Does takeout still matter?

February 3, 2017

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by Brett Sturman

A little over a year ago, The Meadows Racetrack in Pennsylvania announced to some fanfare that it was reducing the takeout on the track’s trifecta wagers from 27 per cent to 20 per cent. After one year, it appears that the reduction was only to be short lived.

According to PA State Horse Racing Commission website, The Meadows now lists a takeout rate for trifectas in the 2017 racing season of 25 per cent. In fairness, the 25 per cent rate on its trifectas is still lower than the more larcenous rates of 30 per cent for the same wager at fellow PA harness racing tracks, Mogehan Sun Pocono and Harrah’s Philadelphia.

As for The Meadows specifically, it’s reasonable to assume one of two things as a reason for the takeout increase: Either handle on trifectas did not increase whatsoever from the previous year when the takeout rate was 27 per cent, or handle did increase but not enough to offset the loss in revenue by reducing the takeout rate by 7 per cent.

In either case, the results would support a recent trend of reduced takeout not helping to improve a track’s bottom line. As fellow HRU columnist Bill Finley noted in a column for the Thoroughbred Daily News, Canterbury Park and a brief thoroughbred meet of “Monmouth at the Meadowlands” both slashed takeout percentages across the board but neither was a success, and, in fact, the latter was a failure with handle down for the meet.

For years, advocates for horseplayers have argued that tracks lowering their takeout rates are in the best interest of both the bettors and the tracks. The logic being that the lower the takeout, the more money people will bet and the higher the handle will be, and in turn, more money for the track. But at least for smaller thoroughbred tracks, boutique meets and for all harness tracks but one or two, the somber reality is that takeout percentage is not a major factor in whether or not people play a particular track. It should be, but the results don’t show it.

As we all know, the issues that plague harness racing tracks run far deeper than a takeout rate. It’s not that tracks tinkering with a reduction in their takeout rate is disingenuous at all; it’s just that one factor alone isn’t going to move the overall needle. Issues such as small field sizes, merry-go-round type of racing where race movement is minimal and overall suspicion of nefarious activity all outweigh the takeout factor. And for tracks that have had some success in wagers specifically with a lower takeout rate, they are doing other things well with their product to compliment the takeout initiative.

It’s not to say that takeout doesn’t have any impact whatsoever, as it certainly does. Whenever harness tracks have carryovers — particularly multiple race day carryovers — they attract a swarm of new attention. In the case of carryovers, a track’s takeout rate has been reduced dramatically enough to the point bettors will eventually take notice. In these instances, an effective takeout rate can be reduced past the point of 0 per cent where any takeout has been negated entirely. Of course, tracks can’t offer insanely low takeout rates on their own as there wouldn’t be any revenue to be earned, but they can create a wagering structure that is conducive to forming these types of carryover instances.

You can’t fault The Meadows for raising the rate on their trifectas to 25 per cent which is still lower than its rate from two years ago, particularly where all other exotics (aside from superfectas, also 25 per cent) still remain at relatively reasonable 20 per cent. With the other slot friendly PA tracks of Pocono and Chester having takeout rates for certain exotics as high as 32 per cent, I can only assume that they have made calculated decisions that bettors aren’t sensitive to (or simply don’t even know) takeout rates and feel as a track that they would be no worse off by keeping the takeout rates as high as they are.

It’s almost inconceivable to think that a track doesn’t care about its handle, but especially in the case of Chester that does next to nothing to support its product (I say that regrettably as my home track), you certainly get the feeling that a 32 per cent takeout on superfectas is screaming out “screw you” to bettors. Relying on revenue from slots overwhelmingly when opposed to revenue from handle, you can see why they take this approach.

Truth be told, even if a Chester or a Pocono did cut their takeout rate I doubt it would have any real impact for the reasons listed above. On the other hand, if the Meadowlands, Mohawk or Woodbine made a strong move to reduce takeout further I think you would see some of the more serious players respond favorably.

The issue of takeout has long been at the forefront of bettor’s needs, and deservedly so. But today most tracks aren’t being given a reason to permanently lower their takeout rates and that’s too bad for a sport that used to have to be bettor friendly.

Picks of the Week

Last Week’s Bankroll: $904
Total Wagers: $72
Total Return: $57
This Week’s Bankroll: $889

Western Fair – Friday, Feb. 3

Race 1: BURMA STAR makes her first start since August and could very well win this with a flat mile, although that alone could be easier said than done. 5-year-old Mutineer mare qualified in 2:07 which is quicker than many of these have gone in actual races; did it also while not seeing the rail for the first half mile. ZORGWIJK OMEGA was in much tougher when last seen at Western Fair in October; rates a chance from the rail. BIG FOUR didn’t have a bad debut last out and should be up close enough early from the second tier; figures for a share. THE HY ROAD looked clear in her most recent before being caught late and J JS JEWEL is likely to now offer too short of a price to come back with.

$10 Win 4

Meadowlands – Friday, Feb. 3

Race 9: JLS BAD MOON RISIN broke upon arrival at the Meadowlands last week in a race where he would have been well regarded. Prior to that he crushed competition at Dover for the combination of Davis and Callahan and I’m curious to see what he can do with a flat mile; offers some intrigue at double digit odds. I C CAVIAR takes a key drop and it’s been one thing or another with him of late; put in a very strong mile here five back. HERE COMES SAM was used multiple times throughout in his most recent and still closed in :27:3; likely going straight towards the front. WILBERFORCE rates the morning line favorite at 3/1 and I don’t see it; can comfortably toss in advance if playing the Pick 4 from race 7.

$2 Exacta Box 4,7,10

Race 10: SKATES N PLATES showed a pretty dramatic turnaround last week when he debuted for trainer Andrew Harris following a recent purchase from the January Meadowlands sale. This one has always been a decent type and there’s no reason he can’t handle the slight step up; comes right back. MARION MILLIONAIR battled it out while racing first over with the top choice last week and hung in there decent enough to run second; seeks a better trip from the rail. ASPEN CALIFORNIA closed with a rush last out while making her first start in nearly two months; something to build from. SWEET JUSTICE may be due for a change in tactics.
$25 Win 3

Woodbine – Saturday, Feb. 4

Race 5: NIRVANA SEELSTER drops for the second consecutive week and he should be able to control things in here. He tired late in his most recent but he was used early past a :25 and change opening quarter; the field he took down the road three back was better than these. MACH ON THE BEACH was overloaded with pace last out when firing up the inside after he shook free too late; a strong effort from the Moreau trainee and he gets Sylvain back to boot. PRESCOTTS HOPE is an obvious player on the drop from the Preferred’s but the post could be an issue for a typical one-run type; beat similar back in early December. SHADOW MARGEAUX has put forth a couple decent tries at this level; still may need to go a couple steps faster to threaten for the top spot.

$10 Win/Place 6
$3 Exacta Box 2,6

Race 9: MR CARROTS didn’t have the easiest of trips last out and now takes a slight drop back to a more appropriate level. He outraces his odds nearly every week and I’d suspect he’ll offer a decent price once again; lands post edge on all main rivals. ERLE DALE N makes his third start back from the layoff and has returned in good form for trainer Ron Adams; chased a very sharp foe two back and then had solid late pace in his most recent. HIGHLANDBEACYCOVE was excellent last out in his Canadian debut when going for Alagna to Cullen; this is a big step up for newly turned 4-year-old. TRACEUR HANOVER has been just fair of late and I thought he would have offered a bit more last week; second start at the reduced level. DOMETHATAGAIN is a tough Allard competitor; figures with a trip.

$10 Win/Place 3
$1 Exacta Box 3,4,6,7

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