Horse racing track bets on wireless network to deliver wagering via mobile devices
Customer Profile: Founded in 1937, Del Mar is one of America‟s premier Thoroughbred racetracks. It is located 20 miles north of San Diego in the city of Del Mar, California. In 2011 it hosted just under 18,000 patrons per day and drew more than $430 million in pari-mutuel wagers during its 37-day racing season.
Del Mar was founded in 1937 by entertainment star Bing Crosby and several of his Hollywood pals, including Oscar winner Pat O‟Brien. The little seaside track went “big time” in 1938 when Crosby set up a match race between one of his horses and the legendary Seabiscuit, then broadcast it on his highly popular national radio show. Seabiscuit set a track record and won by a nose and the race put Del Mar “on the racing map.”
Over the course of a summer, Del Mar – which has been run by the not-for-profit Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) since 1970 — usually attract more than 650,000 fans who wager more than $11 million per day on average. While that kind of volume is good from a revenue standpoint, it can also lead to other issues.
“As we walked through the grounds in 2010 we could see long lines at the betting windows and kiosks,” says Walker McBride, Director of Sponsorships and Digital Media for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “It led to some of our patrons being unable to get their bets down before the race began. That‟s not good, either from a revenue or customer experience standpoint.”
DMTC tried having 13 mobile tellers roaming through the crowd to take bets among box seat and grandstand ticket holders. But the mobile tellers quickly became overwhelmed as well, leading to the same problems in a different area. What they needed was a system that allowed patrons to place bets without the use of an intermediary.
A mobile app that allowed those fans to bet using their smartphones or other personal devices over a wireless network seemed like the solution. Del Mar knew the network would have to provide high-speed, secure access from any public area within the track. Yet to comply with California law it could not allow bets to be placed from outside the grounds. The network also would have to be specific to this system to keep from getting bogged down. Nothing like this had been done before.
With the odds of succeeding looking long, DMTC turned to their trusted advisor for more than a decade, CompuOne Corporation, a Cisco partner with extensive expertise in wireless networks. Based on the size of the facility and the need for scalability, CompuOne recommended using Cisco 5500 series controllers and 3500 series access points.
Due to the wide variety of devices that could be used, CompuOne enabled 802.11 A, B and N connectivity. To help control the volume of traffic, network access was restricted to the gaming website, while access points were focused to ensure they could only be reached within the facility. The pilot program included coverage for the box seats, restaurant/pub and paddock area.
The launch of the new wireless network and app has been a huge success for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. In the first year, with limited coverage, 85,000 e-bets were placed, generating more than $500,000 in wagers through the system.
“The acceptance of the mobile app exceeded our expectations,” McBride says. “We originally viewed success as having 200 people on it at a time, but it wasn‟t long before it was more like 500. We had 1,089 customers sign up for mobile wagering accounts, which allow bets and winnings (as well as IRS reporting) to be processed completely electronically. Overall, the average wager was $19.30, and the average page views were 7.5 pages so patrons were spending time on it.”
Another measure of success was the ability to get it up and running despite a short window. Work on the network began in early July, and it was up and running by July 20 – opening day for the 2011 racing season. In addition the network performed flawlessly, delivering 99.999 percent uptime throughout the entire season. DMTC‟s tote company also was instrumental in preparing the app for use.
“It was a 50-50 partnership between ourselves and the tote company we use,” McBride says. “There was a lot of collaboration between ourselves, CompuOne and them to get it done. But the extra effort was worth it. Our system is now the „show pony‟ for the horse racing industry. It has also made racing – and betting – more attractive to the new generation of digital customers.”
For 2012, plans call for adding more wireless access points and expanding the coverage throughout the 350-acre facility. This expansion will come in handy not only for the racing season but for the other events that take place on the state fairgrounds, which plays host to the San Diego County Fair, antique shows, vintage car shows, boat shows and more throughout the year. Many of those events plan to use the wireless network to keep visitors informed about various activities on-site.
DMTC‟s mobile betting app has become so successful that other tracks from around the country are visiting the facility to learn how they did it and how the system works. McBride is only too happy to share that knowledge and lessons learned with his peers. One thing he is sure to let them know, of course, is the importance of having the right partner in place to design, implement and maintain the system.
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