03/04/2015 4:25PM

Pandolfo: Examining big payoff wagers


Over the past few years, racetracks have introduced exotic wagers that give bettors a chance at a big score. To make the bets more attractive, the takeout was lowered. Then the base minimum wager was also lowered, with tracks offering anywhere from 20 cent minimums on up to $1.00.

At the Meadowlands, bettors can bet a Pick 4 or Pick 5 with a 15% takeout and a 50 cent minimum wager. Some tracks also have wagers as low as 10 cents on bets like trifectas and superfectas.

In 2013, Gulfstream Park introduced the Rainbow Pick 6. This wager featured a 20 cent minimum and part of the pool carries over if more than one person has the winning ticket. There have been a couple of big winners of the Rainbow Pick 6. One bettor hit it for $3.5 million, and last year it was hit for $6.7 million on the next-to-last day of the meet.

The Meadowlands now offers a similar bet, which is a Pentafecta. They call it the 20 cent Jackpot Super High Five with a takeout of 8%. The goal is to pick the first 5 finishers in correct order. But, like the Rainbow Pick 6, there's a catch. Each night, 25% of the pari-mutuel pool carries over. That is unless only ONE person has a winning ticket. This bet has been popular in Canada, although I believe the takeout is 15%.

I recall reading columns about the Gulfstream Rainbow Pick 6 by noted racing writers Steve Crist and Andy Beyer. If memory serves me correct, I believe they both felt that it was not a good bet. They probably wouldn't like the Super High Five, either.

Let's take a closer look at the Super High Five. It's advertised as having a 8% takeout. But, that's a bit of a misnomer. There are basically three pools, the Net Pool, the Carryover Pool, and the Consolation Pool. Net pool is the entire pool. The Carryover Pool is 25% of the Net. The Consolation Pool is what’s actually paid out to the winners, minus the 8% takeout.

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When you make a Super High Five bet, your chances of being the only winning ticket are difficult to figure. With a bet like the Pick 5, for instance, you have to pick 5 winners in a row. Based on how many horses are in each race, you can get an idea of what your mathematical chances are of hitting the bet. But with the Super High Five, your chances of taking down the entire pool (having the only winning ticket) are hard to know, since you're not just trying to pick the first 5 finishers, you also have to be the only winning ticket. But the bottom line is, your chances of having the only winning ticket are minimal, especially now that the Meadowlands cut the field size down.

If you do pick the first 5 finishers in the correct order, you'll win, but chances are you'll be sharing the Consolation Pool with several other winners. Since you're sharing a consolation pool that's 75% of the Net Pool, minus the 8% takeout, according to my math, the actual takeout is 33%. This, of course, affects the actual payouts.

Let’s compare this bet to the Pick 5 that's offered at the Meadowlands. This bet starts in the first race. The goal is to pick the winners of the first 5 races. The bet has a 15% takeout, and a $30,000 guaranteed pool. Let's say that $50,000 is in the net pool and you are one of 5 winners that have the winning ticket. After the 15% takeout, each of the 5 winners would hit for $8,500.

Now let's say that there's $50,000 in the Net Pool of the Super High 5 and five people have the winning ticket. After the 25% carryover is removed that leaves $37,500. Another $3,000 is deducted for the 8% takeout. That leaves $34,500 to be split by the 5 winners, for a payout of $6,900.

As you can see, unless you're lucky enough to have the only winning Super High Five ticket, the 50 cent Pick 5 with a 15% takeout is, mathematically, a smarter wager than the 20 cent Super High Five with the advertised 8% takeout.

I think there's a few interesting things at play here regarding the Super High Five bet. First of all, I wonder if everyone who bets it realizes that when they hit, they are sharing 67% of the net pool, and that the only way they can take down the carryover is to have the lone winning ticket.

I believe the carryover on the late Super High Five is close to $150,000 now, and that's enticing. For a while the track was carding 12 horse fields going a mile and an eighth in these Super High Five races, but that actually made it more likely that there would be one winning ticket. With the field size down to 10 horses and back to one mile that makes is tougher to have the lone winning ticket.

But it's obvious that many, if not most, bettors are not playing a ticket that has even a remote chance of taking down the jackpot carryover. For instance, many of the tickets that are played have the obvious favorite or second choice on top. You have to realize that if your tickets key the obvious contenders, and you hit the bet, you're going to be sharing the consolation pool with the other winners. If you want to go for the jackpot carryover, you can't key the obvious contenders.

When and if someone has the only winning ticket, it will most likely be in a race that is won by a longshot, and may even have longshots in most of the other slots. I say when and "if" someone has the winning ticket, because it's possible that no one will ever have the lone winning ticket. A lot depends on the size of the fields.

If no one hits the bet, the jackpot builds, and it creates a mandatory payout. The bet must be paid off in its entirety on the final day of the meet. So, if no one hits it, and there's a million dollars in the pool on the last day of the meet, and 100 people hit it that day, they would each hit for around $10,000.

What do I think of the Super High Five wager? First of all, if the bet isn't hit and has to be paid off on the last day, it's a very good bet, indeed. At that point, the potential for a overlaid payoff for all of the winning tickets is high.

As a racing writer, it's hard for me to tell you that I think it's a good bet, when I just proved that mathematically other bets, like the Pick 4 and Pick 5, are smarter wagers.

But, I understand that most horseplayers are not professionals, and don't look at betting as investing. I enjoy gambling, and I've made many bets that were not good bets. Heck, when I go to a casino, almost every bet I make is a bad bet. The only consolation is that I know I'm going to get a percentage of my losses and total play back in comps.

And even though 25% of the pool is being carried over, many of the payouts in the Super High Five at the Meadowlands have been juicy. When they were running 12 horse fields, the average non-jackpot payoff was $1,700. I'm not sure how much that's dropped with the recent reduction to 10 horse fields. The saving grace of the bet is the 20 cent minimum. Lower minimums are more attractive to the average bettor and tend to produce bigger pools.

Of course, some bettors prefer inter-race exotics as opposed to multi-race exotics. If you feel that you're better at picking the first five finishers, than five straight winners, then the Super High Five is a more attractive bet than the Pick 5. But, from a mathematical standpoint, a 50 cent Pick 5 with a 15% takeout and no carryover is a better bet than a 20 cent Super High 5 with an 8% takeout and a carryover, unless it's the final night of the meet and a mandatory payout is in play.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.

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