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Horse Sense

In Ohio and Pennsylvania, high school athletic boosters are trying a new spin on the old Las Vegas night. Using video projection, they're hosting an evening of virtual horseracing, complete with food, beverages, gambling games, auctions, and all the atmosphere of a racetrack to create an effective, adult-oriented fundraiser.


By Teri Mollison
Hudson (Ohio) High School Athletic Booster Club


We just finished our second successful year hosting "A Night at the Races," and if you don't have anything like it in your community, you should definitely give it a shot. You start by hiring a deejay who has the right set-up, which includes videos of old horse races and a sound system so the deejay can call the races live. It's not important where the races took place or what the odds were--all that matters is that there are 12 horses in each race, which is what you need to turn this into an effective fundraiser.


Next, you need to find the right place. We rented a party center in Cuyahoga Falls, which provided a buffet dinner along with beer, wine, and soft drinks. The guests started arriving around 6:30 p.m., which gave everyone time to socialize and bid on the silent auction before dinner started at 7 p.m.. The first race began at 8 p.m.


We had ten races with 12 horses in each race. In nine of those races, each of the horses was "pre-sold" for $20 apiece, which raised over $2,000. In the 10th, which we call "The Hudson Derby," we held a raffle at the event, where people could buy one chance to become an "owner" for $5 or three chances for $10.


The deejay ran the videos and called the races with whatever goofy names the owners chose, like "Dig-It," "Game-Set-Match," or "JumpServe," which came from some of the volleyball parents. We had volunteers working the 12 betting windows, one for each horse, and before each race, people lined up to place their bets, just like you would at a racetrack. There was a $3 minimum on bets--except for the Hudson Derby, which had a $5 minimum--and at the end of each race, the winners split 40 percent of the pot, with the other 60 percent going directly to the booster club. In general, the payout for each winner was around $18 or $20. The owner of the winning horse got $50 and a little trophy--but every owner donated the $50 back to the booster club.


That wasn't the only way we raised money. We sold ads for the event program, which was 48 pages long and included the names of the horses and their owners, descriptions of the silent and live auction items, and a letter from the president of the booster club.


During the course of the evening, we kept the activities going with other gambling games. "Heads or Tails" is a simple game of chance in which we sold strings of beads that functioned as "lifeline." People could buy one necklace for $5 or three necklaces for $10. Between the ninth and 10th race, the deejay had all the players stand up while he flipped a coin. To bet heads, your put your hands on your head; to bet tails by putting your hands on your behind. If you bet incorrectly, you sit back down--unless you still have a necklace to use as a lifeline. The game went quickly and was a lot of fun because a large group of people can play together. The winner received $250, and the booster club got the rest of the pot, which was close to $500.


We had a $2 sideboard and a $5 sideboard, each manned by a volunteer. Each sideboard had 100 nails with a numbered card hanging off each nail, and each player bought a number, which usually corresponded to their son's or daughter's uniform number. When the boards were completely sold, we drew the winning numbers, with half of the pot going back to the booster club. The winners were very generous in donating part of their earnings, which was a nice bonus.


Finally, we held a 50-50 raffle called "The Biggest Loser," in which people wrote their name on a losing race ticket, which they tossed into a vase along with a dollar. Volunteers collected the tickets and money after each race and added them to a glass vase at the front of the room, so everyone could watch the pot grow. We picked one winner as "The Biggest Loser" and donated the remaining $200 to the booster club.


We finished the night about $13,000 ahead. A lot of that money came from the races, but even more came from the horse sponsorships, the auctions, and all the other fun stuff. The key was creating a festive atmosphere, a mixer where people had plenty of opportunities to interact. There was a lot of mingling, and a ton of games, all working toward the bottom line--raising money to support Hudson High athletics.



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