The V75 - how Swede it is...

01:42 PM 25 Sep 2007 NZST
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Issue of the Week with Josh Potts

What makes people gamble? To be clear, I am not asking about problem gamblers that are addicted. I am solely asking about the recreational gambler. What is it that causes people to risk a few of their hard-earned dollars?

Sure there’s the fun, the anticipation, the adrenaline rush, and the opportunity to make money. And different forms of gambling have differing levels of fun, anticipation, adrenaline, and opportunities to make money. And one’s perception of each depends on the individual’s own unique tastes.

Many gamblers seem to like slot machines. Personally, I think they’re a little boring. You stick your money in the machine, press a button, and hope to hit a jackpot.

Where’s the strategy? Where’s the mental exercise?

Many gamblers like the lottery. Personally, I find that boring as well. First, you go to the store that sells dirty magazines, beef jerky, cigarettes, liquor you wouldn’t serve your worst enemy (I didn’t know there was such a thing as green wine), and lottery tickets.

Then, you buy a lottery ticket, go home, turn the TV on at the time of the drawing, and watch to see which numbered ping-pong balls come out of the goofy machine. If you match all six numbers, you win the jackpot.

Of course, the lottery has astronomically bad odds. How bad are the odds? Let’s put it this way: If the establishment from which you purchased the ticket has sold one jackpot-winning ticket for every 200 times it’s been robbed, you bought it off a “hot” machine.

Slot machines and the lottery: They take no skill and have bad odds. And millions of people line up to play them every day. And none of these people find these games the least bit boring.

What does this have to do with harness racing?

I have long thought that harness tracks should better advertise their multi-race exotic wagers, like Pick-5’s and Pick-6’s, especially when there is a huge carryover. When there is a huge carryover, a person doesn’t need to be a harness racing fan to want to buy a ticket. They just need to have a few bucks in their pocket… and a dream.

But it seems like whenever there is a large carryover, the only ones that know about it are the ones who already play the races anyway. We aren’t using these large pools to cast a wider net, and attract a new, larger set of fans.

There are plenty of people out there who might want to find their way to the racetrack or the off-track betting (OTB) parlor for an evening of harness racing action, if they knew they had the opportunity to win thousands of dollars.

And apparently, judging from the popularity of lotteries and slots, they don’t even need a good opportunity to win huge moolah. Just a little, piddly, statistically minute opportunity will do just fine, thank you.

Let’s face it, most people out there do not want to grind away brain cells in an attempt to figure out which horse will trot across the finish line first. And when they are victorious, they want more than $5.60 to win.

Only hard-core horseplayers are ok with that – not the average gambler. The average gambler wants to go after that one huge, life-changing score.

So what is harness racing to do? Enter the V75.

The V75 is a multi-race exotic wager in which you attempt to correctly pick the winners in seven consecutive specially-designated harness races… in Sweden.

The pools are huge. Correctly picking the seven winners can yield an unbelievable payday. And if you correctly pick the winners of five or six of the seven designated races, you often win a smaller consolation prize.

For those of you whose handicapping of Swedish harness racing needs sharpening, then “Harry Boy,” the V75’s quick pick feature, is sure to help you out. And “Harry Boy” isn’t some random number generator. He spits out picks based, at least partially, on previous betting patterns. A “smart” quick pick, if you will.

The wager is available in other European countries besides Sweden. And in the United States, it is offered at The Meadowlands, Freehold Raceway, Saratoga Raceway, and a few thoroughbred tracks.

Various American media outlets have reported that around 40% of all Swedish harness racing handle in a given week is wagered on the V75. Combine this with widespread foreign handle, and you have enormous pools. And enormous pools create opportunities for enormous jackpots.

At first, I was excited about the V75 coming to America. The opportunities to make a large amount of money, however difficult, seemed very appealing. Part of me feels like these huge pools, if properly advertised, may gain the interest, if not merely the curiosity, of the larger gambling public as a whole, outside of the regular horseplayer.

There is some cause for pause, however, before I get too far ahead of myself.

First of all, American harness racing isn’t all that popular right now. On the face of it, American gamblers should have about as much interest in Swedish harness racing as American sports fans do in

wedish soccer.

American sports fans don’t even like American soccer, and the U.S. has been in the last five World Cups. Getting them to watch Swedish soccer involves a chair, a pin for each eyelid, some rope, two rolls of duct tape, and a sock (to help with noise control – after all, you’re trying to watch the game).

