Oaklawn ‘Show Bet Bonus’ a Win for New, Casual Fans

A racing fan at Oaklawn Park takes a closer look at the program. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Every horse racing fan remembers his/her first on-track expedition. My first was watching Standardbreds as a kid at the old Brandywine Raceway in Wilmington, Del., and my first bet was $2 to show on a favorite named Alien.

He won and paid $2.20. And, I actually bet him because the ink on the past performances made the ‘i’ look like an ‘l’ and my best friend at the time was named Allan … but that’s not really the point here.

The point is that most new fans and casual racing fans most often start out with the show bet. It offers the most likely way to cash a ticket and it’s simple to understand. You pick a horse and if it finishes in the top three, you win.

Oaklawn Park introduced today a “one-of-a-kind Show Bet Bonus” for the 2017 live meet at the Hot Springs, Ark., track. Essentially, what it means is that the track will reduce takeout — or take a smaller share of the show pool — for show bets made at the track, resulting in higher payout for a bet that makes up about 12 percent of on-track bets per season. (CHECK OUT THE FULL RELEASE HERE)

“We are in a unique situation,” said Bobby Geiger, director of gaming and wagering for Oaklawn Park. “A significant number of our attendees every season are still relative newcomers to the sport or have never been to a race track before. We want to increase their opportunities to cash tickets, put more money in their pockets and create a more fun environment for them.”

Oaklawn should be lauded for both giving back to the horseplayer and for taking a proactive approach to encouraging new bettors, the latter of which is the focus here.

I often see on social media racing fans dismiss the $2 show bettor, but I’ve always thought that was a huge mistake. The show bet is a great entry point for a new fan. The fan participates in the action — the thrill of having something invested in a race — and has very good shot to cash a winning ticket. It also encourages him/her to learn how to read the program/past performances and ask questions about what to look for.

In my experience, once a new fan cashes a ticket, they’re hooked; and if it’s a horse that particular fan picked on their own, you can bet pretty confidently that they’ve been bitten by the racing bug.

I understand the argument that show bettors and $2 bettors don’t drive racing handle — the amount of money wagered in Thoroughbred racing’s pari-mutuel system that essentially drives the sport — but a prospective horseplayer needs to start somewhere.

Fans at Oaklawn. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Nobody expects a new fan to come through the doors of a track for the first time and pump $500 through the betting window with no idea what’s going on. That’s just not how it works; there is a progression that almost every dedicated fan went through.

So, let’s make it easy on new fans.

I loved Keeneland Race Course’s introduction of “Betologists” on track to show fans how to place a bet, answer questions and offer tips. Oaklawn is similar to Keeneland in that a large percentage of the crowd is newcomers. Oaklawn aims to bring them into the mix via the show bet.

Oaklawn fans will be able to track the “Show Bet Bonus” via a special display on the tote boards and also on on in-house TVs that will clearly indicate the higher payout for every winning show wager made at Oaklawn.

“We believe one of the biggest challenges in racing is attracting new fans and getting them to return,” Geiger said. “Racing and its terminology can be intimidating. Plus, if a first timer gets caught up chasing more complicated wagers, there is a good chance he or she will spend that entire first day at the races and never enjoy one of the best parts – the thrill of picking a winner and cashing a ticket.”

Like most dedicated racing fans, I started out as a $2 bettor at my local track and cashing my first ticket ignited a passion that’s lasted a lifetime. Oaklawn is banking this year on the show bet to spark the interest of new racing fans, and it definitely feels like a sound wager.

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