Family trips to the racetrack were among some of the fondest childhood memories for Peter Spoar while growing up in Fort Erie, ON in the 1970s. His professional career has come full-circle since then, as Spoar currently works as the manager of wagering and wagering development for Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium.

“My grandfather was a fan of the racetrack,” said Spoar. “He wasn’t a huge gambler or anything. He liked show betting quite a bit. My dad also liked coming to the track occasionally. By virtue of that, my brother and myself would often tag along with them. Back then, Fort Erie had a petting zoo, so it was family-friendly as well. We made the occasional bet ourselves, not at the windows obviously, but I became familiar with wagering at a very early age and found it exciting.”

Spoar said the atmosphere at the track and the analytical nature of handicapping were also strong factors in getting him into the sport.

“Fort Erie is incredibly beautiful and we probably have one of the nicest looking track infields in North America,” he said. “I thought it was a cool sport and a neat way to spend the day. Reading the different lines and trying to figure out the puzzle is what I found was interesting.”

Spoar’s interest in handicapping and wagering has led to a career spanning more than 20 years in wagering operations between Woodbine Entertainment Group and Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium. Spoar got his start as a teenager working as a pari-mutuel teller at Fort Erie when he was 19-years old.

“It was a just a weekend job that I would have for extra money,” he said. “I thought it was a great job and even to this day, I think it’s a great job. It was a lot of fun. You’re involved in the betting process. It’s customer facing, so I enjoyed that part of it as well.”

Spoar also served as a teller at Woodbine while attending school in the Toronto area, and eventually got his first full-time role in the industry as a scheduling coordinator with WEG in 1994. In the role, Spoar was responsible for putting together the work schedule for the pari-mutuel tellers, and experienced one of his career highlights when Woodbine played host to the 1996 Breeders’ Cup.

“We needed to have 630 pari-mutuel tellers,” he said. “That was something that I was working very hard on. We ended up with 630 tellers on that day and it was one of the greatest days I’ve ever had at Woodbine. It was October 26 and you could walk outside with a sports jacket on. It was absolutely beautiful.”

Spoar served in a variety of roles during his time at Woodbine, which included scheduling manager, manager of cash operations, and then manager of wagering operations. While in wagering operations, Spoar said there were a variety of tasks that needed to be completed to ensure horseplayers were able to bet on the Woodbine product.

“Simulcasting was coming on strong back then,” he said. “We actually did everything separate pool at that point. You had to make sure all the cards were set up correctly, all of the wagering information was correct, and the right sites were allowed in to be betting on the product. We hosted a lot of products for all of Canada back then, so that was a large part of the job. There were race day changes and supervising the staff that was there. That was the basic day-to-day responsibilities there.”

Spoar also has experience with running an off-track betting site. Back in 2005, he became the senior manager of the Greenwood Teletheatre, the largest OTB in Canada at the time. Spoar’s previous responsibilities on-track at Woodbine translated nicely to his role at Greenwood, and he was also able to work on developing promotions for the simulcast customers that visited the facility on a regular basis.

“The site was doing about $90 million a year in wagering, which is a large amount,” he said. “It was like a track without the track. There was food service there. There was a bar there. There were 100 machines total and it was about 70,000 square feet. It was massive.”

Spoar spent four years working at Greenwood before making his way back to Woodbine in 2009 where he became the senior manager of the wagering operations department. Spoar held that role until 2013, but was one of the 109 full-time workers laid off by Woodbine following the cancellation of the Slots At Racetracks Program by the Ontario government.

Following his dismissal, Spoar returned to Fort Erie with his wife and children and began work at a job in the construction industry. Spoar said getting back into the horse racing industry seemed unlikely at the time, but Fort Erie came to him with an attractive offer.

“When I first left Woodbine, I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved in horse racing, quite frankly,” he said. “I was probably a little bitter if I’m being totally honest. But things happen for a reason. I’m a believer of that. I just happened to be in town. Fort Erie had reached out to me with an opportunity to manage and retool the simulcasting and wagering department. By the time they reached out to me, I was very excited about the job.”

Spoar began his current role at Fort Erie in April 2014. Some of his many responsibilities include the management of all simulcast contracts, the development of any potential remote sales opportunities, marketing with remote partners like advance deposit wagering services, and the oversight of the customer service aspect at Fort Erie. He noted a number of differences between working at Fort Erie and working at Woodbine.

“It’s a totally different dynamic, obviously,” he said. “We’re a rural track here, and as such, it’s a different atmosphere. It’s a very small, tight knit group of management. You’re looking at maybe 10 people. That is the brain trust and that’s what driving the entire track. I feel a lot more hands on. Not that I didn’t have important roles or do great things at Woodbine, because I definitely did. I had a lot of great opportunities there and a lot of successes. But here at Fort Erie, it’s a small group that’s doing mighty things.”

Spoar’s current position doesn’t come without challenges, however. One of those challenges is trying to generate interest in on-track wagering, instead of relying on simulcast handle. Despite having some success at bringing fans in from the local area over the past couple of years, Fort Erie is a small town of 30,000 people. In the past, the track had been able to attract horseplayers from Western New York, but with tougher restrictions at border crossings over the past 15 years, Spoar said those numbers have declined.

“Getting across the border has been a lot more problematic than it used to be,” he said. “At one point, U.S. wagering accounted for almost 80 per cent of the wagering. That’s an unfortunate side effect, I guess.”

Another challenge is raising the track’s profile among horseplayers across North America. Spoar said figuring out optimal post times for Fort Erie’s races so they aren’t running on top of some higher profile tracks is one of his primary concerns when trying to determine the race schedule.

“I couldn’t be more conscious (of post times),” he said. “I definitely try to stay away from other tracks. When I got here, I did an agreement with TVG to get our races on Tuesday afternoons to help elevate our exposure and I think that’s helped.”

Presented with these challenges, track management hasn’t been afraid to try new things. In 2013, the track moved its signature race day, the annual running of the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, off its traditional Sunday afternoon spot to a Tuesday evening in an attempt to generate more interest. So far, the move has paid off. This past year, the track not only generated record handle on Prince of Wales Day, but also saw a 20 per cent increase in all-sources handle for the entire meet.

Spoar said Fort Erie appears to be bucking industry trends, and will continue to try new things in the future. For the upcoming 2017 season, the track will again experiment with its schedule by introducing Saturday twilight racing throughout the month of August in place of their regular Sunday afternoon cards. The August twilight cards will kick off at 4:20 p.m. and will feature live bands following the card, much like the existing twilight Tuesday programs. The track will also continue running on Saturdays into the month of September.

“If you look within the industry, the bigger players are on an upswing with wagering overall, but typically smaller tracks are struggling,” Spoar said. “I think we’ve got a steep uphill climb and we’re still managing some pretty impressive gains. Until we got a multi-year deal, it was year-to-year and you didn’t know if they were opening the doors the next year. For us to go from that to where we’re currently sitting, although not perfect, we’re doing quite well.”

“Fort Erie is incredibly beautiful and we probably have one of the nicest looking track infields in North America,” he said. “I thought it was a cool sport and a neat way to spend the day. Reading the different lines and trying to figure out the puzzle is what I found was interesting.”