The Big M is trying to get a handle on their wagers

The track has replaced its Pick-8 with a Pick-5 hoping for better returns.

by Debbie Little

Last weekend, The Meadowlands introduced a second Pick-5 to their wagering menu, replacing the Pick-8, which didn’t catch on the way that they hoped it would.

The Pick-8 was introduced on Oct. 20, 2023, changing their “Sensational Seven” wagering lineup to a “Great Eight.”

Although the Pick-8 was certainly well received at first — especially when there was a carryover for several weeks — according to The Big M’s chief operating officer/general manager Jason Settlemoir, it never caught fire.

“You know, [the Pick-8] didn’t perform terribly, it was just one of those things where we wanted to listen to our customers and we wanted to see if we could find something that was going to move the needle,” Settlemoir said. “At the end of the day, what it boils down to is listening to our customers. And listen, I’m up against huge numbers from last year, particularly on the export side.

“And it seemed as though there was a, I don’t want to use the word outcry, because that’s not really what it was, but dialogue between our customers and management here at the racetrack. And we’re listening and having an open conversation with them regarding these types of things. And I thought maybe this will make a difference where we can actually move the handle number a little bit more than what we were doing with the Pick-8.”

The Meadowlands has shown over the years that they prefer to try new things rather than just take the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach.

At the start of 2023, the East Rutherford mile oval had six major wagers: a Pick-5, Pick-6, Pick-7, Hi-5, and two Pick-4s. They added a second Hi-5 in March of last year, followed by the Pick-8 in October.

The track must be doing something right as they are coming off a career-year where they averaged $3.08 million per race card in 2023, by far the best since Jeff Gural became president/chief executive officer in 2011.

Settlemoir said he knows that trying to repeat or exceed a career year may not be possible, but impossible isn’t part of his vocabulary.

“I get that and I understand that, but I’m always going to give 100 per cent in trying to do something to boost business,” he said. “I don’t like doing things half-assed and I enjoy listening to my customers. And I think that’s partly one of the reasons for the success with our handle last year and the years before. Just simply listening to the customer and what they have to say and an additional drive from myself and the management team here at The Meadowlands that want to see those numbers increase as well.

“We may get into it and find out that it’s not working, and then go back to the drawing board and make some other changes and see what we come back with then. But I thought it was worth a chance, trying to move the needle north on the handle, because I don’t like resting on laurels. Never have, never will. And I always want to try to do better than what we have before. So, bigger and better is always kind of like the motto I use around the office when it comes to those types of things, bigger and better.”

When asked if it was necessary to come up with an additional multi-leg wager rather than just dropping the Pick-8 and leaving the remaining bets in place as they were prior to October, Settlemoir did not necessarily think that less is more.

“You know, I’ve never heard a customer tell me that we have too many wagering opportunities,” Settlemoir said. “I think that you could get to a point where there’s too much going on in a race as far as the different types of wagers and then you just dilute the other pools. So, that’s one thing that we do keep a very close eye on.”

Les Stark, a major player at The Meadowlands, enjoys multi-leg wagers, but the Pick-8 was not his cup of tea.

“I may have bet it once when the carryover was quite big,” Stark said of the discontinued Pick-8. “Other than that, I never even considered it.”

Stark said he does not object to The Meadowlands adding the additional Pick-5 and removing something that he would never bet, “as long as it doesn’t bastardize the pools and make them smaller to the point where you don’t want to play them.”

His example was the handful of Pick-3s at The Big M.

“Most of them, especially on a Friday night, won’t have pools that are large enough to consider, for me at least, wagering in,” Stark said. “So, I like the Pick-5. I’d only worry that the second one would take money out of the first one and that they would both be smaller than when the only Pick-5 stood by itself.

“I’d like to see them try to card better races to make the product more appealing. They’re bending over backwards to figure stuff out because their product is poor at this point.”

Stark said if some of the name horses that are starting to qualify eventually race at The Meadowlands, it will improve their product quite a bit. However, just the fact that it’s the Championship Meet is not enough to get his attention.

“If there are things that look plausible to bet on for me, then I will,” Stark said. “I’m not good at picking out the best $4,000 claimer that has all bad lines. I’m not good at that. I’m better at finding young horses that maybe have potential and they’re not [odds of] 4-5. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Just as the Pick-8 was for the last six months, according to Settlemoir, the Late Pick-5 is now on the clock, so to speak.

“That’s what we do with everything,” Settlemoir said. “We try just about everything that we can and some things are successful, some things aren’t, and some things lay in the middle and we’ll see where this comes in at.

“I’m hoping that it attracts more eyes and I think we’ll certainly see it handle more than what the Pick-8 did. But, you know, those are the types of things we have to watch and if it works, great, we’ll keep doing it, and if it doesn’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board. That’s one of the things that Jeff [Gural] has always wanted to continue to do, was try different ideas and try different things and listen to the customer. And those are the things that we do.”