The track’s 2021 season kicks off on April 2 with some changes to the betting menu.
by Brett Sturman
This week, the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association (PHHA) announced changes across the wagering landscape at Harrah’s Philadelphia when the 2021 racing season kicks off on April 2. For a track that has consistently been one of the slowest on the curve when it comes to producing wagering-friendly content, these highly-welcomed changes are noteworthy on several different counts.
Perhaps taking a que from the recent success of other tracks across the country, Harrah’s Philadelphia will have created a structure conducive towards the growing of pools in popular wagers. Over a typical 14-race card, there will be two Pick-4s and a single Pick-5. The Pick-4s will remain at an honest enough 15 per cent, while the Pick-5 will be placed at a slightly higher 18 per cent takeout percentage.
For a track where one of the most frequent critiques is that it’s un-playable due to excessive takeout rates, the rates for these two wagers at least aren’t disqualifying and is more in line with industry norms for these types of bets.
Takeout rates for the track’s trifecta and superfecta wagers are improved. Admittedly still nothing to write home about at takeout rates of 26 per cent for both wagers, that is down from the prior long-standing high takeout rates of 30 per cent and 32 per cent on those wagers. Even in takeout-rich PA, Harrah’s Philadelphia had been the highest with these two wagers, and while still too high, are more in-line with rates from Pocono Downs and from The Meadows.
It’s interesting to note that back in 2016 The Meadows did tinker with a similar takeout reduction, but it lasted only for a single season. Back then, The Meadows reduced takeout on their trifectas from 27 per cent to 20 per cent, only to increase the very next year to 25 per cent where it has remained since. Presumably that experiment failed due to handle not increasing enough under the lower takeout rate in order to justify the decrease. But Harrah’s Philadelphia has a few other things going for it that could further aid a worthwhile handle increase.
Another fan-friendly move that maybe is more symbolic than anything else is doing away with their Jackpot Hi-5 wager and turning it into three separate non-Jackpot Hi-5s. For anyone that pay’s attention to the numbers, these jackpot wagers across the industry come with an aggregated takeout rate of around 60 per cent when factored in with the near daily likelihood of a portion of the pool not paid out due to there not being a lone ticket holder.
By replacing the Hi-5 with a non-jackpot version and placing it with a 15 per cent takeout rate, it suddenly becomes a playable wager. This is a similar move to the trend started at Pompano Park when they deviated from unpopular industry norms among horseplayers and introduced a non-jackpot Pick-6. By making their Pick-6 a non-jackpot, it sets up the wager for more frequent handle windfalls whenever a true carryover occurs (a carryover that will be paid out in full if it’s hit, unlike the jackpot variety that only pays out on a single ticket holder).
Harrah’s Philadelphia has recognized that as well. The track will now have carryovers on all wagers that had previously paid to ticket-holders with the most combinations correctly selected (three out of four on a Pick-4 for example). But now there won’t be any such consolation payouts. Seeing what types of explosions there have been in pools at Pompano, the Meadowlands, Yonkers, Northfield and others whenever there’s even a modest carryover, Harrah’s Philadelphia will now see similar movement on wagers with carryovers. Historically at the track a 50-1 bomb could knock out almost all ticket holders in even a Pick-3, so especially until at least handle picks up there are going to plenty of carryover opportunities throughout a single race card and into the next ones.
Last but certainly not least is that the PHHA has arranged so that free past performance pages will be available for every card during the 2021 season. Free programs is something that bettors have long called for and is one of the many reasons for the increased handle being seen at Pompano and elsewhere, as more tracks have worked out deals to be able to issue the programs to consumers free of charge. This is something that the PHHA should be commended for.
Not too long ago, Pompano was handling even worse than Harrah’s Philadelphia on a nightly basis and now that track handles over $1 million with regularity. This isn’t to suggest Philly will suddenly double or triple its daily handle as the new season opens, but by adapting a formula that has proved successful elsewhere they have created an environment that will at least be more enticing for horseplayers. The reality is that while the changes may result in a slight up-tick for total net income for the track, the changes are far more beneficial to those playing the product. That, too, is something that the track deserves some credit for.
I’ll be rooting for the success of these latest measures because it could lead to more favorable conditions across the industry. More importantly, I’d even be more inclined to wager on it.