Big M not paying lip service to betting customers

Big M not paying lip service to betting customers

February 21, 2020

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With revamped wagering changes, Meadowlands looks to lead the way.

by Brett Sturman

For all the (rightfully deserved) talk of tracks that feature high takeout rates wagers and that don’t have the bettor’s best interest in mind, the Meadowlands racetrack is taking a different approach.

Beginning two Fridays ago on Feb. 7, the Meadowlands dramatically altered both its betting menu and takeout rates associated with those wagers. In the changes, there is an implied understanding from the Meadowlands that to truly grow the sport, the amount of money bet on it must increase.

As key parts of the changes, the Meadowlands is bringing back a “real” (non-jackpot) Pick-6 wager. That would make the Meadowlands one of a small number of harness tracks to offer the traditional Pick-6. In addition to Pompano, that has been long-standing in offering the wager, Hawthorne just added the non-jackpot Pick-6 too as their new season opens.

The most popular wager through the years at the Meadowlands and maybe even the most popular multi-leg wager across racing in general is the Pick-4, and the Meadowlands has responded by adding a second Pick-4 as part of its nightly wagering options. Like the Pick-6, having two Pick-4s on the card is a return to something that the Meadowlands has offered in the past.

For not just these wagers, but for all other multi-leg wagers, including the nightly Pick-5 and the Can-Am Pick-4 offered on Saturdays, takeout rates on the bets have been slashed 40 per cent going from 25 per cent all the way down to 15 per cent.

In announcing the changes through press release, Meadowlands chief operating officer and general manager Jason Settlemoir said that, “We understand that horseplayers are a major part of the racing industry,” and that “they deserve our respect.”

These are words that you sometimes hear from those within the industry, but the actual action rarely reflects it. What good is saying the horseplayers need to be respected, while at the same time having takeout rates north of 30 per cent? What the Meadowlands is doing is attempting to set a model that the rest of the industry should follow.

A year ago, the Meadowlands received an appropriation from the state of New Jersey that allowed them to significantly raise their purses and be able to compete with tracks in neighboring states. Now, just a year later, the Meadowlands is essentially passing on that benefit to its customers, the bettors. This is in stark contrast to tracks that, for years, have been handed billions of dollars in subsidies for purses, but, in turn, have largely neglected bettors.

So far, in a premature data set of just two weekends, handle at the Big M hasn’t changed since the implementation of the wagering changes. In fact, the last $3 million handle was the Saturday before the changes took place. But that’s something bound to happen with an increase in time. For example, I’m almost certain that handle for tonight’s (Feb. 21) card will be the highest Friday handle since the changes took place.

In part, it’s because the Pick-6 wager will already have a carryover of $14,376 from when it went un-hit last Saturday. The pool that night was $22,558 and, completely guessing, maybe handle for the bet tonight hits $100,000 including the carryover. That, combined with the fact that there will be more eyes on the program overall as bettors look at the Pick-6, in addition to it now being the third Friday since the takeout changes, I think that Friday handle will blow by the $2.1 million from last week’s number.

What the Pick 4, 5 and 6 wagers do is create excitement. There’s always more of a buzz going when there’s real opportunities for big scores, and the Meadowlands will now offer that with regularity. Years ago, when the Meadowlands offered the Pick-6, one of the pools after a few days’ carryover was $500,000. If or when that occurs tonight and a few carryovers are strung together, you’re going to see that type of excitement again and it’s going to have a trickle effect on the entire product. And with the 15 per cent takeout across the board to go with it, there is a real incentive for bettors to take part.

As part of the new changes, the Meadowlands did drop its 20-cent Survivor Pick-10 wager which was probably for the best anyway. You could argue that wager wasn’t particularly friendly to the smaller horseplayer, and that the money that did go into that bet siphoned off other wagering opportunities throughout the card.

By reducing takeout across the board on its multi-leg wagers, and not just reducing it as a token gesture on one or two wagers like some tracks have done, the Meadowlands is showing a commitment to its customers and I think that an increase in handle will soon reflect that as time goes on.

Of course, takeout alone isn’t a be-all end-all solution to all problems the sport faces, but what the Meadowlands is doing is extremely positive. It’s a nod to horseplayers that the track cares about its customers and wants to do what it can to grow handle and further interest in its racing product. Hopefully it becomes a model that other tracks will be able to follow.

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