Jeff Platt, President of Horseplayers Association of North America (H.A.N.A.), isn’t afraid of long odds. In fact, that’s part of what he likes about handicapping horse races. “As a handicapper, I measure success as having the ability to beat a game that 99.9% of everyone will tell you can’t be beaten. As a business owner, I really get enjoyment from helping people overcome things that keep them from beating a game that 99.9% of people will tell you can’t be beaten… Racing represents a complex puzzle. Being able to ‘partially’ solve that puzzle is incredibly enjoyable to me, and helping others learn to do it is enjoyable too.”
That attitude will help the fledgling advocacy organization he oversees overcome the challenges it faces. According to Platt, H.A.N.A. has been in operation about seven months and has already grown to almost 700 members. Although the association is planning a H.A.N.A. race day Saturday April, 18th at Keeneland, most of the membership’s communication happens online. With essentially no operational budget, it has been necessary for H.A.N.A. to rely heavily on online outreach and word of mouth. This approach does have its drawbacks. By Platt’s estimation, total North American handle is roughly $14 billion. Concerning the Internet landscape for horseplayers, Platt says, “I would guess that there are probably about 5000-6000 serious people who really use the Internet for horse racing. In my opinion, that accounts for a very small percentage of all horseplayers out there.”
H.A.N.A. Takes a Grassroots Approach to Improving the Industry
Regarding his involvement in founding the organization, Platt says, “I was one of the first organizers. I would not say that I was the driving force; there were several of us. It was a group effort, truly a grassroots effort.” Several of the other original organizers now serve on H.A.N.A.’s board. Board meetings take place though regular conference calls.
Although frustration may be part of what motivates people to join H.A.N.A., the organizations goals are positive – to empower consumers and benefit the industry. According to Platt, “The number one goal for H.A.N.A. is to help the industry achieve handle growth. Handle growth means more money for the tracks, more money for purses, and more interest from customers.” Of those who chose to join H.A.N.A., Platt asserts, “Rather than walk away from the game, they are willing to add their names and to stand up and be counted.”
H.A.N.A. Wish List for Change
When asked what specific changes the association would like to see take place, Platt’s response is lengthy but organized. Clearly, this question has tapped into the association’s reason for being. “We have a list of our major areas of frustration.”
No Fracturing of Track Signals
First on the list is the fracturing of track signals. When tracks withhold signals, players can’t bet that track. H.A.N.A. would like to see this issue resolved for good. This is an area where H.A.N.A. has already begun to see changes. Platt gave an example from last year. Last year, industry infighting reached a point where people temporarily could not place bets through advance deposit wagering (ADW). “It didn’t matter which [account] you tried, players everywhere could not bet their favorite tracks. The ADW company TwinSpires is owned by the same company that owns Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs could not even simulcast its own signal.”
That was the spark that led to H.A.N.A.’s creation. Platt recounted the story, “We formed H.A.N.A. and went to the industry. We picked up the phone and spoke with industry decision makers. We made our voices heard. And within a few weeks, it was settled. Now, whether that was because of us or not is anyone’s guess. And whether or not it was us is completely irrelevant. What really matters is that players everywhere were able to use ADW once again to play their favorite track signals.”
The next issue H.A.N.A. would like to affect is amount of money wagering institutions retain before bets are paid from the pari-mutuel pool. Specifically, H.A.N.A. would like to see takeout percentages reduced. “High takeouts prevent the handle from growing.” Platt explained. “We recently published a list of 65 tracks. We listed field size, takeout and wager variety. Takeout varies between 15% (for win, place, show bets) to 28% for certain exotic bets.” He explained that although industry representatives themselves have commissioned studies concluding that the North American horse racing industry would actually make more money if it reduced takeout, the reaction to this news has largely been to maintain the status quo. Several racing jurisdictions have actually raised takeouts since the time of those studies.
In fact, according to Platt, high takeouts are costing the horse racing industry billions of dollars in lost revenue. “As a consumer, I can shop the Internet and find a sports book in Costa Rica and get an 8%-10% discount off the North American takeout. But if I do that, my betting doesn’t help the industry. Billions every year go offshore and the industry does not benefit.”
Improve Standards Regarding Race Day Medications
After prefacing his statement with the disclaimer that he is not a veterinarian, Platt introduced the third item on H.A.N.A.’s agenda: drugs. “There are trainers who are cheating.” He explained. “They will get their fourth or fifth drug positive and the horse racing board gives the trainer a 60 day suspension. What happens then is that the trainer continues to train the horse, but the assistant trainer enters the horse under their name. It’s just business as usual. This has to stop… The [public] perception from this type of thing is that the game might not be entirely on the up-and-up. If they clean the game up, it will be easier to attract new fans.”
Platt added, “If you compare allowable medications in North America, they are different than Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. Basically, other regions don’t allow race day medications. I feel that North America should adopt the same standards.”
Update Tote Technology to Improve Pool Integrity
H.A.N.A.’s fourth issue is pool integrity. According to Platt, several things diminish pool integrity. These obstacles include a lag time between the time betting closes and the time it takes for the odds to update (often continuing after the race has begun) and a practice called “cancel delay” which allows for up to a 15-second interval after the race starts during which time bets can still be canceled. By Platt’s assessment, the aging 1970s technology used for the tote system is the main impediment to improving the system. “There needs to be a mechanism put in place so that bets are finalized once the gates open. We recommend that the industry pony up the money for a secure system that updates odds in real time. That would go a long way to improving public perception.”
Practicing Tough Love
While Platt’s frustration is clear when he talks about current state of the horse racing industry, the gruffness is tempered by an almost paternal concern, as if he were just trying to shake some sense into a loved one. If he seems tough on the industry, it’s a tough-love kind of toughness; a fondness for the game lies just beneath the surface. That fondness comes through when he talked of his first memory of going to the track. He described his introduction to horse racing in 1981. “I was fortunate or cursed – depending on how you look at it – to grow up about five miles from Turf Paradise.” When he reminisces about his first trip to the track with friends, he retells the story in rich detail remembering the horses, the cute brown-eyed girl who served the drinks, and the fun he had with his friends. “We had a blast! Because the experience was positive, I kept coming back.”
"Unless you've been living under a rock you can't help but notice many of your favorite track signals are missing from the lineup at your ADW."
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The Horseplayers Association of North America (H.A.N.A.) is a non-profit advocacy organization committed to giving horseplayers a voice. Learn about H.A.N.A. at the HANA website
H.A.N.A. president, Jeff Platt, has been a horseplayer since 1981. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, about five miles from Turf Paradise. He created his first early "database" project in 1982 by clipping and pasting results charts from the local newspaper to saved copies of the Daily Racing Form, a practice he considers to be roughly the same thing as a database. He computerized the project in 1985. At the time he had no idea how much that collection of Forms would affect his life. It’s how he got his start as a programmer. He has done web-enabled projects for Fortune 500 companies like American Express, Verizon Wireless, STMicroelectronics, Trammell-Crowe, and others. In 2003 he created JCapper. In 2007, he was selected to lead H.A.N.A.