Next, we don’t even get to watch the Swedish races live here in the States. The races go off early Saturday morning on the East Coast. Most tracks aren’t open at 7:00 AM. As for me, I would love nothing more than a hearty breakfast buffet while I enjoy watching the races in Sweden (insert your own pancakes and lingonberries joke here).

For the same reason, in the U.S., we have to place our V75 bets on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday before the races on Saturday. Not the end of the world really.

At around 11:45 AM eastern time Saturday, host tracks, where the wager is available, show a 30-minute taped replay show, enabling the bettors to watch the seven designated races. Furthermore, the show is in English, which is a good thing.

By the way, now that I’ve thought it over, I’m not sure there are any pancakes and lingonberries jokes out there. Anywhere.

With Saratoga Raceway being the newest venue accepting wagers on the V75 in the States, I decided to call Brian deJong, their simulcast manager, to pick his brain. Last Saturday, September 22, was Saratoga’s first day of V75 action.

How’d it go, Brian?

“It didn’t fare too well,” said deJong. “We took in about $100 in total handle.”

Uh, that’s not good. Did you guys at Saratoga do anything to let people know about it?

“We sent a mailer to our entire horse racing list,” he said.

“People bet what they know,” Brian continued. “And right now, they don’t know about Swedish harness racing.”

Brian is 100% correct. People have to know about it before they can bet on it. And while direct mail is usually a key component of any integrated marketing communications strategy, it may take a little more than that to get American bettors to go after the V75. In fact, it may take a lot more than that.

While my dreams of the V75 capturing the imagination of the American gambler, thus opening said gambler to the wonderful world that is harness racing, were temporarily dashed, I decided to pick up the phone and call Brooks Pierce, the President of Scientific Games Racing.

While ATG is the Swedish company that controls wagering on Swedish harness racing, Scientific Games is the firm implementing V75 wagering in the U.S. and several other countries throughout the world.

Brooks could surely brighten my hopes. So, Brooks, has it been successful in the U.S. so far?

“Yes and no,” he said. “It’s a new concept to a lot of people.”

Surely.

“But there is a lot of appeal to make a small wager with a chance to win a big jackpot,” said Pierce.

Exactly.

“Most of the people are making ten cent wagers (the minimum amount allowed),” he continued.

“So the total volume isn’t where we want it to be. It just takes time to get people. At the Meadowlands, we’ve produced and distributed collateral materials, an in-house video, and held promotions to give people free bets. We even had Harry Boy (the mascot) make an appearance at the track.

“But it takes people to create momentum and it takes momentum to get the people.”

How true. The eternal chicken-and-egg marketing conundrum.

Pierce went on. “I’m optimistic. A big part of (Scientific Games’) business comes from the lottery business, and a big part of the lottery business comes from jackpot pools. We just need an American to win a huge amount in the V75, and then we can market that.”

It makes me want to hop in the truck, drive to the East Coast, and be the first big American winner in the V75. I can see the billboard with my goofy face on it now. The text bubble immediately next to my over-the-top smile would read, “I just won $12 gazillion on the V75 and you can too!” Under that, they can advertise the weekly prime rib special at the track.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love prime rib?

Love of prime rib aside, I was much happier after my talk with Brooks. In many ways, I think he’s right. With a little marketing, a little exposure, and a couple of winners, this wager can be successful here in the U.S. After all, how many Americans would be willing to plunk down a dime for the opportunity to win several million bucks? As it turns out, quite a few.

Now, I know there is a certain convenience when it comes to gamblers going to one of several thousand dirty magazine/beef jerky/cigarette/liquor stores to buy a lottery ticket. After all, they probably pass a dozen of them on the way home from work.

But would gamblers go to the track or the OTB for the opportunity to win several million in Swedish harness racing on a ten cent bet? Perhaps. In my view, the odds of winning the V75 seems far more reasonable (reasonable being a relative term) than winning the lottery. And even if you don’t want to handicap the races using the program, you can rely on your friend and mine, “Harry Boy.”

In any case, I am willing to give it a try. Maybe it will help our sport attract some gamblers that just want to risk a couple bucks, watch seven races in a half-hour time span (these folks often detest the twenty minutes between live races – they want action now!) on a Saturday afternoon, and take a chance on hitting a huge, life-changing score.

By the way, did you hear the one about the time when the pancake and the lingonberry walked into a bar? Yeah, neither did I.

Josh Potts

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