09/12/2013 4:40PM

Steven Crist: Stars align with new exotic bets in New York

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Innovations in racetrack wagering are so rare that when two new bets made their debuts during opening week at Belmont Park, it was as if Halley’s Comet had returned to our solar system twice in a week instead of waiting 75 years between visits.

First, when the track opened last Saturday, there was its inaugural pick five on the day’s first five races. Granted, it took almost two years from proposal to inception due =to inexcusable regulatory intransigence and bureaucratic delays, but it’s finally here and players warmed up to it quickly.

The Saturday sequence of five winners your grandmother could have picked on her first visit to a track paid a healthy $780 for $2, or $195 for the 50-cent minimum bet at which most combinations were sold. That $780 payoff also was $83 higher than it would have been were the bet not being offered with a 15 percent takeout rather than the usual 24 percent rake on superexotic bets in New York. The pool was $238,514, sharply higher than the $176,019 wagered on the daily double on the first two races, or the $123,836 wagered on the pick three of the first three races.

On Sunday, a less grandmotherly procession of winners including victors at 7-1 and 18-1, returned $34,384 for $2, or $8,596 for 50 cents. The pool was $212,466, again outhandling the daily double, which drew $142,539, and the early pick three at $59,404. Remarkably, it also outhandled the pick six both days ($67,888 on Saturday, $164,822 on Sunday), even when there was a $43,071 carryover into Sunday’s card.

This quick embrace of the new wager suggested several things. First, customers will respond to innovation, especially when it is presented in the form of offering them a better deal. This is a pretty common precept in every other business, but a rare one at the track. Second, it showed that it is possible to design wagers that address specific customer needs – in this case, to give modestly bankrolled players a realistic chance at participating competitively in the kind of multirace bets with big payoffs that are so popular with more free-spending players.

The differences between a $2 pick six and a 50-cent pick five are even bigger than they sound. Three things take it from an expensive and daunting wager to an affordable and manageable one: Making it one race shorter cuts down on the number of combinations by a factor of two or three; reducing the minimum bet by 75 percent significantly reduces the cost of entry; and, as a nice kicker, a 15 rather than 24 percent takeout rate is like a 10 percent bonus on the payoff.

It is a much better bet than the pick six on most days for most customers, but this does not mean that the major circuits that can support healthy pick six pools as well should discontinue that bet. On the third day of the meeting, this past Wednesday, the pick five handled $165,628, about the drop-off you would expect for a weekday, but the pick six handled $502,523, because there was a $137,011 carryover. The pick six remains the one bet where handle can octuple from a Saturday to a Wednesday, solely because of the carryover provision. There’s room for both, and now the average player can have the same fun as a pick-six whale, navigating his way through a series of races at a sharply reduced cost and higher rate of payout.

The second new bet, which was scheduled to begin Thursday, is a different sort of creature with murkier prospects of success: a conventional pick four linking races from two disparate tracks, Belmont and Penn National. It will be offered every Thursday on the last two races from Belmont and the first two from Penn, and again with a 15  percent rather than 24 percent takeout, and a 50-cent minimum.

It remains to be seen how many Belmont customers have been waiting their whole lives to combine their opinions on the track they regularly handicap with one they rarely look at, but the sheer novelty of the concept deserves applause for, at the very least, showing that a modicum of cooperation between tracks is even possible.

There should be a dozen of these multitrack opportunities – Saratoga and Del Mar, or Belmont Fall and Keeneland Fall are obvious candidates – and of course it’s a glaring omission that there’s no national pick-whatever bet combining the top races from around the country every Saturday afternoon. Giving people what they want at a price that makes them feel like they’re getting a break – that sounds dangerously close to a winning business strategy.

walesfoodmusic More than 1 year ago
why not a lottery once a week on a large field like in france...the tierce
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Never found the p5 that enticing in CA, a bunch of lesser races, trying to get a longshot in one or two that don't figure.....what the t/o matter that much , if hit big anyway ?
David More than 1 year ago
If someone tries to manipulate the odds in the first leg of the P5 by betting $20,000 to Win early on a particular horse only to cancel his Win bet with a minute to post, this deceitful wager could influence many P5 bettors. P5 bettors may end up using a horse or horses they really may not have used otherwise and throw out a horse they may have originally used, especially if the large bettor manipulated the odds on a few horses before cancelling his bets near post time. The large bettor could easily have a much larger potential payoff on the horses he really likes, because he influence P5 bettors to not use horses with extremely high odds. However, once he cancels his large Win bets, the odds drop drastically on the other horses as the first leg of the P5 is about to begin. Currently, large Win bets of $5,000 and up and cancellations of them at post time have been manipulating the odds at Presque Isle Downs.
Kram Hslew More than 1 year ago
P5 Yes, P4 Stupid
MsAshley0902 More than 1 year ago
I think a lot of tracks will start doing this. TVG did this with Hollywood and Los Al last year but it was a daily double. Not pick four.
Randy Atkins More than 1 year ago
I'm wanting a national pick 4 on stakes races from around the country on saturday ...2, 3 ,or even 4 tracks.....get in on the action.....the betting public wants it....
Chris Graham More than 1 year ago
Survivor pool like in football. You have to pick all races on the card. Last ticket alive wins all. Can be split if all tickets are dead on the same race.
Drew More than 1 year ago
stop it Mr. Crist. You are making too much sense. The NYRA and CHRB dont like things that make sense.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
LOL Drew!!
saratogajunkie More than 1 year ago
Always liked the "all stakes pic 3s"...brought attention tracks you might otherwise never bet. Problem was getting the past performances. A pick 4 or 5 would be interesting to say the least.
Jack Lee More than 1 year ago
I know about a dozen people like myself at the track who play pick 5's.I have come across 8 since the start of the NY pick 5.Not one has played the NY pick 5 yet, not one! I asked why? and every time" I'm not at the track that early" "Too early for me" on and on...
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
As noted elsewhere, the problem is the big bettors who are concerned about it interfering with their Pick 6 except that it's a different audience for the P5 for the most part. Those bettors fail to realize their Pick 6 is obsolete and most normal bettors no longer play it, it's only the syndicates for the most part. The 10-cent Rainbow version is much more popular for a reason. As said, it's time for NYRA to take a page from Woodbine and go to a 20-Cent Pick Three, Pick Four and Pick Five and maybe even a 20-Cent Trifecta. Woodbine has had a lot of success with these wagers at 20 cents and I think NYRA would too.