03/20/2002 1:00AM

Takeout cut short-lived


Keeneland officials said Wednesday that takeouts on multi-horse bets would be returned to 19 percent during the upcoming spring meet. The decision ends an experiment during last year's three-week fall meet in which takeout was reduced to 16 percent across the board, the lowest rate in the country.

Keeneland officials said the track made the decision because of the unenthusiastic response of some simulcast outlets to the reduction last fall. Outlets accounting for more than 30 percent of the handle on Keeneland's signal initially boycotted the track's races because of the takeout cut, which squeezed their profits.

"We feel that reducing takeout is the right thing to do, but unfortunately, some of our outlets would not go along with it and pass the savings on to their customers," said Jim Williams, the track's vice president for communications. "We still think it was a worthy experiment."

Keeneland will drop the takeout, however, on its pick six to 12 percent, the lowest in the country for that wager, in an attempt to build up business. The pick six is rarely targeted by bettors except at California or New York racetracks.

"We're excited about it," said Nick Nicholson, the track's president, referring to the pick six reduction. "I hope players across the country play it, because if they do, that means they are doping our races, and if they are doping our races, hopefully they will play the races also."

Takeout for win, place, and show wagers will be 16 percent, and all other bets will have a 19 percent takeout, still among the lowest rates in the country. Keeneland's spring meet is scheduled for April 5-26.

Just before Keeneland's fall meet began last year, sites in six states in the mid-Atlantic and all six offtrack betting corporations in New York refused to take the Keeneland signal, despite vociferous fan complaints. Keeneland eventually reached a settlement with the mid-Atlantic tracks, but not before fans in the region lost four days of Keeneland's 17-day meet.

New York's OTB corporations never reached an agreement, and that cost Keeneland dearly. All-sources handle for the meet was down 16 percent, or $11.1 million, compared with the 2001 spring meet.

Martin Lieberman, the legal counsel for the mid-Atlantic tracks, said the consortium had already signed a simulcasting contract with Keeneland at the new rates. A representative of the New York City OTB did not return a phone call.

Keeneland is a not-for-profit association that derives most of its revenues from its horse sales. All wagering revenues, less taxes, go into purses; none is kept by the association.

Before announcing the takeout reduction last year, Keeneland officials promised horsemen that the reduction in takeout would not impact purses. But with the drop in wagering, Keeneland was forced to dip further into the sales money to maintain its U.S.-leading purse distribution of $635,000 a day.