By Dick Jerardi
It is no secret that big bettors have avoided Parx Racing trifecta and superfecta pools because the 30 percent takeout was simply too high, well above the industry standard of 25 percent for those bets.
That will change in 2020 when the tri and super takeout is lowered to 25 percent. Takeout on Pick 3 and pick 4 bets will be lowered from 26 percent to 25 percent. The 17 percent on win, place and show as well as the 20 percent on exactas and doubles will be unchanged, those two percentages much more in line with industry standards.
“We do a lot of things for the horsemen, but we also have other people who participate,” said Sal DeBunda, President of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA). “Besides selling programs and hot dogs and sodas and having a spectacle here, we sell bets. If we don’t sell enough bets, we’re not going to be able to pay for a lot of what we do here.
“Over the years, we’ve tried to find more and more ways to sell more bets. We’ve been working with the frontside and we’ve finally come to an agreement that we’re going to try something different. We’re going to lower the takeout on some of the bets that are made here in hopes that will attract more bettors to Parx races rather than other jurisdictions.”
It is also no secret that huge computer-generated bets are responsible for a significant percentage of the annual handle on North American race tracks. Lowering the takeout could attract more of that market. At the very least, it is going to put more money back in the pockets of the winners who then will have more money to bet into other pools and other races.
“We want to attract the major bettors,” DeBunda said. “Right now, there’s a lot of publicity that’s put out by the Horseplayers’ Association about what tracks have the largest takeout. We seem to be on the top of that Hit Parade and I think this step will signal we are willing to take less takeout and hopefully generate more bets.”
Serious studies have been done on the effect of lower takeouts. Circumstances change from track to track. How much the takeout is lowered and on what bets obviously matters. The bottom line for any racetrack and therefore its horsemen who depend on handle for purse revenue is: can enough handle be generated to offset what was a higher percentage of the bets retained?
Time will tell how it is going to work at Parx. The status quo was likely going to be unsustainable so this certainly seems a worthwhile experiment that came out of discussions between Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson and PTHA Executive Director Mike Ballezzi.
“It’s a fantastic move by Joe Wilson and Mike Ballezzi,” horse owner Bob Hutt said. “Anytime you lower takeout, less is more. I think you are going to see a lot more action from all over the country by lowering the takeout. I am a player and I am very happy about it.”
Joe Taylor, leading trainer at Parx in 2019, agrees.
“I think it’s a great idea, the new takeout,” he said. “You have a lot of gamblers across the country who are avoiding betting at Parx because of the big takeout. I think it’s going to induce a lot of play and raise our handle immensely. I think it’s a very big deal.”
It should especially help on Mondays and Tuesdays when Parx is competing with smaller tracks for handle, noted owner Victor Collazo.
“We’re really excited about the new year coming,” mutuel teller Debbie Reyes said. “When our customers are wagering they’re going to get paid more money so everyone is going to be much happier.”
It was also no secret that the Parx handle would go down when slot machines were introduced which is why, by law, the purses were supplemented by slots revenue. That has certainly helped make Parx one of the country’s true success stories for a decade.
The horsemen, however, do not get a share of casino table games or sports betting, so growing the betting handle is essential.
“We really need to get the word out (about the lower takeout),” DeBunda said. “If we don’t tell the bettors to look at this, it won’t make any difference.”
So the word will get out. Time and the bettors will tell how it affects the bottom line.