The Hambletonian Society and The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono should be commended for an across-the-board cut of takeout to 15 per cent on all wagers for this year’s Crown.
by Brett Sturman
In a much-welcomed announcement, takeout rates will be reduced for wagers across the board to 15 per cent for Breeders Crown cards to be contested at the end of October at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Not only will the reduced takeout wager apply to the finals card on Oct. 27 and the two elimination cards the weekend prior, but it will also go into effect for all non-Breeders Crown races that fall on those cards as well.
The initiative is a bold one just in of itself, but it takes on that much more meaning when considering that it’ll be applied at Pocono Downs – a track with a reputation for boasting some of the highest takeout rates in the country.
The takeout reduction measure was the collective result of a number of different groups working together, one of which was the Hambletonian Society, said COO Moira Fanning, who explained how this specific idea came to be.
“As soon as we had a letter of intent from Mohegan Sun Pocono to host the Breeders Crown, we started meeting with the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, the PA Racing Commission, Pocono track management, John (Campbell), Tom Charters and myself as to see how we could make this event even bigger and better,” said Fanning. “They’ve done it two years before in 2010 and in 2013 and they’ve broken their handle records both times. Handle wasn’t the only component that we had talked about – obviously there were a lot of initiatives kicked around – but we definitely wanted to do something with the takeout. The commission approved it immediately, and track management is behind it as well, though they have a different set of revenue concerns that we have. But they know that on those three nights their handle is up considerably with the Breeders Crown, so that was one of the things we were able to make go forward.”
I think that a reasonable inference could be made that the across-the-board takeout reduction was brought about specifically as a proactive measure to gain betting interest for a track that isn’t thought to be bettor-friendly, but Fanning was clear in stating this was not the case.
“Everyone is aware of what you are talking about, but the initiative was not in reaction to that,” Fanning said. “We’ve tried other wagering initiatives in the past such as seeding a pool with $25,000 and a Pick-10 one year, but nothing is as appealing as saying ‘let’s just go all out and lower the takeout to 15 per cent.’
“I’m of course extremely aware of the PA thoroughbred and harness tracks having higher takeout compared to other places, but for the Breeders Crown, we used to be a traveling series. Now circumstances have reduced the traveling series to just three or four host tracks. Each of them presents their own set of unique challenges but each brings a unique set of benefits and assets to the table. We’re always trying to change it up to make it appeal to every aspect. Not just the owners but to the bettors. Not just the fans but to the horsemen. It’s something we’re always trying to balance.”
Though the reduced takeout wasn’t brought about specifically because of this year’s host track, the impact of it could be even larger than had the takeout reduction been applied at a different track. There are many fans and bettors alike who don’t bet Pocono because of the takeout factor, but would now be in an advantageous position to do so.
The reduction to 15 per cent will cut in half the standing 30 per cent rate for trifecta and superfecta wagering. Pick 3-4’s will also see a significant reduction from their current rate of 25 per cent, while win-place-show and exacta wagers will reflect near industry lows for these three nights.
In 2013, when Pocono last played host to the event, the track reported handle to be approximately $3.2 million, which included wagering from Australia and New Zealand. What if Breeders Crown handle this year featuring the low takeout happens to break that record? Would that signal to track management that takeout reductions (even if not to 15 per cent) are critical to the track’s success?
What would be interesting is if there was an alternative universe for the Breeders Crown. One where the races are run at 15 per cent takeout and another where the races are run with a blended takeout in the high 20’s. What would likely happen is that using the 15 per cent takeout model, the track would generate far more net revenue for itself (gross revenue less takeout), because the amount of money being bet per race would be so much greater than what would have been bet otherwise with the higher takeout rates.
But for some reason, tracks don’t think this way. It would be nice if Pocono were to continue the 15 per cent trend following the Breeders Crown through the end of their meet; just another couple of weeks until closing date on Nov. 13. That way, they could ride the momentum from the Breeders Crown and see how the reduced handle model compares to their typical handle on a random Tuesday night.
To give credit where it’s due though, it’s not often we see such a bettor-friendly initiative such as this one. It’s something that all groups involved – including track management – should be commended for. A chance not just to watch or appreciate the best horses, but for the chance to do that while wagering on them at the lowest takeout rate realistically possible is a clear win-win for everyone.