Archive for gambling

Was The Bettor Experience at Churchill One of the Worst???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Odds against bettors at Churchill meet

How to put this politely? Despite the usual great and profitable Kentucky Derby and Oaks cards and pockets of top-flight racing, this spring meet was the worst overall betting product I’ve seen in years at a place billing itself as the world’s most legendary racetrack.

The average field size declined from 7.78 horses for the 2013 spring meet to 7.29, and that’s with 24 fewer races in 2014, as Churchill wisely often ran only nine races instead of 10.

Even the highly publicized fisticuffs between Indian Charlie newsletter publisher Eddie Musselman and trainer Dale Romans could distract attention from the racing’s struggles for only a few days.

It wasn’t just bad numbers but too often short fields of bad horses. Late scratches were killers.

Certainly other tracks in the region face similar woes (see Ellis Park’s four-horse field that kicked off its meet Thursday). But Churchill Downs, by its own motto, is held to a higher standard.

The competition for horses is ferocious with Indiana Grand (formerly Indiana Downs) offering slots-enhanced purses and Belterra (formerly River Downs) running after a year hiatus during construction.

As Churchill track president Kevin Flanery said in an interview, competition in the simulcast market also became tougher, with Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita — offering a stronger brand than Calder and the defunct Hollywood Park — overlapping Churchill’s spring meet for the first time.

But some of the damage was self-inflicted and years in the making.

Much of the middle class, those with the small and medium-sized claiming stables, has been run off as Churchill catered to the big outfits that brought in quality but also a lot of 2-year-olds who might not run until the fall meet. More and more stalls are concentrated into fewer hands, and those hands don’t all have the kinds of horses needed to fill out a card today.

Some blue-collar outfits that do have those horses moved out of state or to training centers, where they are free agents with no obligation to race at Churchill.

What happened to all the claiming horses in the $10,000-$40,000 range? Your best shot at running at Churchill was to have a horse on the bottom or toward the top from a class perspective. The middle is shattered — albeit not just at Churchill.

Churchill cites a declining foal crop as a factor in field size. How about a lack of owners? Get owners wanting to race, and the breeders will come up with the horses.

It didn’t help that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s new medication rules went into effect June 6. Among other things, they changed the timing between giving Clenbuterol (a helpful medication to prevent or reduce respiratory ailments) and racing from three days to two weeks.

Some of the state-employed veterinarians were unusually strict in prerace soundness exams, something that a track can hardly protest. No stabling at Turfway and limited training at Keeneland surely cost Churchill horses.

Whatever the reasons, the bettors spoke with their wallets, with all-source wagering on the meet down 11.5 percent from a year ago. Total wagering dropped from $416.8 million to $368.8 million, according to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Factoring out Derby and Oaks days, it was down 25 percent.

The Horseplayers Association of North America says the No. 1 reason, more so than field size, was that Churchill increased the takeout (the money skimmed off the top of each dollar bet that goes to purses, the track and taxes) from 16 to 17½ percent for win, place and show bets and from 19 to 22 percent for multi-horse bets. In protest, HANA spearheaded a betting boycott.

HANA president Jeff Platt says the research shows that takeout — the cost of betting — has a far larger impact than field size on a regular racing day because of its effect on serious players.

“Forget that we’re boycotting,” Platt said. “It’s the market speaking about what players think about higher takeout.”

Flanery said he’s comfortable that Churchill remains in the middle range of takeout, higher than some in straight wagers and exactas but lower in trifectas and superfectas.

“We’re not the cheapest and we’re not the most expensive,” he said.

He sees field size, driven by horse population, as the major culprit and contends there would have been a purse decrease, including a significant cutback in stakes, without the price hike for betting.

Platt said that if the takeout increase had been in play only for Derby Day and possibly Oaks Day, “I wouldn’t have liked it … but there wouldn’t have been a boycott.” He said that’s because, with their much larger fields, high quality and massive betting pools, wagering on those cards still makes sense for the serious player.

Quick takes:

• Daily purses averaged $532,903 for 38 days, down about $2,000 per day.

• A total of 181 horses were claimed for $3.771 million, accounting for $226,260 in state sales taxes.

• New announcer Larry Collmus made entertaining even the two-horse race that occurred after a $5,000 claiming race had four scratches.

• Thankfully, Churchill learned to modulate its new sound system. Sadly, the impetus appeared to be the mare who died after flipping and hitting her head in apparent reaction to a loud video of a starting gate springing open.

