02/04/2013 5:46PM

Andrew Beyer: Rainbow 6 an elusive, expensive pot of gold

Barbara D. Livingston
Enabled by a 10-cent basic betting unit, Gulfstream bettors are wagering more than ever on the Rainbow 6.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Big jackpots in the pick six stir more excitement than almost anything else in American racing. The atmosphere at tracks is electric and fans are obsessed when they have a chance to shoot for a six- or seven-digit payoff. But there has rarely been sustained drama quite like the current mania at Gulfstream Park, where the Rainbow 6 – a devilish mutant of the conventional pick six – has thwarted bettors for more than a month. When racing resumes on Wednesday, the jackpot will start at $1,399,086.

Passion for this wager is not shared by the whole racing community – certainly not by the high-rolling, sophisticated bettors who are usually the dominant forces in exotic pools. Most of them shun the Rainbow 6 and view it as an abomination. But even racing fans who abstain will surely get a vicarious thrill watching the drama play out at Gulfstream Park daily, as it did Thursday, when a bettor was alive for a $1.1 million payoff with a horse who took the early lead before fading to finish third.

Modeled after a bet that originated at little Beulah Park in Ohio, the Rainbow 6 differs from the pick pix in two crucial ways. In a pick six, if many bettors select all six winners, they share the pot. If nobody picks six, part of the wagering pool is paid out as a consolation and the rest goes into the carryover jackpot for the next day's card.

But in the Rainbow 6, the whole pool is paid out only if a single ticket has all six winners. Otherwise, a consolation is paid out to the perfect tickets while 40 percent of the day's pool goes into the jackpot. (The single-ticket rule doesn't apply on the final day of the racing season, when there is a mandatory payout of everything in the pool.)

The takeout on the Rainbow 6 – i.e., Gulfstream's cut – is 20 percent. After 40 percent of the remainder goes into the jackpot pool, the effective takeout is a staggering 52 percent unless someone holds the sole perfect ticket. It's tough enough for the best of handicappers to overcome a 20 percent takeout rate; a 52 percent takeout makes the Rainbow 6 a worse investment than the lottery.

The other crucial difference between the Rainbow 6 and the pick six is their cost. The betting unit of the Rainbow 6 is 10 cents, compared with $2 for the pick six. Bettors can cover many more combinations at a dime a ticket. The more they bet, the more they reduce the chance that any of them can hold the sole perfect ticket. On Friday, Gulfstream offering a difficult sequence of races, most with fields of 11 or 12, and there were 1.21 million possible outcomes of the Rainbow 6. But with the public wagering $357,717, they were playing 3.57 million combinations. There could not have been many remotely logical combinations that were not part of these 3.57 million.

When Gulfstream introduced the Rainbow 6 two years ago, I wrote a column labeling it a "sucker bet" and expected that it would die once bettors saw how futile it was to chase the big jackpot. (That's what happened at Beulah Park.) Instead, Gulfstream bettors are wagering more than ever – a phenomenon for which economist and gambler Maury Wolff offered a good explanation: "People love the 10-cent unit." He observed that a bettor playing a conventional $2 pick six with a $100 bankroll is hopelessly outgunned – he can't even afford to buy a ticket using two horses in each race. (That's a $128 investment.) But with $100 worth of 10-cent tickets, Wolff said, "He's got enough coverage that he's in the game."

Gulfstream's president, Tim Ritvo, confirmed that the boom in the Rainbow 6 is being driven by players betting $300 or so – not by the wiseguys betting thousands. And these players, he said, seem indifferent to the 52-percent bite.

I asked the Daily Racing Form's Steve Crist, a serious pick-six player and author of "Exotic Betting," for his ideas on tackling the Rainbow 6, and he replied: "I would counsel people not to play it unless there is a mandatory payout [on closing day] or a seven-digit carryover."

Now that a seven-digit carryover exists, how might a bettor approach the Rainbow 6? In my opinion, a bettor should play only if he sees a glimmer of hope of winning the whole pool. Otherwise, it's pointless to fight the 52 percent takeout. There can be no glimmer if the six races include some small fields or even one short-priced favorite who looks almost unbeatable. Too many other people will pick six winners.

Wednesday's card offers no such easy spots; the six races include four 12-horse fields and no favorite at odds of less than 5-2 in the morning line. Even with such a difficult card, a bettor who hopes to win a seven-figure payoff will need to come up with a longshot winner – one who defies most handicapping logic – somewhere in the six-race sequence.

