Updated on 09/17/2011 9:55AM

$2 standard: Rock-solid foundation


NEW YORK - Imagine if the next time you went to the gas station, some of the pumps were marked $2.20 a gallon and some carried a price of $1.10, but either way 10 gallons of gas would cost you $22. Why, you might ask, are some of the pumps advertising what clearly is the price for only half a gallon?

Welcome to the current state of American simulcasting.

Among the 22 tracks that have conducted racing so far this year, there are no fewer than seven different schemes being employed as to whether to post probables, will-pays, and mutuel payoffs in $1 or $2 increments:

* A slim majority, 12 of the 22, post every mutuel price in the familiar $2 format that has served racing perfectly well for the better part of a century. Hats off to Aqueduct, Beulah, Charles Town, Fair Grounds, Sam Houston, Mountaineer, Oaklawn, Penn National, Philadelphia, Suffolk, Sunland, and Tampa.

* Two others, Delta Downs and Laurel, deviate by using a $1 price only for the superfecta.

* Gulfstream uses a $1 standard only for superfectas and the pick four.

* Turfway uses a $2 payoff for everything except a $1 daily double.

* Turf Paradise uses $2 for the double and everything except a $1 exacta and trifecta.

* Golden Gate, Rillito, and Santa Anita use $2 for the daily double and quinella and $1 for everything else including exactas and trifectas.

* Los Alamitos uses $1 for everything except $2 quinella payoffs.

This parimutuel Tower of Babel is growing taller at the same time that two other things are happening that should be tearing it down: The ongoing growth of simulcasting, and the consolidation of tracks under the ownership of either Churchill Downs or Magna Entertainment.

A player might be looking simultaneously at exacta probables in the fourth at Santa Anita and the 10th at Gulfstream. In Florida, an exacta combining a 2-1 shot and a 3-1 shot is being advertised at $19, while the same combo at Santa Anita appears to be paying $9. Is there a crawl on the simulcast screen saying that Santa Anita is using the half-gallon system? Of course not. Why is it the burden of the customer to memorize every dissenting track's unique scheme?

Magna owns both Gulfstream and Santa Anita and is spending heavily to get players at both tracks to bet on the other's races. Yet it can't even use the same mathematics at both. Later this year, Churchill will offer similar inconsistency among Calder, Churchill, and Hollywood.

There is no logic whatsoever to the choice of which bets are displayed in $1 probables and payoffs and which are at $2. At some tracks the bets with smaller payoffs are stated in the smaller increments while others take the half-priced route only for four-horse bets with big payoffs. Nor do the payoffs correspond to minimums for each type of wager. The only reason some tracks use a $2 standard for quinellas, which they sell for as little as $1, is that they don't want the embarrassment of posting a $1.80 payoff when a chalky quinella pays $3.60.

Posted payoffs are looking more and more absurd. Here's what went up on the screen after the fifth race at Golden Gate on Feb. 9:

$1 exacta $9.50
$2 quinella $13.00
$1 trifecta $32.00
$2 DD $7.20
$1 Pick 3 $6.30

Quickly now: Which were good or bad payouts and how much do you stand to collect if you had $2 worth of each? Give up? That's probably the proper response.

At least none of the tracks that have made the unfortunate decision to post some prices in $1 increments would dream of doing the same for traditional win, place, and show payoffs, sparing us the further atrocity of a 4-5 shot paying $1.80 to win and $1.05 to show. That would be "tampering with the gold standard," said one mutuels director who thinks his own track's policy of posting some $1 prices is "an idiotic decision by people in our marketing department who have never made a bet."

Multiple wagers, which account for nearly three times as much handle as straight pools, should be held to the same gold standard. Even if there are some valid arguments for $1 prices, they are trumped by an overriding need for consistency.

The one and only time a payoff should be posted in a $1 increment is when a single $1 winning ticket is sold in a pool, as happens frequently on superfectas in smaller venues. Then the $1 payoff is both accurate and informative and does not misrepresent the size of a pool or the number of winners.

In all other circumstances, a $1 payoff price is as absurd and confusing as saying that Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont by 15 1/2 double-lengths or 62 half-lengths.