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Friday, May 23, 2014

Churchill Boycott Gathers Steam

Handle at Churchill Downs is down rather substantially since Derby weekend; that according to figures released the other day by HANA, which has spearheaded the boycott over the rise in takeout rates there.  

 The Horseplayers Association of North America reports spring meet handle compared with last year is down 6.4% to $284,568,040 at Churchill. That figure represents a $1.4 million decline per race day. The HANA figures can't readily be compared with track figures because other than big race days, Churchill Downs does not release handle figures. The track does release handle figures to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. [Bloodhorse]
 I saw some notes on Twitter yesterday that Thursday's handle was off some 38% from the comparable day last year.

I find myself reporting these numbers with glee, even though I was initially unmoved by the call to boycott over the takeout rates.  And even now, my issue with Churchill is really more over their general corporate dickheadedness than their raising their prices.  Corporations have every right to do so, and consumers have every right to resist those increases.  I'm strictly a value guy when it comes to evaluating races for wagering, and I just figure that if the takeout rates cause races at a particular track to generally lack value, then I'll be 'boycotting' it organically anyway.  (One of the problems with a boycott such as this is that it doesn't allow the order of events that horseplayers warn of - lower churn to lower revenue to lower purses to smaller fields - to play out naturally, thus depriving them of pure smoking gun evidence to back up their claims.)

So I tweaked HANA on Twitter over the boycott at first, not because I was at all opposed to it, but because, as well-intentioned as I've always acknowledged they are, those guys just bemuse me from time to time and I like to give them the business.  As I've noted before, the horseplayers' organization is quick to take action when they feel as if their wallets are being directly threatened.  But when it comes to those hot button issues of safety and drugs that we hear them speak so passionately about, they are strictly talk.  I don't recall, for example, any calls to boycott Aqueduct when horses were dying at an alarming rate; or to refrain from betting Tampa when there were questions about their enforcement of medication rules against certain trainers.  And we've mentioned how their racetrack ratings do not take those factors into account.

But perhaps I quibble.  And anyway, in light of the subsequent stories about Churchill's poor hospitality and mistreating a disabled former jockey and, especially, their refusal - until compelled to do so - to devote resources to basic needs at the Fair Grounds racetrack, my enthusiasm - and participation - in the boycott has increased.  I think that what really put me over the top was when I read of some empty Churchill Downs suit commenting with respect to the drainage problems at Fair Grounds that were causing inordinate numbers of grass races to be switched to the main track: "Well they all train on dirt, they should be able to run on dirt."  So yeah, screw you guys too.  Unlike in California, where racing officials at least acknowledged the boycott over their takeout rates and installed a low-takeout Pick Five in response, Churchill has arrogantly turned up its noses and hoped that the boycott will just go away.  Perhaps the handle figures will attract their attention.  I know it will once it flows down to the bottom line in a material way.

 - A business group in East Greenbush, NY has come out in favor of the proposed Saratoga harness/Churchill Downs casino there.  
 “As a local small business, I know The Casino at East Greenbush would increase foot traffic to both of our shops. This kind of project doesn’t come around very often, and it has real potential to boost local businesses like mine,” said Scott Bendett, Owner of Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe. [Capitol Confidential]
 Oh man.  Somebody is sure pulling the wool over Scott Bendett's eyes if he thinks that people are going to leave the casino to walk to his cigar store.  Maybe he should visit Ozone Park and ask the store owners on Rockaway Boulevard (other than the pawn shops) how business is going for them.  I would surely imagine that fine cigars will be available for purchase on the grounds at The Casino at East Greenbush gift shops.  And perhaps given away to their best customers too.

 - I still can't believe that the Rangers lost that game last night.  Those are the games that really hurt; the ones when your team is clearly the better one, but somehow manages to wind up on the losing end.  Happens in hockey I think more than in any other sport.  That what makes it so "slippery," as Emile Francis used to say.  I fully expect the result to be different in Game 4 on Sunday.  Think we should kill them.  (Though I said that before Game 4 of the Pittsburgh series too.)

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Quick note. Mathematically it's impossible for lower churn per se, i.e. for given bankroll/investment, to reduce revenue. Handle, yes. Revenue, no. What can reduce revenue is a reduction in investment which also results from takeout increases.