Large betting teams which often place their bets at the last second via industry-enabled, batch bet-placement tools – often called Computerized Robotic Wagering groups (CRWs) – have been restricted from placing win pool bets within two minutes of the start of races at the New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga) since July 2021.
NYRA also banned the CRWs from playing the late pick five, pick six and cross-country pick five, when offered.
“NYRA has been ahead of the curve on this since they instituted this policy,” said Patrick Cummings, executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF)
“Mainstream horseplayers should be aware of it, embrace it and bet accordingly. This isolates the win pool, providing less fluctuation and essentially, more certainty, for horseplayers.”
“All tracks across America should follow NYRA’s lead on this, leaving some pools for non-CRWs.”
While full details are nearly unattainable to confirm independently, since its 2020 white paper, TIF has estimated about one-third of total betting on U.S. racing comes from CRWs.
“Overall, our research has found that the more difficult the bet type, the greater the percentage of CRW money in those pools,” said Cummings. “The more exotic the bet, the more the CRWs play, and usually, the higher their rebates.
“From the evidence we have seen, TIF does not believe CRWs comprise one-third of the win pool, but we expect they are over one-third of some tracks’ exotic pools, particularly pick fours and pick fives, bets which are routinely marketed to mainstream customers.
“Additional data we have reviewed, but are unable to confirm independently, suggested just one CRW team represented 20% of a track’s pick four and pick five pools. If that is true, it’s staggering, and suggests something is wrong with the way in which wagering on U.S. racing has evolved in the last few years.”
THE GOTHAM DIFFERENCE – WIN & EXACTA POOLS
The Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday dramatically demonstrates the difference between pools with and without CRW play.
TIF isolated the changes in the last 10 betting cycles from the win and exacta pools of the Gotham, essentially the final 90 seconds of betting. The first six of those cycles experienced small, incremental changes in both pools, but the final four are significantly different.
See the chart below, or click on it to expand it.
In approximately the last 30 seconds of Gotham Stakes betting, less than 42% of the final exacta pool is wagered while only about 17% of the final win pool was staked.
During this same period, the win odds on eventual race winner, #12 Raise Cain, drifted higher from 21.5-1 to 23.5-1. In the same time frame, the eventual winning $1 exacta combination of Raise Cain with #11 Slip Mahoney crashed from $138.75 to $81.25, a 43% decline in the probable payout.
While just 9.7% of the successful win bets were placed in these final four cycles, almost 66% of the winning exacta bets were placed in those last seconds.
“Nothing precludes you from betting exactas or any exotic pool,” Cummings added, “but this nearly two-year experiment from NYRA is showing the way in which win pool betting can differ from the exotics pools with these sorts of policies. In this example, you can really see it because we are comparing it to the most visible exotic bet, which is the exacta. Mainstream customers should be attentive to this.”
CRW PLAY AND THE FUTURE
How U.S. racing’s wagering business evolves is anyone’s guess, but the trajectory in recent years has been staggering.
Data TIF has obtained or reviewed from California and Florida, among other states, shows about 15 CRW accounts are active between two entities – Elite Turf Club and Racing Gaming Services. – almost all of them at Elite. There are also smaller CRWs enabled to bet through connections with more mainstream ADWs.
According to California Horse Racing Board records, the largest CRW team betting on racing in that state appears to be a group identified as Elite Turf Club 17, which handled $20.4 million (2018) and $22.5 million (2019) at Del Mar, but which grew its handle to $60.4 million at the seaside oval in 2021.
The CRW team identified as Elite Turf Club 2, which appears to be the second-largest of the teams by handle, went from $33.0 million (2018) and $34.6 million (2019) to $45.6 million in 2021.
At Santa Anita, Elite Turf Club 17 bet $48.3 million (2018) and $52.6 million (2019), and grew its handle to $72.4 million there in 2021. During that same period, Elite Turf Club 2 went from handling $63.7 million (2018) and $63.3 million (2019), respectively, to $52.9 million in 2021.
Converted to handle per race day, both teams played significantly more at Del Mar in 2021, notable given that the track hosted the Breeders’ Cup that year. On a per card basis in 2021, Elite Turf Club 17 handled $1.3 million per Del Mar race day with Elite Turf Club 2 just over $1 million per race day. At Santa Anita, Elite Turf Club 17 wagered about $770,000 per card while Elite Turf Club 2 was at approximately $562,000 per card.
Records obtained from Florida showed the concentration of the two largest teams on the state’s biggest day of racing.
The 2022 Pegasus World Cup card at Gulfstream Park handled $43.8 million, according to the Equibase charts from that day. Of that, Florida state records show Elite 17 handled $6.4 million while Elite 2 bet $1.7 million. Combined, those two CRWs represented roughly 19% of all handle on that track’s biggest day.
To view the full betting settlement sheet from 2022 Pegasus World Cup Day, obtained via a public information request from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, please click HERE. (Note: "Net Sales = Handle; "Liability" = Winning bets paid)
“Undoubtedly, the one area of really strong, sustained growth in U.S. racing wagering has been the CRW teams, and this data goes even farther to show that one or two teams alone are particularly significant,” said Cummings.
“While the CRWs have been growing as a larger percentage of handle, we’ve concurrently seen a decline in mass market betting, which defies all of the other metrics in the greater wagering space.
“U.S. racing needs all of its customers – both the mass market player and CRWs. While the effects of CRWs on ordinary horseplayers are seen and felt almost every race, every day, and many players yearn for a day when they did not exist, it is both difficult to envision a future with fewer CRW players and also unrealistic to move in that direction.
“We believe the focus should be on finding a balance to meet the needs of all players. The sport needs to get its betting business under control and recognize the realities that exist today and make adjustments. It's remarkable that tracks and televised coverage of the sport heavily markets bet types to ordinary players that they should know are exactly where CRWs feast.
“The NYRA experiment is an attractive one in that it gives the public an area to focus without CRWs if they so choose.
“The goal should be to both retain existing customers and create new ones, and the status quo elsewhere seems to render that mission impossible. More tracks adopting the NYRA approach, or other versions similar to it, would create a healthier environment for mainstream players and hopefully grow racing’s overall wagering business.”