09/21/2004 12:00AM

Another way for tracks to emulate casinos

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LAS VEGAS - The horse racing industry and Las Vegas are linked like a marriage, for better or for worse.

You can point to the relationship for defining the way simulcasting has matured in the United States, where racetracks and offtrack betting parlors built "Las Vegas style" simulcast parlors to copy the race books here and 3 percent became the industry norm for simulcast signals, a steal on the magnitude of Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.

Vegas is also where player reward programs were first instituted for tracking betting behavior and awarding comps.

Well, here's another idea that the Las Vegas gaming industry has perfected that would work great in the horse racing model - incremental betting. Hinsdale Greyhound Park in New Hampshire recently began offering incremental betting on superfectas, which can be played there for as little as a dime a bet. A spokesman for Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky., said the track is "seriously interested" in offering its customers 10-cent bets on superfectas.

Incremental betting in Las Vegas allows consumers to gamble at whatever price range they feel comfortable. Tourists can come here with $200, $2,000, or a $2 million bankroll and find slot machines or table games that fit their budget.

For example, if you have a small bankroll, you can play nickel or penny slots and still have a chance to win a six-figure jackpot. You will have to max play 50 or 100 units, but you will have a puncher's chance.

A whale may go to high-limit slots where the units are $10, $25, or $100. Granted you don't have to play 100 units to hit a jackpot. But five units' worth, $125 or $500, for one spin or a hand of video poker is too much for most people to risk.

Built into the pricing is that nasty word, rebate. The casinos set the hold on slot machines that rewards their bigger players. And all this is under the watchful eye of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

For example, the hold on a nickel or penny slot machine may run as high as 6 or 7 percent. That means that 93 to 94 percent of the play is returned as winnings.

On a high-limit slot machine, the hold may be only 1 or 2 percent, meaning a 98 to 99 percent payback. In essence, the whale player is getting a rebate, but you're playing large amounts of money with every spin or poker hand.

How can incremental betting be used at the racetrack? The bet minimum is $2, $1 for some exotic wagers. It's worth experimenting at 50 cents, a quarter, and even a dime.

It should be used only with multiple horse and multiple race wagers such as the pick six, pick four, and superfecta, and possibly the pick three and trifecta.

Smaller bettors are priced out of those pools after boxing, wheeling, and part-wheeling a few horses. If you used two horses in every race in the pick six, the ticket costs $128. If the incremental price were a quarter, that ticket would cost only $16.

There are tax implications, too. Horseplayers are taxed at 300-1 for $2 and 600-1 for $1. In theory, a quarter bettor would be taxed at 2,400-1.

Incremental betting can be a marketing tool for newcomers. Imagine a pick six syndicate cashing for $200,000 and sharing the pool with a quarter player who hits for $25,000. You're creating more winners.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.