Both behind the scenes and at a patron’s fingertips, the latest innovations at Santa Anita Park can make a day at the races safer for horses as well as easier and more comfortable for trackgoers. Profitable? Well, that’s up to you. 

The racetrack recently installed a security system that raises the bar on safety: the new video surveillance apparatus will closely monitor the track’s entire stable area 24/7. Santa Anita installed the system in time for the high-profile Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 4 and 5; while the glitterati are partying in the grandstand and suites, camera operators will be stationed deep inside command central, controlling 1,000 high-def video cameras positioned at shed rows and stall doors. They’ll be able to zoom in at up to 25 times for super-enhanced detail as they keep watch on stable happenings involving trainers, horses and jockeys. Each camera’s video footage will be stored and available for review if the need arises.

This state-of-the-art system is the first of its kind and the most comprehensive racetrack security network in North America, according to the park. The goal? To make sure no intruders enter the stable area, no horses are fed performance enhancers and all safety rules are observed. Santa Anita Chairman Keith Brackpool calls it “a proactive investment on our part, to ensure the continued safety of almost 2,000 horses living in our stable area while maintaining the highest standards of transparency in our industry.” 

Perhaps the most intriguing innovation at Santa Anita is mobile betting, the ability to wager from the convenience of your own seat using a smartphone. No more getting up to place or collect bets, fighting the last-minute crowds at the betting windows or lining up at the self-wagering kiosks. Betting is all done with a point and press. 

Mobile betting technology has been around the racetrack in beta form for about three years, with patrons logging into their on-track wager account — which can only be accessed when connected to the park’s WiFi. In order to bet on a mobile device, you must be physically at Santa Anita and not at another racetrack or authorized off-track betting location.

Mobile betting is the racetrack’s latest enticement aimed at millennials, joining an outreach program that includes craft-beer festivals, infield radio concerts and culinary cookouts. For a sport struggling with attendance issues, enticing tech-minded youth may be a ticket to survival. “The initial focus here is on the younger fans for this product,” says Andrew Arthur, Santa Anita’s director of new media, noting that traditional racetrack patrons are habitually slow adaptors when it comes to new technology. It took a long time for patrons to use the self-service kiosks when they were introduced in the late 1980s, Arthur says. “Now, the majority of bettors use the machine rather than stand in line for a live teller,” he says. “We think that kind of slow transition may be the same with mobile wagering for our older patrons, but we think younger guests will take to it immediately.”  

When the winter season kicks off Dec. 26, expect to see more emphasis on the Bet With Me program, which may be a first step in introducing possibly hesitant patrons to the joys of mobile wagering. Trackgoers purchase a Bet With Me pre-loaded card for a specific amount ($10, $20, $50, $100), log in with an account number and activate via a pin number — then sit back with a drink as they metaphorically kick off their shoes and bet from their seats. Wagering Ambassadors wearing red suspenders will patrol the facility like the Pied Pipers of betting, selling preloaded cards and demonstrating how to use them to wager by smartphone.

Santa Anita officials hope the Bet With Me program will be a step toward an even more sophisticated platform. Arthur explains that a new mobile app in the works may appear in mid-2017. “But we don’t want to have an app for the sake of having an app,” he stresses. “We want to make sure we get it right.” The app will also feature customer loyalty programs that offer rewards and special promotions designed to lure you to the racetrack or pop up the moment you arrive. “We want to reward people who come to the track often,” he says. 

The biggest challenge for tech designers is that all mobile wagering — whether using a preloaded card or a fine-tuned app — requires WiFi connectivity. So Arthur says his team is working on creating a flawless WiFi infrastructure that won’t suddenly drop when you are in the middle of placing a potentially good bet. To reach all of Santa Anita’s 320 acres — both indoors and out — numerous wireless towers and commercial access points have been added and are continually being tested and tweaked. 

Meanwhile, patrons will find other new high-tech additions throughout the 1930s Art Deco facility. No one will be far away from the thrill of the race, now that 2,000 giant flat-screen HDTV monitors have been installed throughout the grandstand and clubhouses. (Certain outdoor infield locations will still keep the older tube models because of weather.) The new monitors are enhanced with a theater-style audio system that adds to the experience of being up-close on the track, says Arthur, adding that the sound is also undergoing constant refinements and upgrades. “Sound is another challenge because we have to cover a large area; and we are not just simple stadium seating,” he says. “But every year, we’re getting better and better.”   


Santa Anita Park is located at 285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia. Visit santaanita.com for racing schedules and other information.