09/07/2001 12:00AM

Keeneland reduces takeout to 16 percent


The takeout rate for all bets at Keeneland's fall meet this year will be reduced from 19 to 16 percent, Keeneland announced Friday.

The cut will make exotic and superexotic bets at Keeneland the cheapest in the country.

Nick Nicholson, Keeneland's president, said Friday that the track was influenced by the New York Racing Association's decision this summer to reduce the takeout on most of its bets.

"What New York has done is a great step forward, and every time something like that happens we learn a little more about what the marketplace wants," Nicholson said. "Fans say they want lower takeout, and we're in a position to test that out."

Keeneland will also coordinate its post times with NYRA's Belmont Park, Nicholson said, so that races from the tracks alternate every 15 minutes, at least at the beginning of the day. Nicholson said the tracks have not yet determined if the racing schedules will be adjusted during the day if delays affected the 15-minute intervals.

The changes are meant to spur handle on Keeneland's races, especially in the out-of-state market, the idea being that bettors will migrate toward low-takeout signals. By coordinating its post times with Belmont, Keeneland is also hoping bettors can comfortably handicap and play the signals from both tracks, instead of focusing on just one.

Purses will not be affected by any shortfall in revenue, Nicholson said. If revenues to the purse account fall because of the lower takeout, Keeneland will overpay, Nicholson said.

Keeneland is also asking the Kentucky Racing Commission to approve a plan to drop the pick six wager in favor of a $1 pick five. In Kentucky, bettors have not warmed to the pick six, a bet that is most popular in New York and California.

Takeout cuts, which are endorsed by many fans and racetrack executives, as well as some economists who say the cuts increase handle in the long run, have perhaps never been more popular than this year. In addition to NYRA and Keeneland, many tracks in the country, including Hawthorne and Sam Houston, have experimented with reduced takeouts on certain bets in an effort to gain publicity and snag a greater share of the simulcast market, where 82 percent of the betting handle originates.

NYRA's cuts this year were recently credited with increasing the handle on Saratoga's races by 3.2 percent to a new record, despite the availability of several additional simulcast cards this year at the state's offtrack betting corporations. "Quietly, I think the takeout cut did its job," said Bill Nader, a NYRA senior vice president. "It put more money into the bettors' pockets, and they put it through the windows."