06/21/2017 7:46PM

Gisser: A new bet to appeal to the novice player

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Walking through Northfield Park’s Rocksino the other day, I could easily understand the mindless attraction of the slots, err, video lottery terminals. All those bells, lights and noises, and the ability to gamble with no skill or knowledge, or time “wasted” handicapping. No complaints about poor drives, bad posts or drugs. How can we bring those people and that excitement to harness racing?

The excitement part is easy. Throw some of those machines into the racetrack proper, facing out to the track. Program them to show video of the horses warming up, parading and racing (in other words, similar to Instant Racing, but with the real thing). And then let those folks bet on horses, with all the bells and whistles of the slot machine, with a brand new war that has never been tried before, to my knowledge. It’s called the Blind Pick and it would be a $5 wager. More about the details in a minute.

Racing has tried many innovative wagers to increase handle. Some have worked, some haven’t. But it seems like the ones that have been successful (Longer Pick-x races, carryovers, seeded-pool wagers, guaranteed minimums, etc.) still appealed more to the serious horseplayer than to the casual fan.

Wagers that were dumbed down, for instance the over/under wager or the odd-even wager, failed not because they were too simple but because of their low payoff, less than even money. The Blind Pick (and yes, I know that is a horrible name. We will work on it when we institute it) pays much better. How does it work?

This wager is a totally separate, non-pari-mutuel pool. Let’s assume a 10-horse field, but it works with any number of horses, the caveat being that the payoff is higher with a larger field. You place your $5 (or any multiple) wager. The slot machine or video lottery terminal randomly generates a number from 1 to 10. That number shines in lights on your terminal and designates your horse. You can continue to play your other game on the machine, until the race goes to post. With a pre-determined signal, just before they hit the start, your slot machine now carries the feed of the race. As your horse improves position, you get bells and lights, if he starts to fade, the machine stays quiet (that crazy-cartoon losing slide-whistle sound just sends the wrong message). If your horse wins, you win. But how much?

This is the best part of the Blind Pick. The odds are based on the size of the field and since the numbers are generated randomly, the payoff can be pre-set. The wager has a 15% takeout. It should be 10%, but racetrack operators, horsemen and state regulators all want their piece, so 85% of the pool is returned on winning bets. So your $5 wager pays $42.50!! It doesn’t matter if your horse went off at 1-5, 1-1-, 10-1 or 20-1. It pays $42.50 every time. And that is over 7-1. If it is a nine-horse field it pays $38.25. Eight-horse field, it pays $34. It’s stupid, it’s easy, I am embarrassed I came up with the idea, and it is just what we need to grab some of those slot players.

Switching gears . . .

Do we even need head numbers in this day and age? We have saddle pads and video. I don’t know a single announcer, charter or judge who identifies a horse by the head number. If we must have head numbers, let’s come up with a foolproof method of securing them.  We have the technology. But we don’t need them. They are an anachronism in our sport, a throwback to the days of breasts collar and leather hopples.  Many tracks have done away with them. The Meadows did away with them years ago and it appears Harrah’s Philadelphia does not use them. I am also pretty sure they are not used at Harrington or Dover, although I could be wrong.

Hopefully in the coming months everybody drops them, and not on the racetrack, but into a muck bucket at the back of a tack room, never to be seen again. That’s it for this month. Stakes season is heating up, so now go cash.