Updated on 09/17/2011 5:54PM

An affordable way to pick six


NEW YORK - One of the Breeders' Cup's biggest advertisers and sponsors is NetJets, a company that offers plutocrats and corporations fractional ownership of airplanes on a time-share basis. The same concept for a much broader demographic was the most interesting development on the wagering side of this year's Breeders' Cup: the public pick six syndicate of small investors put together by the online wagering company AmericaTab. Called the "Players' Pool," the syndicate collected $44,280 from AmericaTab customers, invested it in the Ultra Pick Six, and cashed for $280,748 before taxes.

The pool is the third innovation in the last 60 days with a common theme: Giving players with moderate bankrolls a fractional ownership interest in expensive wagering propositions that are realistically affordable only to heavier hitters. In August, Hinsdale Greyhound Park introduced 10-cent superfecta combination bets, reducing the cost of a six-horse box, for example, from $360 to $36. Then last month, Keeneland offered a Mutuel Fun wager, in which players could invest as little as $20 for a piece of dozens of bets throughout the card.

The problem with the pick six is that while it is a wonderfully appealing bet because of its soaring pools and high degree of difficulty, it gets very expensive very quickly. Using just two horses a race costs $128, but three a race increases the cost to $1,458 and four horses a race will run you $8,192. And how far will even a moderate four-digit investment get you on a card like the Breeders' Cup, with big fields and impossibly difficult races such as the Mile? Even that $1,458 three-a-race ticket gave you only 729 of the 1,817,088 possible combinations in this year's sequence - fewer than 1 of every 2,000 possible permutations.

The Players' Pool improved those odds by doing what horseplayers have informally done for years on a smaller scale: bundling investments to buy a bigger ticket. Three AmericaTab handicappers invested all but $1,080 of the pooled money on a single big ticket that used 9 of the 14 horses in the Mile, 6 of 13 in the Sprint, 5 of 12 in the Filly and Mare Turf, 5 of 8 in the Juvenile, 4 of 8 in the Turf, and 4 of 13 in the Classic. That 9x6x5x5x4x4 ticket, using 33 of the 68 horses in the six races, came out to $43,200.

The handicappers used Singletary ($35) as one of their nine horses in the Mile and Better Talk Now ($57.80) as one of their four in the Turf, but Wilko ($58.60) was not among their five in the Juvenile. So, like everyone else, the Players' Pool failed to pick six. It did, however, have 5 of the 61 winning 5-of-6 consolation tickets - one for each horse it missed with in the Juvenile - and those were worth $56,149.60 apiece.

So for every $100 invested in the Players' Pool, the pre-tax return was $634, the proportional share of the $280,748 earned on the $44,280 investment. It was like betting a $12.60 winner on the nose, but a lot more tantalizing and entertaining. And if Wilko had been one of their five in the Juvenile, they would have had the lone winning ticket for $2.56 million, as well as 32 healthy consos, for a total haul of nearly $3 million.

Human nature being what it is, plenty of the people who sextupled their money are probably second-guessing rather than throwing rose petals at the AmericaTab handicappers. Why, for example, would you spend 80 percent of your money playing against Ouija Board, giving her only the same weight as four other horses whose chances were so much lower? On the other hand, equal weighting worked out pretty well when the ticket gave the same strength to 27-1 Better Talk Now as it did 7-10 Kitten's Joy.

Expect to see more of these Players' Pools. They're a natural for the account-wagering companies, and there's no reason why tracks couldn't try it themselves. For too many years now, the most appealing exotic bets in racing have been overpriced for smaller players who become chum for the whales' bigger tickets.

The Players' Pool results also illustrated the urgency of doing something about the insidious and antiquated tax laws regarding gambling proceeds. The Players' Pool's $280,745 return was immediately reduced by 25 percent (on top of the 25-percent statutory takeout on the bet.) Even though the pool's return was only 5-1, the proceeds were taxed as if the group had invested $2 instead of $44,280. So even the people who invested $100 to get back $634 had a quarter of their proceeds withheld and a W2-G form sent to the Internal Revenue Service on their behalf. This is lunacy, this is double taxation, and it is the reason that many of racing's best customers have left the game altogether.