The Race to Modernize
by Ray Hanania
The Race to Modernize
New technologies designed to encourage ‘crossovers’ at today’s racino properties
More and more racetracks are seeking to offer slot machines as a means of leveling the revenue playing field. Indiana is the 12th state to allow slots at racetracks; more racinos are opening in Pennsylvania; and racino legislation proposals are pending in Florida and New York as well.
The belief is tracks with slot machines create bigger purses that in turn will restore the popularity of racetrack parimutuel betting, especially among players who prefer to bet on full fields and the best horses.
But recent studies show that simply adding slot machines to a racetrack might not be enough by itself, and some critics insist that horse racing continues to “take a back seat” to other forms of gaming.
Part of the problem, according to some industry leaders, is the “cross-over gap” that exists between traditional patrons of casinos and traditional patrons of racetracks. Slot play is driven more by luck, while horse betting requires a higher level of gaming knowledge of horse race statistics and data.
However, new technology may be the answer toward bridging the still-existing gap and turning racetracks with slots into profit-making enterprises across their casino gaming and racing operations.
Doting on tote kiosks
Many racinos recognize the importance of basic tote kiosk systems. Some of the leading manufacturers of kiosks include United Tote, Scientific Games and AmTote.
United Tote designs, manufactures and operates pari-mutuel wagering systems for more than 150 racing companies and numerous OTB facilities in North America and around the world. One of its products is the “F Series,” or Full Service kiosk with a compact design and modularity that offers operators “new levels of feature and function—in both self-service and staffed modes of operation.”
Scientific Games is a global marketing and technology leader in the lottery, parimutuel, and telecommunications industries, with expertise in the provision of parimutuel (pooled) wagering and venue management services for racetracks and off-track betting facilities.
AmTote created the first automated totalisator system, the first cash/sell terminal, the first regional “HUB” system and the first Windows NT based tote system, and continues into the future with wireless terminals, voice betting, Internet betting and instant racing. AmTote® now has over 800 customers worldwide and over 400 employees in the United States, Canada and Australia.
“Kiosks have been around for more than a decade but they are being introduced to racinos in a new way,” said Bill Candow, CIO and vice president of information technology for the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania.
Prior to the introduction of these new racing kiosks, patrons had to stand in line either at a teller or self-service terminal to place a bet.
Tote boards are common at race tracks, for years large analog marquees that more recently have been converted to digital displays that provides information such as the time of day, post time to next race, odds on each horse in the last race, results and the payoffs in last race, the approximate odds of each horse in the next race, track conditions, equipment and jockey changes and potential payoffs for some of the more exotic bets.
“With technology these kiosks now offer a wider range of features such as real-time handicapping, food service and racing results,” Candow said.
He noted Opera Glass Networks has implemented an example of the solution for multiple race track operations including Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Giving players a ‘portal’
But to achieve and increase cross play from slots to horses, racinos must give the typical slot player not only more incentives to lure them to the horse racing game, but to also make it easier to quickly understand the horse races themselves.
“A big turnoff for the slot player is the need to understand how to place bets in horse racing. Elements of horse race betting are a real turnoff for a slot player and they are not crossing over,” Candow contended.
Now being tested, Candow said, is a new, cutting-edge technology called PortalVision, manufactured by Las Vegas Gaming Inc. The system overlays traditional slot machines and can allow bettors to see race data, allows gamers to place multiple bets, be notified of race results and upcoming betting events, while also being able to enjoy the racino facilities and promotions without ever leaving betting stations.
“It’s all about experience. A good gaming system sells enjoyment. We want to make it easier for the patron. You also have the capability of putting a lottery on the [system],” said Candow, noting that Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs will begin testing the product.
“The new PortalVision provides the same support as a tote kiosk used by racetracks for pari-mutuel betting, combines it with a video or electronic slot machine and adds a whole new component of increased casino service.”
PortalVision will also allow a player to place a bet on a horse race not just at the racetrack but at race- tracks around the country.
“And, it will give the player access to all the information they may need to decide which race and horse to bet on,” Candow said.
“But, it doesn’t stop there. PortalVision will notify you of the results of a race, and even direct the player to other promotions and incentives to increase the amount of betting opportunities. The kiosk will prompt you after a win that you may wish to take some of your winnings and place them on a lottery game, or bet someplace else, and complete the wager without having the player leave the kiosk,” he said.
As for incentives, PortalVision can also synchronize with track buffets and restaurants or shows, allowing a player, for example, to place their name in a cue for a popular buffet during high traffic times, and then be prompted when their time slots to enter the buffet are ready.