It is impractical to play a single Rainbow 6 ticket scattered with wacky longshots in every race. It is a better strategy to start with a ticket using relatively logical selections. Then fashion another ticket substituting wacky longshots for the logicals in the first leg of the Rainbow 6; do the same for the second leg, the third leg, etc., and hope to hit one 30-1 shot who will bust out most of the other players. This is a too-short explanation of a complex process; bettors who want to employ a smart strategy should read Crist's definitive book or watch his DVD "Exotic Tickets."

For a handicapper armed with optimal strategy and a formidable bankroll, the Rainbow 6 still presents an almost impossible challenge. But even those who recognize that the wager is a sucker bet may find it hard to resist the lure of a seven-figure payoff.

© 2013 The Washington Post

Richard Seaton More than 1 year ago
My friend spent over $350 for rainbow 6 on Sunday and won $19,989. on two different tickets for a take of $24,000.00 after taxes. It was a good day to let it ride
Cathy More than 1 year ago
I have a friend who hit the Rainbow six on Monday with at $162 ticket, and it paid over $4600, a pretty good return if you ask me. His wife and I played a small ticket for $43, and had the first five, and we were excited to maybe hit all six. Alas, we ran out in the last race, but when he hit we made out good. It is a great bet, and you don't have to be the "only" ticket to make money!!
ALAN More than 1 year ago
You invest over $1,000 into the jackpot. You hit the first 5 legs, all at over 25-1. You have all in the final leg. You look at the probable payoffs and you realize you are the only one alive. YOU CAN'T LOSE YOU HIT THE JACKPOT. UNTIL At the gate you hear: Your attention please #8 who is 99-1 is a vet scratch at the gate. Of course the favorite wins. Now you have 2 winning combinations. Would you get the jackpot? or just the whole daily pool. Same scenario except dead heat in last race. What happens?
Cathy More than 1 year ago
Two tickets would win the daily pool, and then there would be a carryover.
VELIMIR More than 1 year ago
Wrong. You win it all. Check the rules. Dead heat or scratch, if its just your ticket with the double win, you get the jackpot. They specifically address both scenarios in the rules.
Tom Barrister More than 1 year ago
One problem with the Rainbow Pick 6 will rear its ugly head if it doesn't go by closing day. More than a few syndicates will go All or nearly all in each of the six races (less than $300,000) and guarantee themselves a ticket, as well as covering the more logical combinations heavily. The small guy who invested in it all season can't compete, and all that money ends up in a few hands.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Looks like 400K was paid to the winners this Saturday. Carryover is now over 2 million, down from 2.4 million. I don't see why, with a carryover of, effectively, 400K (and growing), the 'real' pick 6 players would stay away.
GW More than 1 year ago
I have hit the .10 pick 6 five times already (not the jackpot). 4 of those times I did it for under $20. I did it once for $1.20. Normally, when I hit it pays around $500. Last year, on a big carryover day, I won the bet and it paid a little over $5800 with only 1 double digit odds horse winning. On a big carryover day, you have so many players playing a whole lot of unreasonable combinations. Even though the takeout is high, the "All" button is creating a ton of dead money. There are players out there spending thousands to try to hit the thing. If you bet a thousand dollars, $999.90 is guaranteed dead. I don't like the bet without a carryover, but there is still a ton of value when the thing gets into 6 digits because people start throwing a ton of money into the pool and the vast majority of it has no shot at winning.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
So what can be concluded from yesterday's Rainbow P6? The bettors poured in nearly a half million on a bet with an effective takeout rate of 52% in order to have a skills-based, reasonably-priced and fair shot at the jackpot of around $1.7 million. Maury Wolff's explanation above seems very reasonable. IMO, the market for the small- to mid-sized players appears to be untapped and this is a sign for what the potential is if the player is given a fair and reasonably-priced chance at winning.
jttf More than 1 year ago
if no one singled it today, you arent going to have a better chance at it. when is the last day of the meet ?
Jack Twee More than 1 year ago
Two people hit for $111,000 today on the 10c pick 6.
Tom Maloney More than 1 year ago
It's called Survivor Bias. 10,000 people place the bet, two win and crow about it, while the losers slink off. The fact is, the bigger the jackpot, the less likely you are to win it. I can put $300 to work in the win pool with a much better shot at having a winning day. Whoever likes this Rainbow thing, go ahead, have fun. But just because somebody sooner or later wins a big jackpot doesn't mean it's a smart bet.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
A 300 dollar ticket buys 4 horses in each race. Even if you knew nothing about handicapping, and would look at six 10 horse fields, a blind 300 dollar ticket would give you a 1 in 250 shot to win. The question is: to win what? Therein lies the confusion as well as the power of this pick 6. It's a brilliant idea to have the full payout only if one person wins. It keeps away the syndicates, and still offers nice payouts along the way.