• As said before, the new Grandstand Terrace and Big Board are welcome additions. As always, there certainly were things to like at the meet. But racing fans in Louisville want to once again love going to their hometown track (and I’m not talking about night racing.) That’s Churchill management’s challenge.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Gaming Decisions Dating Back to 1999 Doomed Hollywood

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Matt Hegarty of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Losing bet on gaming doomed historic track

When Hollywood Park closes its doors for good Sunday, it will become the inevitable financial casualty of two bets reaching back to 1999. Those wagers worked out well for the two companies that tied their money to the track – a perverse turn of events considering the gaping hole the track’s closing will leave on the national racing landscape and the track’s deep history.

Hollywood Park was first targeted for a big payoff by Churchill Downs Inc., which bought the track in 1999 as part of a national expansion that had two goals: acquiring simulcast signals and planting stakes in potential casino-gambling markets. Six years later, however, frustrated by the state’s opposition to expanding casino gambling beyond Native American reservations, Churchill unloaded the track – at a $120 million markup from the price it paid.

The buyer in 2005 was a real-estate company, Bay Meadows Land Company, controlled by a California Democratic businessman with deep ties to the state’s legislature, Terry Fancher. His company, too, was betting on getting slot machines or casino games at the track, but unsuccessful efforts supported by Fancher and the rest of the California racing industry to improve Hollywood’s chances at reaping the rewards of expanded gambling failed miserably in the next three years.

Then the real-estate market collapsed.

That collapse was the only reason Hollywood Park held on until 2013. With the track located on valuable real estate, with quick access to nearby LAX and the city’s ports, Hollywood Park’s owners kept it operating solely because razing the facility and redeveloping the land wasn’t prudent until the real-estate market recovered. What’s more, it’s become apparent since a referendum failed in 2007 that the state has no interest in giving racetracks slot machines, and so Hollywood’s owners are finally cashing in their chips for the lucrative world of retail and housing development.

That reality might be off-putting to many local racing fans and historians, but the simple fact is that real-estate developers look at one crucial statistic in gauging the worth of a property: profit per square foot. Hollywood Park sits on a lot of square feet, 238 acres worth of sprawling property that includes a backside generating far more expenses than revenues and a spacious infield unused but by birds, a pretty park no one can picnic in, with value only as a backdrop for photographs that rarely make the papers these days.

Meanwhile, handle nationally on racing went into a free fall at the start of the 2008 economic meltdown after years of stagnation or small declines, although it has stabilized over the past two years. Handle at Hollywood’s summer meeting in 2008 averaged $11.8 million a day, a number that declined to $9.1 million in 2012, while average handle at its 2008 fall meeting was $8.3 million, below its 2012 fall meet average of $8.9 million. At the same time, real-estate values have been steadily creeping up.

“From an economic point of view, the land now simply has a higher and better use, so, unfortunately, racing will not continue here once the 2013 autumn meet is completed,” said the track’s president, Jack Liebau, when finally announcing the closing earlier this year.

Both Churchill Downs and Bay Meadows Land Company made no secret of their goals for Hollywood – slot machines. Churchill decided to bow out as the result of a breathtaking miscalculation by the state’s racing constituents in 2004 to support an industry-drafted referendum that would have forced Native American casinos to contribute 25 percent of their gambling revenues to the state and to local governments. Under the language of the referendum, if a single Native American casino refused to make the payments within 90 days of the referendum passing, the state’s racetracks and card rooms would get a backdoor right to operate as many as 30,000 slot machines.

The referendum was shot down by 84 percent of the voters. In defeat, the racing industry came off as petty and vindictive, eroding support for their efforts for expanded gambling while simultaneously serving up a stark reminder of the unbreakable political clout of the Native American casino lobby.

Frustrated by the vote and bowing to reality, Churchill reached its agreement to sell the track to Fancher’s company in 2005 for $260 million. Tom Meeker, Churchill’s chief executive when the company purchased the track for $140 million in cash from a company controlled by R.D. Hubbard, said after reaching the deal that the state “seems to have forsaken racing,” a reference to the company’s inability to get any authorization for casino gambling. That comment probably didn’t endear the state racing industry to lawmakers, either.

The sale allowed Churchill to retire nearly all of its long-term debt and post a $72 million profit for the quarter. Hollywood’s average handle when Churchill acquired the track in 1999 was $10.38 million for the summer meet and $9.66 million for the fall meet. When the company sold the track in 2005, those numbers were $10.42 million (little change) and $8.94 million (a 7.4 percent decline), respectively.

