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Give and Take

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 12/22/2010 11:35:23 AM

Immediately because of the new California law that goes into effect the day after Christmas, this is a good time to examine a key point about this sport.

On opening day at Santa Anita, the takeout on exactas and daily doubles will shoot up to 22.68 percent, close to a national high. And the takeout for all other exotic bets will go up another full point.

Fueled by an outrage and pushed along by the group Horseplayers Association of North America, there is a scheduled boycott for fans to stop betting on the California product. It may be enacted for opening day, or delayed to see how the meet kicks off.

Obviously, this is a huge issue, and only time will tell who has the most leverage. Stay tuned. In this emotional game of horse racing, one can lose the concept of what goes on behind the scenes and what fuels the industry so take a minute to reflect on a basic fact of gambling.

If you're a racing fan, at some time or another you've probably had an experience similar to this. You're with a couple at the track.

The husband, Ernie, has his face in the Form his wife, Alice, is looking over the program and admiring the surroundings. You turn to Ernie and playfully ask him why he's so quiet. He, in turn, gives Alice a devilish look and replies, "I'm shopping". You all have a good laugh.

And, being wise beyond your years, you think that he's a handicapper, not a shopper. And that the two terms rarely describe the same person.

You know Alice to be a good shopper and you're fairly sure she wouldn't limit here shopping for a valuable item to one store only. Ernie, on the other hand, almost always shops for wagers at the track that he's physically attending. Sure, he tries to find the best value within the confines of that track's races. But he's like a person who'd look for the best shirt Sears has to offer without considering other stores.

Ernie, like most handicappers, stores scads of worthwhile facts and figures in his little cranium. He'll protest if his car insurance escalates. He'll cry and bemoan a rise in gas prices. And he'll bellyache when his property taxes increase.

But ask him what tracks have the least takeout and chances are you'll get a sarcastically non-interested response. He doesn't see takeout as an absolute figure. He sees it as a relative discrepancy he can overcome with competent handicapping.

Takeout, of course, is the amount removed from each pari-mutuel wagering pool before the payoffs to the public on a given wager are returned. The difference in takeout between tracks can be as much as 5% and sometimes more.

To illustrate takeout's importance, let's suppose you bet into a pool that has $1000 total. Track A deducts 20% of the pool as takeout and Track B deducts 25%, leaving $800 and $750 respectively in the pools. Now suppose winning bettors invested $200 into each of the pools. The winners would then split the remains of the losing bettors' wagers after takeout or $600 (3 to 1) at track A and $550 (2.75 to 1) at track B. You can see that takeout makes a difference for even common betting scenario such as this.

Check out some current take out percentages for these tracks on Win, Place and Show wagering.

Belmont, Aquduct and Saratoga all take the same 16% out of the money bet. Hawthorne chips in at 17% and the California tracks are right there at 15.43%.

But Turf Paradise in Phoenix withholds 20%. Sunland, Suffolk Downs and Zia Park are not far behind at 19% and that’s a huge difference obviously.

Lone Star, Laurel, Tampa Remington, Retama and Boise are among the tracks that take 18%.

As far as the exotics are concerned, and these numbers are eligible to change because of legislation, Churchill Downs only takes out 19% on exactas and trifecta while New York takes out 25%, along with venues like Gulfstream, Louisiana Downs and Delaware.

These numbers could change because of what happens in California to the handle.

Of course, handicappers have legitimate reasons such as local knowledge for sticking solely to chosen venues. But the world of horse racing is expanding and with that expansion comes the bettor’s responsibility to give himself the best chance at showing profit.

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