20 June 2021

Has Arlington Park Solved Horse Racing's Jackpot Problem?

 Unfortunately for horse racing, Arlington Park may be no more in the near future, but in the meantime they may have come up with a way to rid the betting world of the mostly unproductive Jackpot wagers which have now reached plague like proportions.

In its infancy, I was for Jackpot bets.  In 2010, Beulah Park was put on the map, a C track, was temporarily competing for wagers with Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day, attracting over $700,000 in new money, as bettors were chasing the $400,000 carryover in the mandatory Fortune 6.

Since then, more and more and more racetracks have put Jackpot wagers on the menu.  So much that Jackpot wagers make up the overwhelming majority of carryovers offered.  Today for example, 9 out 32 carryovers are Jackpot bets (and four of the nine non Jackpot bets are offered at Arlington). Most days the ratio is worse than that.

There are huge problems today with Jackpot bets.   

 First, very few smaller tracks get to offer a huge payday to the lucky individual bettor, and even if they do, it takes an awful long period of time to get there.  

Secondly, Jackpot bets ties up oodles of potential churn money.  Every gambler is different, however, collectively, the typical gambler is all about staying in action while frequently or infrequently being rewarded for being right.  Some gamblers are compelled to go after the big score, so dangling a possible large payout tempts them to take a shot at the Jackpot wagers.  Gamblers do like the dream of the big score, that makes betting fun, but I contend, not as much fun as actually cashing other wagers frequently, at least for most horse players.  Jackpot bets, because they are everywhere, hinder the maximum potential fun a horse player can have.

Finally, the smart money generally comes into play on mandatory payout days.  This is because many horse players like value.  Mandatory payout days usually turn into pools that make for a positive takeout situation (or at least close enough).  And the non value hunters will still be attracted to the big pool expectation regardless, hoping to be one of the potentially very few to hit it. This shows tracks need to cut to the chase quicker or look for wagers that will attract the same or more that Jackpot bets do, without the Jackpot.  

It is refreshing to see NYRA going back to the traditional Pick 6, hopefully more racetracks will follow, but here is where Arlington comes in:

Arlington offers a slew of gimmick bets. A Pick 6, a Pick 7, a Jackpot Hi 5, and a Pick 8.  Too many, if you ask me, but they may be onto something with a non Jackpot Pick 8.

It is a 20 cent base with a 15% takeout. Most of what is wagered is carried over if no one gets 8 winners. Those who hit 7 winners (or 6 winners if nobody hits 7) get a consolation payout.  I think their consolation prize ratio should be higher than it currently is, but that is different story. 

Assuming the average winner's chance of finishing first being at 4-1 (varies with field size), it is 25 times more difficult to hit than a Pick 6.   

The carryover currently stands at over $70,000.  The thing is that nobody has had 8 winners for 8 consecutive racing days.  This kind of proves the degree of difficulty.  A carryover pool of over 50k attracted almost $25,000 in new money yesterday. Over 120,000 of combos that didn't have 8 winners.

  I'm thinking handle numbers could be much higher if the Pick 8 wasn't just unique to Arlington and horseplayers became used to the wager at various other tracks.  Also, if Arlington were rid itself of the Jackpot Hi 5 which ties up lots of potential churn as well as their Pick 6 and Pick 7 which don't seem to gain much build up or traction.

Surely, you'll start seeing some huge carryovers in no time from some of the A tracks.  And the B and C tracks can offer something more reasonable than Jackpot wagers.  A Pick 8 with a decent carryover causes value players to handicap the entire card.  

Without hurting the potential larger carryovers too much, larger consolidation payouts should be considered. Maybe 30% of the new money collectively divided equally to those who have 6 winners and those who have 7.  This increases the potential churn.

This also leads me to an alternative for the Jackpot Hi 5.  I'm all for ridding the racing world of this wager, but if a track wants to offer a potential big payout for an individual wager, make it a less attainable Hexafecta  non Jackpot bet, where the player has to pick the first 6 finishers in the exact order.  This should lead to a lot of carryovers, but it will be hit a lot more than the Jackpot bets finally are, putting money in player's hands a lot quicker.

I'm not concerned about calling the Hexafecta anything but that.  However, I kind of would like the Pick 8 to be called The Spider (Octopus has too many syllables, it doesn't feel right rolling off the tongue).