As I headed out the door with my family on the vacation of a lifetime to Australia last fall, I thought to myself, “I better leave my computer on, JUST in case.”
There I was, clad in my bow tie halfway around the world in the land Down Under, smack in the middle of 97,478 other dashingly dressed people. Since I was at the fabled Flemington Race Course for the Melbourne Cup, the “Race that Stops a Nation,” I was ready to place my bets. But the lines were too long and I didn’t have enough time to figure out the differences in the Aussies’ wagering process. Could I go all this way and get shut out?
Encountering unforeseen challenges these days, it's a good thing to have speedy technology and a bit of convenience on your side. This thought probably makes for a typical Webonise blog entry, which makes this offering outside the realm. Many different conversations have arisen while working closely with the Webonise team in my nearly four years in IT project management at the Daily Racing Form (DRF.com). One of those chats led to this blog.
The Webonise team let me figure out what "this" was. Since I'm someone who loves and works in horse racing, believes in citizens' rights to wager online, and managed the project where DRF turned its industry-leading information app into one through which eligible customers can wager, I chose to share the experience of technology in the life of a horseplayer.
The Australia part doesn't hurt, either.
"But I'm not a horse player, so why should I bother to keep reading?"
Because in the next five-or-so years, it is a reasonable expectation that online sports wagering will widely become legal in the United States (and might already be legal where you are). If it's not you that will embark on this journey, then someone you know certainly will, be it colleagues, friends or family. And wouldn't you want to easily and legally be able to cash in on your Super Bowl opinion once a year, just for fun?
When that time comes, the horseplayers will be ahead of the game.
There are regulations. But in most states today, you can download the DRF app to your Apple device, sign up for DRF Bets, and play. Things like geo-location come into play. If you're not in a legal state, then your app should work but the betting functionality would be blocked.
Australia is a long ways from the DRF offices in the heart of New York City, a block from iconic Grand Central Station. Just the day before us Rizzos headed across the globe, DRF had our betting-enabled app approved for Apple. It was no small feat, and knowing that phase of the project was complete eased my holiday-bound mind.
Of course, the betting portion of the DRF app did not work for me while I was there (as any good project manager would do, I tested it to make sure the geo-location was properly locking me out). We were headed to the Melbourne Cup, which is Australia's equivalent to the Kentucky Derby in terms of horse racing, and the Super Bowl in terms of culture. Except instead of conducting the race card on a weekend, they brilliantly hold it on a Tuesday afternoon, with the big race set for 3 p.m.
Sheer genius! This is why it is called "The Race that Stops a Nation" and we should definitely do the same in the USA.
Since it is a public holiday in Melbourne, roughly 100,000 of the best-dressed people you've ever seen invade the vast, stunningly gorgeous confines of Flemington Race Course. They come by handsome cab, cars, and trains. On our train car, every single person was fancily clad. It's akin to something you'd figure to only see in a movie, witnessing the fashion walking through Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne.
When it came time to get concessions and to bet, however, it was a different story. The luster of long lines is not glamorous, and I needed to "get down" – vernacular for placing bets.
There was another hurdle beyond the long lines. Once I got there, I had to figure out the different ways of on-site betting, which is significant from the North American experience. With bookmakers and their odds at different tellers, it was customarily unfamiliar to me. At North American tracks, all teller windows are the same, and I was out of time to learn the Aussie way.
Good thing I sprung for the cellular data plan Down Under, because I decided my only option was to go remote from my phone into my computer back in the States and place my wagers through there! My horse of choice, Heartbreak City, finished a heart-breaking second by a nose, but I won a bit on the previous race.
I'm lucky enough that there are other big horse racing events I've been able to attend the last few months. The experiences with technology there at the tracks are valuable, and they vary depending on what kind of ticket for entry you have for the day.
Travers Stakes day at Saratoga Race Course is the top date at the New York State boutique track. I was fortunate to be in DRF's shaded box that scorching August day. The betting experience was made easy because we had our own terminal via which we could wager. Patrons simply go to a betting window to get a card, fund the card, and then make wagers at their terminal after a swipe and pass code entry.
My luminous colleagues Jacob Luft, Jennifer Bayer and Jody Swavy (together we are the Four J's) probably made out a bit better than me at Saratoga, but at least I won more than I lost by the end. The experience of being able to use that terminal at our table significantly enhanced the overall experience. It was fast and convenient.
Jacob, Jody and I went to a brand-new race, the Pegasus, at Hallandale Beach, Florida's Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28. Although it's the newest, it is now the most lucrative race in the world at $7 million for the winner, with $12 million in purses.
The Pegasus was a dining-room experience, with all the trappings. The majority of attendees -- among them Mike Ditka and Vanessa Hudgens -- flooded to the windows, while others used their mobile devices.
In the dining room areas Gulfstream Park offered something unique. Tellers came around with what resembled portable credit-card machines that actually were mobile betting terminals. Players placed cash bets and got their slips right at their tables or wherever they were standing.
This level of customer service impressed all of us in attendance, including our CEO, John Hartig.
Jacob hit a winner with the human mobile teller and then was searching her out all day. He has all kinds of superstitions, including one that involves giving blood. I'm not sure I'm superstitious, but I wore the same coat, pants and a bow tie to all three events. Maybe we need a superstition app.
"In each case, recognizing and embracing the available technology gave me a potential leg up."
In addition to my wardrobe, the common tie through the three event experiences was speed with convenience in technology. In each case, recognizing and embracing the available technology gave me a potential leg up. I was able to take longer to make up my mind and was able to get my wagers in as close to the start of the race as possible. Betting closer to the start of the race is seen as an advantage to most horseplayers.
The next time you're conceptualizing your products, mentally place yourself among 97,479 people dressed to the nines. Think hard how to make it convenient to get what you want while still looking great. Once you do all that, remember to always back a winning horse.
Oh yeah, and always leave your computer on, JUST in case.