By Dean Hoffman
Shaun Pyrah of Australia won the $15,000 first prize in the Innovators’ Circle, racing’s first pitch competition, at the wrap-up session of the 42nd annual Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming. The event is sponsored by the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program.
He presented his idea titled “SWOP Stakes,” a competition offering “life changing prizes, social skill-based game play on real time racing and sports.” SWOP Stakes is a multiple race wager and Pyrah distributed live tickets to audience members to demonstrate how the promotion works.
Pyrah is the Director Strategy for Six Faces, an interactive wagering firm.
Doug Reed, head of the Race Track Industry Program, said that the idea for the Innovators’ Circle was based on the TV show “Shark Tank” and drew entries from five continents. Reed said that the Innovators’ Circle program would return at the 2016 Global Symposium, perhaps with a few tweaks.
The also-rans in the Innovators’ Circle included pitches for an Equine Standing 3D CT Equine Scanner, which holds promise for reducing catastrophic breakdowns; “20 Wins A Million, a racing game aimed at attracting millenials; and Thoroughbred Stock Exchange, a new model for horse ownership.
Judging the contests were three executives with widespread industry experience: John Ford, CEO of BAM Software & Services, LLC; John Hartig, CEO, Sports Information Group, Daily Racing Form; and Mike Tanner, CEO of the United States Trotting Association.
Audience members were permitted to cast a “peoples’ choice” award by voting for their favorite idea and the Equine Standing 3D CT Scanner proved to be their favorite. The product promises to help reduce catastrophic breakdowns in racing by identifying horses most at risk before they race.
The Innovators’ Circle was sponsored by the Race Track Industry Program in conjunction with gaming author Vin Narayan and the tech firm Neomancer. Narayan and Hai Ng, a partner in Neomancer, have been prominent and popular speakers at the Global Symposium in recent years.
Also on the theme of innovation during the Symposium, groups of attendees proposed other new ideas for racing, and audience members were asked to vote for their favorite. The winning entry was a pitch for racing to make more aggressive use of drones to bring exciting new perspectives to TV coverage of racing. The aerial coverage of Mine That Bird’s route to an upset victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby was cited as an excellent example.
Four panelists spoke on the topic of “Serious Realities in Fantasy Sports” on Wednesday afternoon.
New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, participating via Skype, addressed the situation in the Garden State.
“We’re in limbo regarding regulating fantasy sports gambling,” he said. “I think there are too many consumer protection concerns to leave it unregulated. It should be licensed and regulated in my opinion.”
He later said that New Jersey is examining bringing historical racing games to the state’s tracks.
Panelist John Ford said, “The fantasy sports players are the same type of person who is a horse player.
Ford, who is CEO of BAM Software & Services, LLC, added, “They’re doing the same thing, examining data and placing wagers. Fantasy creates a great opportunity for racing to create new customers.”
Jack McGrail, executive director of the Oregon Racing Commission, disagreed.
“I don’t think these are the same people that are at the race track,” he said. “I don’t think allowing fantasy gaming at the tracks is going to help racing. If a person is betting fantasy while at a track, he’s not going to bet as much on the races.”
Attendees got an international perspective from speakers around the globe. Rene Schneider of TSG Global Wagering Solutions, LLC stressed the importance of knowing the legal landscape in each country, moving quickly into new markets, and partnering with local racing. He also emphasized the need to understand the customer and keying on technology.
Franck Rousseau of PMU, the French betting organization, reported that his country has 242 tracks, half the total in all of Europe. PMU has 12,200 retail outlets in France and more than six million customers. All of its net profits are returned to the racing industry.
Rousseau noted that French tracks annually offer €190 million in purse money to flat and jump races and €250 million to purses for trotting events.
The Symposium concluded on Wednesday evening with an “Hasta La Vista” fiesta for all attendees.