Horseplayers unite!

It is the betting dollar that drives the entire racing industry, which should make the horseplayer the most powerful segment in the industry. Instead, it is its weakest. The player is neglected, underappreciated and has no voice. That's why takeout rates are outrageously high, the advance-deposit wagering systems are a mess and a lot of tracks care more about slot machines than they do horseracing. Face it, we've been pushed around and don't fight back. Mike Mayo wants that to stop.

Mayo is behind what may well be the most effective effort yet to organize racing fans and gamblers and give them some power. He has organized a "buycott" and it will begin Tuesday with the sixth race at Will Rogers Downs, a small track in Oklahoma.

A buycott is an active campaign to buy products or services from a particular company or supplier. By doing so, the group uses its collective might to influence the company it is doing business with. The company has to keep the group happy; otherwise it will take its dollars elsewhere.

In horseracing, the idea is to encourage bettors not to boycott a particular track, but to bet as much as possible at a designated track. Get enough dollars flowing to the one track and management there will have to start listening to its customers or risk having them bet somewhere else.

"If track managements watch this grow and every week the amount we bet grows, they're going to have to say, 'Hey, we better pay attention to these people,'" said Mayo, a horseplayer residing in the Dallas area. "All we want is to have people sit down and listen to us."

He says that if horseplayers don't flex their economic muscles tracks will never take their problems seriously.

"The problem is track managements think we're all a bunch of degenerates who are hooked like druggies and alcoholics," Mayo said. "They think we can't give it up and are just going to keep coming back. Well, there are a lot of people who are giving it up or betting a lot less than they used to."

Mayo has made his money in the nursing home business, but he's a serious horseplayer and a big bettor. He knows many others who are just like him — big players who care about the sport and want things to change. He's mobilized many of them, including Ross Gallo, who is working on the project with him, and is looking to spread the word near and far.

The Will Rogers race is just a starting point. Because the track had some of the smallest betting pools in the sport, Mayo will have a good idea of how big an impact the buycott has had on the race. Only $31,652 was bet on the last Tuesday's sixth race.

"One reason we picked Will Rogers is because they have such small pools," Mayo said.

"We want to get a gauge of how much we influenced betting on the race. If we bet into a big track to start, it would be hard to judge our impact."

Mayo knows his project will take time. The plan is to pick one race a week at a small track while trying to build up interest in the buycott. Should the venture grow, he will start picking races at larger tracks. The worry, of course, is that horseplayers will refuse to change, that they will continue to go their own way with no common goals in mind.

"Unfortunately, that's the nature of our game," Mayo said. "Everybody has a different opinion. I do worry that it won't take hold and stick together because horseplayers never work together. But most of the guys that I have talked to have said that this is the best idea they've heard of in a long time. All we can do is try it and hope it works out. This industry is notorious for people not sticking together, but I'm hoping I can change that. The only way we can get a voice is try to control our money, where we chose to bet or not to bet."

Mayo believes a united effort among horseplayers will eventually mean that as much as $1 million is bet each week in the designated race. If that happens, tracks will have no choice but to court the group's money and listen to the group's demands.

"We're the ones putting the money up," Mayo said. "With no betting, there'd be no horseracing. There needs to be a better appreciation of the horse fans. I thought the only way to get this going is to get a bloc of money going around the country. The small bettor, the big bettor, if we go in together, then we've got a voice. We can go to track management and say lower takeout, we want better reporting of equipment changes, we want better medication rules, we want better things for the industry as a whole. We are your customers and if you don't listen to your customers you are going to go out of business."

Mayo didn't want to try a boycott because he wanted to bring about change by taking a high road and trying something positive. He's done his part. Now it's up to the hundreds of thousands of people who bet on horses every day in this country. Tired of being shortchanged? Then bet on Tuesday's sixth at Will Rogers Downs.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.