Archive for Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Camaraderie may be virtual, but betting is real

Shawnee resident finds online platform for voice, love of greyhound racing

From inside his Shawnee home, Randy Birch provides the voice for the online radio show at BigJackpotBetting.com, designed to hype up greyhound racing and bring in online bets.

From inside his Shawnee home, Randy Birch provides the voice for the online radio show at BigJackpotBetting.com, designed to hype up greyhound racing and bring in online bets.

April 20, 2011

From inside his Shawnee home, Randy Birch provides the voice for the online radio show at BigJackpotBetting.com, designed to hype up greyhound racing and bring in online bets. He keeps stat sheets handy to reference during the show.

From inside his Shawnee home, Randy Birch provides the voice for the online radio show at BigJackpotBetting.com, designed to hype up greyhound racing and bring in online bets. He keeps stat sheets handy to reference during the show.

It’s Friday afternoon, and Randy Birch’s rollicking, radio voice is fast-talking dogs, dollars and the deliciousness of the cold Budweiser in his hand.

Sluuuurrrpp. Aaahhhh.

When the trumpet sounds and eight greyhounds explode from the chutes, Birch’s banter veers toward his favorite pup — who, in this particular race, is named Elvis Presley and happens to be winning.

Oh, yes! He’s going after it like a good ol’ peanut butter and banana sandwich!

Close your eyes, add a warm breeze and you could be in the stands at Florida’s Hollywood Greyhound Track. Open them, and you realize you’re anywhere but.

Birch, a Shawnee resident and former announcer at the Woodlands Race Park in Kansas City, Kan., is the host of the online radio show at BigJackpotBetting.com, designed to hype Hollywood’s nightly races and bring in online bets for the track. Its founders say BigJackpotBetting.com is the first business of its kind — while other sites offer online betting, this one creates a social experience to go with it.

“We present a vehicle for people to meet and chat like a racetrack situation, but the reality is, all these people are at home on their computers,” Birch said. “It’s social media and business at the same time.”

In reality, Birch isn’t addressing the crowd from an announcer’s box, he can’t see Elvis Presley in person, and he’s also not drinking any beer.

He’s in his beige-carpeted office on the second floor of a yellow house at the end of a west Shawnee cul-de-sac. He’s leaning into a tabletop microphone and peering at the race replay on one of two computer screens at a big wooden desk. The squeeze bottle at his side is full of Diet Coke.

Not that any of his online friends, whom he’s affectionately dubbed the Odd Squad, will ever see him in person.

On this day, they include “milehiroller” from Denver, “UncleB,” from California and “Nowso,” a regular who lives in Ireland. Other players have signed on from Argentina, Australia, England, Canada and Mexico.

Many participants, like Birch, miss the personal interaction from their days at a live track.

“Racetracks around the country have closed, like the Woodlands, so these people have an outlet for what they love,” Birch said. “It fills a void.”

•••

The Odd Squad can hear Birch, who uses Skype, through their computers. Players and guest speakers occasionally join Birch’s conversation via Skype, but most sign in with screen names and communicate through the website’s chatroom.

Conversations involve the weather at the track, the weather in Shawnee, which dogs the players are picking and what “stlouiscindy” looks like in person (apparently, pretty good).

While the camaraderie may be virtual, the gambling is real.

Gaming rules vary from state to state, but Kansas law prohibits residents from participating in off-track betting on dog and horse races, said Patrick Martin, chief counsel for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission and assistant attorney general. However, Martin said, going online to watch and chat about racing was fine.

For gamblers, BigJackpotBetting.com offers pari-mutuel wagering on win bets. A licensed pari-mutuel service provider in North Dakota operates the site and manages accounts and wagering, according to the site’s terms and conditions.

It’s simple — all you have to do is pick the winning dog — and it’s a pool bet so returns are high, said Birch’s executive producer, Jimmy Smith of Boynton Beach, Fla. Winners get all the money except a commission charged by the dog track, which is lower at Hollywood than other tracks nationwide, Smith said.

Birch and Ramon Cadavieco, Hollywood’s live track announcer, pick dogs and discuss as they go. Smith, who places bets during the show based on their suggestions, said he’s turned $20 into about $1,500 so far.

•••

Smith, one of the Woodlands’ original players, was a professional gambler when the track opened and moved to Kansas City to be near it. He got into the racing statistics business and later joined TrackData Systems, which manages and distributes racing data.

Smith envisioned BigJackpotBetting.com as a way to promote the racing industry, and he knew Birch had the voice he needed.

“Every other announcer talks at the people, and Randy talks to the people,” Smith said. “You feel as though he’s having a conversation with you.”

Smith recalled Birch chatting up patrons he passed on his way to the announcer’s station at the Woodlands. He’d later work their names into his announcing, highlighting someone’s first visit to the track or someone celebrating a birthday.

“I’d never seen that before,” Smith said. “He always calls it the ‘Cheers’ approach.”

Even online, Birch notices new players and greets them by name, prompting them to tell the group about themselves and join the conversation.

