Churchill Downs Inc.’s glass house

Cliches stick around, oftentimes, because there’s at least a germ of truth. Such is the case with the admonition that people in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones.

Earlier this week, the account wagering branch of Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. did a public spiking of the football with a press release that gloated over the success of its TwinSpires.com site over Kentucky Derby weekend and the failure on racing’s biggest day of competitor TVG.

“Despite the surge in traffic, TwinSpires.com’s website and mobile app remained accessible and fully functional during the year’s biggest weekend of racing,” the release said. 

Not just damning TVG without directly mentioning the competitor’s problems, the Churchill release named TVG and recounted the problems.

“According to its official Twitter account, numerous customer complaints, and a New York Post article, TVG.com was unable to accept online or mobile wagers in the lead up to the Kentucky Derby,” the release said.

“When we see other betting sites like TVG go down during the biggest day of the year, it becomes obvious why many bettors are making the switch to TwinSpires.com. We have a relentless focus on reliability resulting in a positive experience for our players and the entire industry,” Ian Williams, TwinSpires’ marketing vice president, said in the release.

The bare knuckles approach is questionable for several reasons. In an industry where many believe in “racing gods” and not tempting fate, this begs fate for a technological tsunami.

More noticeably, Churchill apparently has forgotten its own problems in the past.

From 2008

Vernon Niven, president of TwinSpires.com today commented on difficulties experienced by some TwinSpires.com customers placing wagers on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 3.

“We understand that some of our players experienced issues logging in and making wagers through TwinSpires.com during the 45 minutes leading up to the Kentucky Derby,” Niven said. “We are looking into what caused those problems and hope to have a definitive answer very soon. We deeply apologize for what we consider to be an unacceptable occurrence on the biggest racing day of the year. Our players deserve the very best, and we are working to make sure whatever issues caused them to have difficulties on Derby Day never happen again.”

In 2010, the company also canceled a handicapping contest because of problems.

All this at a time when Churchill Downs Racetrack has an offer on the table with TVG to get its races on the account wagering company’s flagship television station. Churchill’s races presently are on TVG2, the former HRTV of which Churchill once owned a share.

Whether Churchill is right in the claimed supremacy of its wagering system, the pronouncement runs counter to efforts in the last couple years to avoid the industry perception that Churchill is all about cutthroat business moves.

As Breeders’ Cup CEO Craig Fravel recently noted when his organization announced a return to Churchill for 2018:

“Our friends here at Churchill Downs in the equine community sometimes get less than a fair shake,” said Breeders’ Cup President and CEO, Craig Fravel. “There has been, in my view, no track that has invested more money in their facility, trying to upgrade their customer experience, and done some really remarkable things.”

Moves like this week’s news release do nothing to help Churchill get a fairer shake. The news was bad enough for TVG without Churchill saying anything.

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