Low-cost Pick 5 a positive first step

An old Chinese proverb says the longest journey begins with the first step. In horse racing, it appears some racetracks are trying to take that first step in reconnecting with fans.

The newest trend is a 50 cent Pick 5 bet that offers even small bettors a chance to make a score. For example, using two horses in all five races costs just $16.

Some tracks are lowering the Pick 5 takeout as well to make it even more appealing. Calder is offering an industry-low 12 percent takeout; Hollywood Park has followed suit at 14 percent.

Monmouth Park sparked this surge last summer with a 50 cent, 15 percent-takeout Pick 5 with a carry-over provision. In a copycat industry, the idea was worth copying.

Horse racing cannot exist without the support of a vibrant fan base, and many horseplayers think they have long been mistreated.

I’m still holding out hope that the industry realizes the most important betting pools on which to reduce takeout are straight bets: win, place and show. Those pools should have a 10 percent takeout, tops.

Many executives have forgotten the importance of churn, bettors cashing tickets and then reinvesting their winnings. High churn is a key to increasing overall handle. Lowering the takeout on straight bets pays back more money to horseplayers, thus keeping them in action longer.

Also, straight bets are what newcomers play first. Giving novices a fair shake is always good marketing.

The main obstacle to reducing takeout has to do with the off-track bet takers. For example, if a bet has a 20 percent takeout, the host racetrack might hold 4 percent with the other 16 percent going to the off-site. The off-sites, naturally, don’t want their income reduced.

If the straight takeout was reduced to 10 percent, I suggest the parties share the hit. Lower the racetrack hold to 2 percent and the off-site to 8 percent. This would trade a difficult short-term loss for the promise of long-term gains.

In theory, the churn in straight pools should increase dramatically, though probably not enough to make up for the giveback to bettors. But, trust me, if horseplayers have more money in their pockets, they’re not going to go out and buy savings bonds with it — they’re going to keep betting.

n FIESTA RANCHO — Ralph Siraco and Jerry Jacovitz will host a free meet-and-greet session at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Garduno’s at the Fiesta Rancho.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at

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