Thanks to an audition tape from Birch, Hollywood agreed to fund BigJackpotBetting.com, which launched in December. Smith said the site’s growth was not phenomenal but steady, adding a few new players each week.

•••

For Birch, the Internet has proved a new springboard for his voice.

His broadcast career includes more than 20 years at local radio stations, plus game-day productions for the Kansas City Chiefs.

He was the original announcer at the Woodlands, where he worked off and on for 20 years and gained local fame for his signature “Heeeere comes Woody!” holler.

Birch was working full time for the Woodlands when the track closed in 2008, leaving him without a steady job.

Now, in addition to his BigJackpotBetting.com show, Birch sells pre-recorded race day broadcasts that play at nine other dog tracks across the country. The podcasts are online at BigJackpotBetting.com and at trackinfo.com.

He also gathers headlines and broadcasts morning news on 15 radio stations a week through AudienceBakery.com.

“I love living in Shawnee, and I love working out of my home,” Birch said. “Because of the Internet, the possibilities are just endless.”

Comments

DonTracedogs 8 years, 1 month ago

I guess sitting behind the screen, he wont see the broken and screaming dogs, with broken hocks torn muscles spike wounds and fractures, nor will he see the huge numbers killed for not being fast enough chasing the mechanical object round in circles, nor will he see the thousands cast off onto adoption agencies, just so racing enthusiasts can buy more.

Thats what REAL greyhound racing is like. The most barbaric legal sport there is.

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stlouiscindy 8 years, 1 month ago

I guess you know all the facts don't you Don Tracedogs.... Maybe you should work on a farm or kennel... THEN and ONLY THEN you will know the facts in Greyhound racing. Do some dogs get hurt, yes just like people... but the dogs are doing what they want to do!! I would like to see your numbers to prove what you are saying!! Randy is a great friend of mine and you have NO idea what you are talking about!!

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Forego76 8 years, 1 month ago

You guys shouldn't allow ignorant whiners full of undocumented rhetoric bait you like that. There was an article in our local paper out of LA esterday that similarly was biased and full of lots of undocumented claims. It's interesting that newspapers used to research facts before they allowed every amateur who came down the pike to go spouting numbers. But these days of blogs and total access to anyone and everyone allow for people like that first poster to rant when they haven't the first clue about it. Of course, as someone who was involved in both sides of greyhound racing---training and management---I saw abuse. The industry could have used more self-policing in several respects, especially over-breeding. I used to see breeding combinations that left me scratching my head. But the same can be said for just about any industry in which man relies on animal for sustenance. Or even in the cases of man having pets. I have seen LOTS of pet neglect and abuse, even by pet people who think that they're not doing bad things. Is the writer suggesting that we stop people from having pets? No, instead it's the easy road to go jumping up and down in silly rants on subjects about which they really know so very little.

Anyway, I really liked the article about Mr. Birch and his apparently large and dedicated following. It's a great idea and I hope that it continues to enjoy success.

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DonTracedogs 8 years, 1 month ago

So as well as the many broken legs other injuries and high rates of euthanasia, you also state that there is abuse towards greyhounds in the industry? While my concerns are the flawed mechanic of greyhound racing, you're saying dogs get abused?

Great endorsement.

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DonTracedogs 8 years, 1 month ago

How is it that dogs breaking their legs for the gambling industry os "Doing what they want to do?"

Some greyhounds like to chase cats and chickens, some dogs like to roam the streets, some go through trash and many like to roll in stinky rotten filth. Just because an animal or child or adult likes to do something, does not mean that its in their best interests to do so. Some greyhounds do NOT like to chase the lure. These end up being pushed on adoption agencies at best or put to death at worst. Some even wind up used by universities for "science and research" or used as involuntary blood donors. Ask anyone who has saved an unwanted greyhound, and they will say yes they like to run and play, but not all are suited to the gambling industry, not all want to run at dangerous speeds, chasing a mechanical rabbit round in circles. Can you blame them? Greyhounds also love to play with toys, to nap on the couch, to have a comfortable bed to rest on, to have a human lap to nap against, etc. Greyhounds in a racing kennel don't get to do any of these things they love to do.

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workinghardinCA 8 years, 1 month ago

@Don TraceDogs -

it is unfortunate that people like you still exist and spout AR propaganda that dates back to the 1980's.

it is unfortunate that people like you spend their time and energy spewing disgust at hard working people who are finding a way to make a living in these turbulent economic times

the united states was built on innovation and hard work - I applaud Mr Birch for working hard, making a living in a challenging time in a struggling industry

I don't applaud people like you who rant and rave about something they obviously don't know anything about.

to all the hard working people in the world who are thinking outside the box and finding a way to not live off the government my hat is off to you.

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DonTracedogs 8 years, 1 month ago

Hmm not sure where to begin with you, perhaps refer you to a healthcare specialist?

The same issues in the 80's exist today, and I have a job. As far as it being a shame I'm alive I guess that bodes well for the typical personality that is the greyhound racing enthusiast: If I'm don't agree with you or serve you a purpose, I'm better off dead?

Just like all those lovely greyhounds.

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