“You don’t want your patrons waiting in a line. The kiosk can inform them when their queue is up in line to enter the buffet. They can even order drinks and more,” Candow said. “Waiting is a very frustrating component. People hate to wait. If we can eliminate waiting, the whole experience of gaming would be more enjoyable. It allows for better planning and time management for the patron.”
Better understanding, analysis
Chris Warren, director of racing and simulcasting at Boyd Gaming and the Delta Downs Racetrack Casino & Hotel, agrees horse race wagering can be “slow paced” because of the knowledge required. He said betting on horses can be challenging to the novice, but also a disadvantage because slot machines enjoy an edge that offer gamers huge, instant payouts.
Warren says that linking racing and casino slot machines together is fine strategy to offer huge payouts with minimal skill level, pushing casino players to take an interest in racing.
“There are many new and advanced ways to wager and view the races from a laptop or console betting device located right at your table,” Warren noted.
But, he adds, racinos must still offer the basics, such as “full fields, nice facilities, atmosphere, wagering options, incentives and excellent location.”
Helping bettors to analyze horse races can attract slot players to the track, a major component of a major renovation project.
Trakus, a Massachusetts-based company specializing in tracking systems and related technology services for sports and media, offers a new hi-tech device that could revolutionize the way bettors analyze races.
Now in production, Trakus’ Virtuoso video graphics workstation enables live and replay production enhancements, including full-field running order, sectional times and margins, a “progress” meter, and photo-realistic 3D virtual replays from any virtual camera angle. Remote management and system support are provided by the Trakus Network Operations Center.
The Trakus system includes a high-resolution to-scale track model and color-coded tiles (referred to as “chicklets”) that together allow for viewers to more easily identify and follow their horses throughout a race.
The system also offers full-screen views with animated horses and virtual camera control to enable truly innovative on-air analysis.
Fans watching via trackside LED displays or from off-site simulcast can now easily follow their horse throughout the entire race.
And, Trakus provides the ability—via sensor chips carried in saddlecloths and antennas positioned around the racetrack—to track each horse in a race electronically and digitally in real time. Information on individual horses is collected and displayed in various viewer-friendly animated forms.
The system officially rolled out last year at Woodbine in Ontario, where it has been undergoing extensive testing.
Once the horses are inside the sixteenth pole, the running order graphics are removed from the Trakus data display, so that fans aren’t led to false results—it is the photo finish camera that determines final placing, not Trakus.
Trakus also offers a dedicated in-house television channel for their system. Not only does it show live races, but also a variety of views after each race. The graphics could offer a jockey’s point of view, a birds-eye view or a rail angle, for example.
The channel also provides summaries of the speed of each horse, their fractional times during the race, the actual distance they traveled, and other data; some of which will also be available on the track’s Web site.
Sona Mobile Holdings Corp., a New York-based company that has made aggressive inroads in gaming since the industry’s recent embrace of wireless wagering, recently announced a strategic partnership agreement with Daily Racing Form Inc. (DRF), a national newspaper and online brand committed to coverage of horse racing.
An exclusive DRF-branded wireless portal will be developed under the partnership that will allow racing fans to access, via cell phones and other wireless devices, real-time content from DRF publications. Sona said its wireless application will provide horse racing fans with a modern and exciting interface for accessing racing news, editorial content, entry information for all North American tracks, racing results, live odds, video clips, and more.
Helping internal operations
For the track’s back of house operations, Jim Altrichter, president of Smart Button Associates, said his company also provides loyalty marketing software systems that help racinos collect and segment a player database while managing encompassing marketing programs.
Another unique process in racing is the settlement function. As racinos simulcast different races, their parimutuel pools and fees to the host tracks are impacted by the monies wagered. A complicated process typically developed and managed by individual pari-mutuel managers and accounting personnel at different tracks can now be run through a variety of software systems like pari-mutuel accounting software provided by Perfecta Systems.
Those who bet the races watch the finish line for the payoff. In a live racing environment, a player can’t miss the action. With simulcasts, the number of races, horses and betting pools increases exponentially. The management of the simulcast information can be challenging for the racino operation and player alike. Scientific Games helps both.
“We provide all the hardware, software, systems and service that a pari-mutuel wagering facility will need when it comes to managing wagering at the facility,” said David Schorr, director of product development for Scientific Games Racing Division.
“We provide an extended reach into the specifics of the racino patrons which extends from back office to player tracking to the fine tuned management of the parimutuel wagering at a facility.”
One of the company’s products is the Interactive Player Terminal (IPT), a “one-stop-shop” where players can watch live and replayed races, view handicapping information and wager. Information from players using the terminals can then be collected for use with database marketing efforts.