Making Betting More Friendly: Tom Amello


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With racing’s temporary opportunity as the only game in town, the TDN’s Katie Ritz took a poll of some industry insiders known to like a good bet and asked them: what is one simple way that tracks could make betting more friendly for existing horseplayers and/or more effective at bringing in new players? As you’ll see, none of them could stop at just one.

Making betting more friendly, especially for novices, requires a new concept. I propose teaching the gamble at the core of Thoroughbred racing, grounded in wagering, and empowering new fans to easily wager on “live” horses.

The best experience at a Thoroughbred racetrack is winning–cashing a ticket. But everyone cannot win, so, what is the second-best experience? Most in and outside the industry say, “have fun.” I believe the answer to the second question must be grounded in the same context as the first: a wager. My answer, then, is “the fun of being close”; holding tickets on horses engaged in the run to the wire. There is little “fun” holding tickets on horses which never contend. Non-winning “fun” is the between-race experience tracks work so diligently to provide.     Equal diligence must be applied to helping newbies experience the joy of being in contention; the sizzle on the steak Thoroughbred racing sells.

In my opinion, current fan education is flawed. First, newbies arrive unprepared to participate in a game of opinion. Second, newbies lack an understanding of what opinion means at a racetrack. For lack of opinion, newbies are less likely to cash tickets or be close. Additionally, current fan education opportunities overwhelm with arcane terminology, countless small numbers, and unfamiliar personalities. The information starts too high up the ladder of learning. The model emphasizes bewildering “how to” processes (how to read past performances, how to physically make a wager) rather than necessary critical understandings.

I propose a totally new concept of focusing education for new players on the tote board.

Since newbies have no opinion, they must be taught to play with the crowd and the tote board, as the tote oard represents the collective opinion of all bettors. Near 85% of winners are among the betting public’s top three or four choices. These are the “live” horses.

Furthermore, the tote board presents pictures. These pictures determine the “type” of race facing bettors. There are only four pictures/types.

  • A one-horse race with a heavy favorite at noticeably short odds
  • A two-horse race with two entrants at 2-1 or less
  • A race with a clear favorite, a clear second and clear third choice; a balanced race
  • A race with no clear favorite, with two or more at similar odds (5-2, 3-1, 3-1)

Each picture/type, once identified during “live” betting, determines simple wagering options. These race types and wagering options are easily taught to and understandable by newbies.

This concept stands at the lowest rung on the ladder of learning. It can be mastered in a short session. No past performances are necessary, no trainer angles, no speed figures, no trips, no biases, no jargon–all are factored into the crowd’s “live” odds. From this point of learning, understanding and cheering, newbies can self-determine when to move up the ladder to more traditional information… and prepare to take on the crowd.

Tom Amello produced and hosted original programming for Capital District Off Track Betting in the Saratoga region of NY for over 20 years. Trackfacts Live was a feature call-in show from the backstretch at Saratoga. Tom has written blogs, hosted podcasts, and provided stakes analysis for Capital OTB. He can be reached at [email protected].

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