17 September 2007

Counting it up

I met up with the scribes from Foolish Pleasure and The Last Filly at the track in Erie on Saturday for the 1st running of the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes. We were but three in a reported crowd of 13,451 to be on hand for Miss Macy Sue's lucrative win -- nearly double the number present for Rags to Riches' return to the track at Belmont.

This raises an interesting question: how accurate is the attendance at these racinos? There's no admission charge, and there are no turnstyles. Rather convenient, I suppose, when there is no grandstand. Folks might expect a seat if they had to pay to enter.

Presque Isle Downs is not unique in this respect; I believe most tracks that share entrances and parking lots with casinos are turnstyle-free. So how do they estimate the crowd?

I once asked this of a wizened security guard at Mountaineer, where the situation is similar. My Mountaineer Yodo was under the impression that someone counted the number of cars in the lot and estimated attendance from that. Not sure who.

Since I'm in the midst of reading The Super Crunchers, I'm well aware that petabytes of computing capacity are being used to analyze my every whimsical Internet search and impulse purchase, so I'm sure that someone somewhere has crunched the numbers to determine the average number of passengers in a car full of slots players. Maybe they've even done data mining on horseplayers. But somehow I doubt it, as the data's not there to mine, because -- gasp! -- there's nothing on my car that says "Count me for the ponies!" just as there's nothing on someone else's car to say "Horseplayer and Slots Queen" or "I don't leave the $1 machine until you turn out the lights."

Also adding to the vagarity of the racino attendance numbers is the question of when the supposed car counting is done. All day? Until the first post? Ah, these are questions my poor security guard couldn't answer.

While I don't think that imprecise attendance numbers matter much in the great scheme of things, I do wonder how the racing industry as a whole views these numbers. Do the folks at Belmont lose sleep wondering how Miss Macy Sue can outdraw the Belle of Belmont? Or do they simply smile to themselves when they look at all of the numbers at the bottom of the chart:

Presque Isle Downs Track Attendance: 13451
Handle: $122,376
Off Track Wagering: $654,879

Belmont Park Track Attendance: 7361
Handle: $1,777,572
Intra-State Wagering: $3,765,563
Inter-State Wagering: $11,749,249


Nellie said...

Here's your answer, as far as I can tell ... the guy who obsessively checks my ID (remind me to tell you about my run-in with the security person *in* the casino who didn't believe me even though my wristband was visible) is standing there with a little counter, clicking away as he sees people walk in.

So you can subtract four from that number (my mother and I went in twice earlier in the day and were counted each time - since she wasn't there for racing, I don't think it counts). Maybe they start their 'track' count at 3:30 when the gates open, but even then, a lot of those people aren't even there for the races ... and I'm sure that some of them will leave and come back at some point (to meet friends outside, run out to their car, whatever). If they have a guy doing that at the side entrace, you can up that count, as I saw a lot of people going outside to make phone calls - and I'm sure Mr. Counter didn't necessarily see them duck out.

Something tells me that *track* attendance is far from an accurate description... but hey, it makes them look like big shots in the racing world, so who cares?

Anonymous said...

Racetracks employ a series of complicated logarithms that estimate attendance. Factors include on-track handle, program sales, concession sales, parking, and I'm sure some other things thrown in for good measure.

Parking is easy to figure because most gaming facilities use counters in the ground. With technology being what it is, there's probably a way to count people as well, though that wouldn't be quite as accurate because of people coming in and out.

Anyway, the attendance is a scientific estimate and is generally probably within 2% either way.