Some tweaking needed in new Lucky7 wager at The Meadows

The Pick-7 wager, with a 15 per cent takeout, will debut on March 6.

by Brett Sturman 

This week, The Meadows announced a new wager that on its face is an idea worth trying. Beginning on March 6, the track will debut a Pick-7, branded as the Lucky7, with a low 15 per cent takeout. Recent columns here have talked about the massive success of Pick-7 wagers abroad, so there is nothing wrong at all with trying one here, if under the right conditions.

The Meadows, and Scott Lishia specifically as director of racing, has been innovative these past couple of years in trying new things at the track. This ranges from attempts to reduce post-drag, a cross-breed Pick-4 from last year and tinkering with takeout rates, all of which should be commended.

But there appears to be two different issues with the way the Lucky7 is structured that could hinder its ability to thrive and be successful.

First, is the base wager amount of $1. The minimum base of $1 is far too high for the number of horse combinations needed to have a realistic chance to win seven races with fields of nine and sometimes maybe even 10 horses. Selecting just two horses in each of the seven legs would come out to a ticket cost of $128 for the $1 base amount.

From that example, a $128 ticket in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a major issue if the potential winning payoff were high enough. Especially with carryovers where unusually large pools are produced; wagers far in excess of that amount are common. But based on pool sizes from comparable tracks that have offered similar wagers through the years, I’d say it’s likely that early on the Lucky7 wager may not handle more than a couple of thousand dollars in new money each day.

The irony in having a base amount too high for this wager is that in most other wagers throughout harness racing, the base amount is too low.

Superfecta increments of just $0.10 have become the norm, and some tracks offer Pick-3’s in increments of $0.50. While there’s definitely a following who play wagers at those low denominations, the wagers are also prone to produce pitifully low payouts of $1.26 for dime Superfectas and $5.50 Pick 3’s. But if there ever was a wager that did require a low $0.10 or $0.20 base wager, it would be the Lucky7.

A fair comparison to Lucky7 wager would be either the Pick-6 or the Pick-8 from The Meadowlands. Like the Lucky7, both of those Meadowlands’ wagers are thankfully of the non-jackpot variety. The key difference though is that The Meadowlands offers those wagers with a base increment amount of $0.20.

For multi-leg wagers that go six, seven or eight races deep, $0.20 is all you need to make the wagers hittable yet still bring with it the likelihood of multiple card carryovers. Just a few weeks ago The Meadowlands Pick-6 was hit after going a couple of cards un-hit to the tune of over $48,000. Even the wildly popular Pick-4 at The Meadowlands is offered for $0.50, half of the base amount needed for The Meadows wager which is nearly double in number of races.

The other flaw in the Lucky7 wager is that if there are no winners — which most days will be the case — there is no payout to anyone who had the greatest number of winners. Rather, 100 per cent of the pool will carry over to the next card.

With no consolation payout combined with small pools in the early going, where is the incentive for anyone to substantially wager into it? You’d be largely playing against yourself in an all-or-nothing, seven-for-seven, proposition.

Again, going back to The Meadowlands, there is a blueprint for what seems to be fairly successful. In The Meadowlands Pick-6 and Pick-8 — and even Pick-4 for that matter — if the wager isn’t hit, then 25 per cent of the money from that night is still returned back to the bettors, with 75 per cent carrying over. This way, you don’t have to win every single race — just more than anyone else — to still see a return on your investment.

Another bet that comes to mind that was a compromise of sorts between The Meadows and The Meadowlands wagers was what Scioto Downs did in 2022. There, they had a Pick-8 wager. It had a $1 base, just like The Meadows is proposing, but where it differed is that it had a 50 per cent consolation payout every card. So, while the carryover wouldn’t build as fast as it could with a smaller or no consolation at all, a 50 per cent return to the bettors is what helped fuel the wager card after card.

The other thing that Scioto did at the start of that wager was guarantee a payout of $25,000. A similar guarantee may be what is needed to drive bettors to attack the new Meadows’ Lucky7 wager.

If it’s not too late, I hope The Meadows sees this and retools the Lucky7. It has potential, but at minimum either needs to be adjusted to a lower base wager, or have a material portion of the pool paid out each day as a consolation.