Rebate shops endanger tournaments

The future of horse handicapping tournaments is not as rosy as it was. What was once a slam dunk win-win scenario between the host casino or racetrack and the horseplayers has come undone. And it’s the players’ fault.

In a big-money tournament, such as the one going on this week at the Gold Coast Summer Classic, horseplayers pay one price and everything is covered. Free food, drinks, Daily Racing Forms and the money they pay for all goes toward the prize pool.

What the Gold Coast, or any other host casino or racetrack, is looking for is enough profit from pari-mutuel handle to recover its expenses. Considering the high per capita wagering average among most tournament players, it shouldn’t be a problem.

What is happening is that many of the top echelon players are betting through rebate shops. Now, getting a sizable rebate for your action is smart business. It can be the difference between a winning and a losing horseplayer.

In this equation, though, it is choking off the main source of revenue for the host.

There are a couple of ways to patch a fix. One would be the sporting gesture of horseplayers, for the length of the tournament, to bet through the windows instead of their rebate shop.

The other is to adopt a live money format. For example, the Breeders’ Cup and Oak Tree are doing it this fall with a $10,000 buy in.

In live money, the players are given a voucher to bet from, and that’s also how you keep score. The players not only play to win prize money, but get to keep all of the pari-mutuel profits from their bankroll. The host is happy because it is getting tons of betting action through the windows.

Another beauty of the live money format is there are no caps on prices. Tournament winners can come from anywhere. I’ve seen a player win in the final race by hitting a Hail Mary five-figure superfecta. And I’ve seen a player win by completing a successful show parlay.

Attendance at handicapping tournaments is being slowed by the bad economy. But a big hurt is being applied by some of the players themselves.

* SUPERBOOK — The popular SuperBook Saturdays weekly handicapping contest is back at the Las Vegas Hilton today. The entry fee is $30.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at

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