A number of years ago horseplayers were not overly enthused with Woodbine. Higher than average takeouts, very little movement on cutting edge issues - like seeded pools, open signal expansion, guarantees, social media expansion and many others - made some of us scratch our heads. It always seemed to me that it was a company looking to protect what they have, rather than one who pushes for new money, who strives to reach more people, and increase betting pools.
Five years after I presented on a panel (representing the customer) with some industry types, including some friends at Woodbine (I was not overly complimentary), I think it's time to give some credit, where it's due.
Woodbine has come full circle.
Last weekend the Queen's Plate card drew $1M more in handle than last year and set an all time record. Handle at the harness venues, only four years ago that would garner less than $1M on a slow night, has improved dramatically. It hasn't been by accident.
Woodbine has opened their signal. I had a friend ask me about betting Woodbine and Mohawk several months ago. He said "Woodbine is on my ADW now and I can get good rebates". Yep, he really said that.Woodbine has gone from a signal that might take a microscope to find, to one that you can bet almost everywhere.
I had another friend who rarely bets win say "Do you know they have the lowest win takeout in North America, they appear to care about the horseplayer, at least in that pool". Yep, he said that.
"Woodbine seems to really be pushing the events well" one might say. Social media has been used fairly well with Gangle and Keith McCalmont. Bloggers like Gene Kershner and others wrote stories for Woodbineentertainment.com for the Plate. Even Sid Fernando did a piece that got tweeted out. Do you believe stodgy old Woodbine actually puts tweets up on their harness feed now? Ken Middleton probably had something to do with that. They do. They're doing all these things.
Lower rakes, an open signal, guaranteed pools and pushing them, social media expansion. All things players wondered about years ago, now in full force.
There are still some old Woodbine tendencies, like trying to throw their weight around to protect a betting monopoly, which as a customer I find intrusive and maddening. There are head-scratchers like a 20 cent trifecta, which is beyond bizarre for a serious every day player, especially with short fields and high tri takeout. But it is what it is; an old Jockey Club company can't change it's spots in one brief period.
However, on the whole, as a customer, no longer do you wonder if Woodbine is open for business or not. There's a blaring neon sign each and every race day that screams "yes we're open, please come bet". This is new and fresh, and the customers are responding.