06/15/2011 3:25PM

Emerald Downs: Pick five now on menu


AUBURN, Wash. – Long before he helped build Emerald Downs and took up residence as track president, Ron Crockett got his kicks as a horseplayer. He like the old-fashioned win bet because it was the shortest and most logical path to profits. Exotics? Crockett wasn’t a fan, and truth be told, he still isn’t. But Crockett answers to a clientele with an endless appetite for new wagers, and those patrons were hungry for the pick five.

Starting Friday, they will have one. The Washington Horse Racing Commission approved Emerald’s request for a 50-cent minimum pick five with a two-tiered payoff system and a carryover provision at its monthly meeting last week. The pick five will cover the final five races daily. On days when there are no perfect tickets, 80 percent of the net pool will be carried over to the next racing date, and the remaining 20 percent will be paid out to ticket-holders with the highest number of winners.

The takeout will be 22.1 percent, consistent with all other exotic wagering at Emerald Downs but substantially higher than takeouts at other tracks that have introduced the pick five in recent months.

Hollywood Park launched its “Player’s Pick 5” at the current spring/summer meet. That wager covers the first five races and features a 14-percent takeout – the lowest takeout for any wager in California. Calder introduced a pick five for its 40th anniversary meet that began April 25. The wager’s strongest selling point was an industry-low 12-percent takeout. Hastings reduced the takeout on win, place, show, and pick four wagering to 15 percent for its 2011 meeting and added a pick five, also with a 15 percent takeout.

Crockett said getting a lower takeout for Emerald’s pick five would have required more time and effort.

“It’s not possible without changing the legislation, which we’d have to do down in Olympia,” he said. “The session is over, so it wasn’t really an option for us.”

Adrian Buchan, Emerald Downs’ director of marketing, said the pick five, with 77.9 percent of the pool being distributed to winning ticket-holders, is a good deal for horseplayers.

“The 50-cent pick five is designed to give fans a lot of bang for their buck,” Buchan said. “On days with carryovers, players might find the wager especially attractive. For a relatively modest investment they can cover a lot of horses, and have a realistic chance at a big payout.”

Officials at Hollywood Park have been pleased with the pick five through the first 33 days of the meet. The pick five routinely out-handles the pick six and its stratospheric 23.68 percent takeout. Over the past 20 racing dates, an average of $210,309 has been wagered on the pick five at Hollywood. But at Emerald, there will be no real impetus to switch from multi-race wagers like the pick three and pick four – all of which have the same takeout as the pick five. Over the past 10 racing dates, an average of $18,132 was wagering on Emerald’s late pick four. Buchan anticipates initial pick five pools will be smaller.

“I don’t think it will out-handle our pick four unless there’s a carryover,” he said. “Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see on Friday. Our fans have been consistently asking for it, so I know there’s an audience for the wager.”

It might take a carryover or two before bettors strongly embrace the pick five. Such was the case at Hollywood, where handle was sluggish through the first 12 days of the meet but skyrocketed by 40 percent after the first carryover. With smaller pick five pools at Emerald, fewer possible outcomes will be covered and carryovers should be more frequent. The flipside with smaller pools, is that blockbuster payouts will be fewer and farther between.

At Hollywood, the current average pick five payout of $3,905 is inflated by a record $60,298 bonanza on May 28. On one out of every three days at Hollywood, the Player’s pick five returns less than $300.

At Hastings, where the pick five was introduced with a 20-cent minimum and no carryover provision, bettors have given the wager a cold shoulder, the handle exceeding $5,000 just one in the past two weeks. Hastings received approval for a carryover starting Friday, and track officials are weighing whether to increase the minimum bet to $1.

“I’m still very much withholding judgment on the pick five,” said Raj Mutti, general manager of Hastings. “We want to see how the carryover pool works before we can give a yea or nay on it. I would have liked it to start stronger, obviously. You need to build a base before you can realize the bigger numbers.”

Ultimately, Crockett’s customers will determine the viability of the pick five at Emerald Downs. Its big brother, the pick six, never caught on at Emerald and was phased out in the late 1990’s. The track’s rolling daily doubles have yet to find a wide audience. But bettors want options. Now they have another one.

“It’s the fastest-growing bet across the nation, so we thought we’d get approval and give it a try here,” Crockett said. “I’m not sure what to hope for. Our handle is off 4.3 percent year to date, which I think is pretty solid. Based on what I read, and what I see, we’re hanging in there.”