Is Takeout the Key to California Racing’s Struggles???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of Inland Valley Daily Bulletin…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

TOC just doesn’t seem to get it

The guys and gals who comprise the Thoroughbred Owners of California may soon be receiving a huge thank-you note from the folks at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.

The TOC may not realize it, but it had a huge hand in Tampa Bay Downs’ 8 percent increase in all-sources handle for a 90-day record meet that wrapped up last Saturday.

A lot of large bettors who normally might have been wagering on California races turned to Tampa Bay Downs this year after a new bill in Sacramento, strongly supported by the TOC, raised the takeout on exotic bets as much as 3 percent and spurred a players’ boycott of the California tracks.

The biggest winner was Tampa Bay Downs, which lowered the takeout on its pick three, pick four, super high five and pick six from 19 to 18 percent and saw its business flourish during a time when others in the industry are blaming the economy for slumping numbers instead of looking in the mirror.

The officials at Tampa Bay Downs obviously get it – less (takeout) equals more (handle).

It’s a simple formula, really, but one the folks at the TOC seem to have trouble grasping.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of our season,” Tampa Bay Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in a statement. “Fans and horsemen alike enjoyed a relatively dry and warm winter here, which certainly helped us increase attendance and on-track handle.

“Overall, we credit our lower takeout, large fields, 18 percent more turf racing and greater access to the California market as key to our success, as well as a larger simulcast following nationwide.”

Large fields?

Whereas local bettors are stuck with more six- and seven-horse lineups than we can stomach, Tampa Bay’s field size increased 1.8 percent to 9.11 horses per race this meet.

Track management also rolled the dice and went with an 18.5 percent increase in turf races, which generally draw more horses, as a way to boost field sizes.

It all led to $30.4 million more in all-sources handle.

The boom in business also led track officials to raise purses in February, and they were able to do it without an increase in takeout like the one that hamstrung Santa Anita this past meeting.

Santa Anita president George Haines admitted on closing day of the Arcadia track’s meet that he would love to have had a low-takeout early exotic bet like the 50-cent pick five that Hollywood Park debuted on opening day of its spring-summer meet.

Unfortunately, the TOC didn’t see the need until it was too late for Santa Anita.

Now, Hollywood Park is reaping the rewards of an early pick five that has a 14 percent takeout and is quickly becoming the most popular bet in Southern California.

Want proof?

On Thursday, Hollywood Park had its first pick five and pick six carryovers of the season. Guess which one had the larger handle – the low-takeout pick five or the pick six, which includes a takeout of 23.86 percent?

Uh huh.

The pick five had a total handle, including a $107,487 carryover, of $907,117, compared to the pick six, which produced a handle of $655,774, including a carryover of $91,681.

There was $235,537 more bet into the pick five Thursday than the pick six, which is quickly taking a backseat to the new kid on the block.

As one longtime bettor wrote in a mass e-mail to industry officials: “It’s not rocket science yet it took how many months/years to get the (low-takeout pick five) put in? Good for Hollywood Park and everyone else that fought for this bet. I wonder how many CHRB board members and TOC board members get it? Lower the takeout and get on the right side of things for once.”

According to Equibase charts, Hollywood Park’s all-sources handle was down 8.4 percent through the first three weeks of the meet, and the total exotic handle showed a 10.8 percent decline from a year ago.

Hollywood Park’s numbers for all-sources handle would be down even more if not for the pick five, which has generated more than $2.7 million through the first 13 days of the meet – $352,750 more than pick six wagering.

The field sizes, which we were told would increase with the larger takeout, have shown a small decrease from 8 horses per race in 2010 to 7.72 – a 3.5 percent decline.

Yes, the TOC needs to wake up and admit that lower takeout means higher handle, which in turn leads to an increase in purses.

The folks at Tampa Bay Downs get it.

Let’s hope the TOC realizes the error of its ways soon, before we’re all betting Tampa Bay Downs when there’s no more racing in California.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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