August 28, 2013

The Pick 5: Horse Racing Should Roll With It

It used to be that pound for pound, the Pick 4 is probably the best bet in horse racing, providing that there was at least $20,000 in the pool. The opportunity was always there for a pool shot, where you are the only winner. But now with so many choices per races, something that causes diluted pools, very few tracks can attract $20,000 and those that do have a 50 cent minimum, and in the case of Woodbine, a grimacing 20 cent minimum (well, it makes me grimace).

Actually, the 20 cent minimum seems to work for Woodbine, but I wonder if the guaranteed pool is what pushes bettors towards the bet more than anything else. Generally, 50 cent minimum pick 4's that fail to attract a decent handle are extremely passable, and what that means is that there is no gun to one's head to handicap those races and sometimes that means skipping cards.

50 cent pick 3's and especially 20 cent pick 3's just serve no purpose. I've wagered on them myself, but I find I bet a lot less when there is 20 cent minimum, and this is because the minimum discourages really big payoffs most of the time, in other words, these minimums defeat the purpose of even having these wagers on the menu.

The worst bets out there right are the Jackpot bets. A while back I wrote about the Beulah Jackpot bet that had grown to a very high level. I thought at the time that Jackpot bets would be a great way to attract the slots and lottery crowd. It obviously hasn't worked. Parimutuel handle is not going up, despite a poker ban in the US and the ability to wager on tracks 18 hours a day, almost from anywhere. Even the most successful Jackpot bets out there, ie the Gulfstream Park Pick 6, is only building at a snail's pace these days, and even during its hey day during the winter, I believe that tying up so many potential dollars that could be churned and could lead to higher gambling satisfaction amongst the Horseplayers (who get a fix every time they wager, so the more they get back, the longer they last and the more fun they have), has nothing but negative impact on the game. Even when a big Jackpot is won, only some of that money (that isn't taxed) will trickle back into the windows by the lucky winner most of the time.

There is no debate that there is good chunk of Horseplayers out there that want to have a chance at a big pot. Just the dream of cashing a big pot creates a fix for some Horseplayers, which is another reason why some gamble. However, it needs to be a realistic fix when it comes to today's sophisticated player. This is one of the reasons why the pick 5 in California has taken off. There aren't too many tracks that can pull off a 50 cent pick 5 with a potential $100k or more in the pot though. This is why 50 cent pick 5's don't work at many tracks. Fort Erie recently made a smart move by changing their minimum from 20 cents to $1. What this does is set up carryovers. Of course, field size is also important if a track is going to benefit from the carryover angle.

Making a $2 minimum is a turn off to most players. I rarely play a $2 minimum Pick 6 because it just is too costly for a lottery type of bet. A $1 Pick 5 at a B or C track with a decent carryover is a different situation. Some tracks, if they get lucky and don't have a winner for two or three straight cards could end up having fantastic days once the carryover gets into the $30,000 range, and the fact that with the $1 minimum on a non carryover day, there might be only $1-$2,000 in the pool, which means there is a good chance that there will be a carryover. If there is a focus on marketing the Pick 5, pool size will only grow, even on non carryover days.

The perfect situation would be for all B and C tracks adopt a $1 minimum Pick 5 with 25% of new money wagered (after takeout) go towards a consolation for those who pick 4 winners, this would create some OK churn and a reason for the player to invest a little more than they normally would.

What I would like to see is all Jackpot wagers to be banned. They hurt the game, though I realize they may have helped individual tracks like Gulfstream Park and Louisiana. But that list is very short. Fair Grounds Jackpot bets are a joke, and Arlington and Hawthorne's wagers do not attract anyone new to their tracks and the Jackpots grow relatively slow. Most tracks that have Pick 6's are also just hoping for miracles. When you see how slow a Pick 6 pool grows at Indiana, for instance, you have to wonder what is the point? Focus on a dollar Pick 5, and we might actually see the game grow a bit.


Check out some of the carryovers, they just don't make any sense. The only ones that do make any sense are the Pick 5 carryovers.


I don't think that a low takeout is necessary (I am all for low takeouts, but I am for optimal takeouts, and bets that produce the least amount of winners should have the highest takeout rates from a business standpoint). Sure, in California, it worked when their A tracks were getting beat up because of their takeout hike (Exactor and double takeout rates are pretty high there). The Pick 5 turned out to be the perfect wager there. It was sort of unique in that it started in race 1, had a low takeout, and big enough betting base from regulars and those who were looking for a reason to keep betting on California tracks after the hike. NYRA tracks would have similar success, with a low takeout or without one, and they are implementing one shortly with a low takeout.

Woodbine would be a great place for a $1 Pick 5, especially on days with big field size, however, I can't guarantee that it wouldn't cannibalize one of its Pick 4's. But I do think that if they went with only one Pick 4 and one Pick 5, their bottom line would be higher, providing there wasn't more than a two race overlap. It would also be advisable to them to push whoever they need to so as to allow 50 cent wagers.

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