against assault weapons, wouldn't I want to know if the respondents were directed to the survey by the NRA?

Whats more, I also read, somewhere or other, comments from Round Table participants questioning the fairness of the poll, with the concern that it was a "push-poll," with questions framed to produce desired results.   I then found these comments underneath Paulick's piece:
I got a link to participate in the poll in the Horseplayers Assn of North America (HANA) newsletter, so I filled out the poll. Maybe HANA's membership was the whole sample. I think I could have filled out the survey multiples times if I wished. I didn't.

Even though I agree with the Jockey Club's stance, I thought the poll was a clumsy, obviously biased exercise that looked like one of the polls that come with advocacy groups' fundraising letters. Everyone knows they just want your check, not your answers to obviously leading questions. The poll was that bad.

The poll results do reflect my own opinions and I'd be shocked if a real poll of horseplayers would yield very different results. But this poll was nonsense and Penn & Schoen should be ashamed of itself for presenting it as a legitimate public opinion sampling.    
And this:
The survey asked if I thought drugs were bad. And I answered: "Yes". I do. Then it asked if I avoid tracks and races where drugs are prevalent. And I said: "Yes". This is partially true. Then it asked if I lower my play because of drugs. And I said: "Yes". That might have been a lie. My point is the survey was leading me in a direction........I felt I was not given a real opportunity to express what I thought was wrong with racing. Drugs are an issue; so I basically told them what was obvious. Do I think drug use is the most important issue that negatively affects horseracing? NO! To me, it's the quality of racing and the lack of focus on the customer.
Well, I guess it's good in a way that the Jockey Club is learning the tricks of manipulating the press, and public opinion.  It's a skill they could put to really good use some day.  Put out some results of a poll that was apparently skewed both in substance, and subjects.  And some newspaper out there which isn't necessarily interested in presenting a fair story on a topic on which it has made its agenda clear.....perhaps even the prestigious New York Times....will pick it up and report it as fact without bothering to dig any deeper (or to merely report the same quotes that Hegarty did).  (And yes, we're holding the Times to a higher standard than the Paulick Report, on which the proprietor writes opinion pieces and at least allows free-wheeling discussion which, in this case, served towards repudiating that particular portion of his commentary.)

To be sure, I still could be dead wrong, numb, and delusional, and the gentlemen who speculated that a "real poll" would produce the same results could be right on.  But the Jockey Club surely shouldn't have to resort to tacky polls to justify their efforts to clean up the sport.  And the Times should surely hold itself to a far higher standard of journalism.


Anonymous said...

Hey old friend, I think you doth look to deeply into a poll :)

I thought a little similarly, doing the poll. But I learned later that the comments on the poll being leading are based on the person's answer. I answered affirmatively so I got one set of questions, someone who answered differently, so I am told, got a different set of questions. So, people who answered drugs weren't a problem were lead down a different path. As I understand it, that's what polls generally do to glean data.

As for who they asked, well, I think that's common sense. If I wanted to know what people thought about milkshakes, I would ask people who drink them in a dedicated way (probably an organization with some fat people). That they asked dedicated bettors in Thorograph's community and at HANA should not be surprising. That's where I'd go to ask questions.

The horsemen lawyers yesterday were upset, and understandably. But there's no reason to shoot the messenger, imo. Horsplayers wanting drugs out of racing in a majority is just confirming what we all know to be common sense. Those who argue against it, tend to argue about polls.


Figless said...

This poll was clearly not scientific and can therefore be ignored which does not mean the results are inaccurate. Especially since it appears there was no restriction on partaking multiple times.

If the JC intended to use the results in this manner, it should have commissioned a scientific survey of randomly sampled wagering account holders across all spectrums.

I agree with the goal but it should be honestly presented and debated.

Clearly we need uniform medication rules, but threatening to bring in the Feds because one important State, Florida, appears unwilling to adopt your position is draconian.

With all due respect, Phipps and Janney, who in part presided over the decline at NYRA and racing in general over the last few decades, are the last folks that should be leading racing into the future. They had their chance and blew it, time to step aside, even if their heart is now in the right place.

They remind me of Selig in MLB, trying to revise their legacy and willing to do anything to accomplish that goal.

Anonymous said...

In the 4th at Saratoga today, Chance Encounter (6-1) returns off an impressive win at the Spa two weeks back -- made a big move on the far turn and ran off at 3-1.


El Angelo said...

NYRA should be embarrassed by the poor quality of Saturday's card. The Sword Dancer and the Alabama are both good races. But beyond that, there are 2 claiming races, 2 maiden claiming races, 3 optional claimers, and two maiden races, one of which is for state breds. This is really the best they can do for a Saturday at Saratoga?