Fancher picked up right where Churchill left off, even if his language was coded in the type of business-speak that is familiar to anyone who has watched a racetrack set the stage for lobbying efforts to get slot machines. During a conference call to discuss the purchase of the track, Fancher said: “[We] will seek alternative uses for the current racetrack site, in collaboration with the city of Inglewood, in the event that our best efforts are unable to improve the underlying economics of the horse racing industry and stem the tide of horses leaving the state.”

Then he issued a warning to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It would be tragic to see racing fall off the landscape in California. Governor, you can do something about it.”

Fancher and supporters of expanded gambling wasted no time in pursuing their goals, working behind the scenes to try to strike a deal to bring slots to the state’s tracks. Those efforts failed to bear any fruit. In 2007, a referendum that would have nullified the state’s agreements with Native American tribes – and opened the door to slots at tracks – failed nearly as spectacularly as the 2004 vote. Efforts to revive the issue have fallen flat ever since.

Fancher had vowed to keep Hollywood up and running as a racetrack only until 2008, but any plans for redeveloping the property then faded in the wake of the dramatic pullback in real-estate investment when credit and land values collapsed as part of the recession. Just in case anyone had any lingering confidence in Hollywood’s future as a racetrack as a result of the delay, however, the owner quickly put those hopes to rest when Bay Meadows Race Course, the company’s other racetrack holding, located in an industrial area south of San Francisco, was torn down late in 2008 and promptly redeveloped.

The larger concern for the racing industry is whether Hollywood’s fate will be shared by other similar racetracks. While crosstown circuit member Santa Anita is probably safe from redevelopment over the short run due to a combination of its billionaire owner’s ability to absorb losses and the property’s few viable redevelopment options in a tony location already crowded with retail and housing, other tracks without expanded gambling will face the same pressures over the long term unless they receive the right to operate slot machines.

With casino-type gambling reaching into nearly every nook and cranny of the continental United States, tracks without gaming have now become few and far between. Tracks in Illinois, Arizona, and Washington fit the bill. Kentucky, surrounded by casino states, obviously stands out, but only one Kentucky track, Turfway Park, is in dire financial straits. Churchill has the cash-cow Kentucky Derby; Keeneland is a not-for-profit that has consistently posted record attendance and handle figures despite the recession (and has sales revenue to fall back on); and both Kentucky Downs and, to a lesser extent, Ellis Park are reaping revenues from Instant Racing machines, devices that so nearly resemble slot machines that they are hardly distinguishable from the real things.

But in Texas and Virginia, two states where casino gambling seems a longshot at best, the future is grim. Tracks in those states, each with its own long equine pedigree, opened in places where racing seemed a sure thing, and at a time when the national gambling expansion was beginning to carry racetracks with it to the land of riches. But that has changed, seemingly irreversibly. Unless racing finds a way to resurrect its fortunes – and wean itself from the slot-machine subsidies that have so distorted the economic and political incentives shaping its present and future – more tracks will go the way of Hollywood Park, white elephants whose once best uses expired long ago.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Are Kentucky Slots Facing “Do or Die”?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gregory Hall of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Is this the last chance for casino gambling in Kentucky?

FRANKFORT, KY. — Supporters of expanded gambling have said this year’s legislative session — fresh off Gov. Steve Beshear’s landslide re-election win over Senate President David Williams — may offer their best chance yet for success.

But is it also their last chance?

“I don’t think so. Not at all,” said Beshear, who has proposed a constitutional amendment that is expected to get its first airing on Wednesday before the Senate State & Local Government Committee.

Whether the measure passes this session or not — and he thinks it can — Beshear said, “I am excited that the issue is finally getting the attention that I think it deserves, and I think it will only go on from here.”

Others, on both sides of the debate, aren’t so sure.

While the issue likely wouldn’t go away, they say, a defeat could seriously derail political momentum, at least for the push to allow expanded gaming through a constitutional amendment — an approach that circumscribes the chance of a court challenge.

Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which opposes expanded gambling, said a defeat on the Senate floor could kill the issue practically and politically speaking.

“I think … unless there’s a change in the party dynamics of the Senate, that this is the last hurrah,” Cothran said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who has pushed for expanded gambling in the past but prefers doing it through statute, agreed that defeat of Senate Bill 151 might end the push for an amendment.

But he said, “I don’t think you can say something that’s been around for 20 years is going to die overnight.

“… This issue’s not going to go away until we address it or solve it or put an end to it. The manner in which the issue is addressed may change, but I don’t think the issue would go away.”

When asked the same question, Williams, a Burkesville Republican who opposes expanded gambling, said he doesn’t respond to hypotheticals. During last year’s campaign, he said the votes could be in the Senate to pass an amendment, but he has been critical of the way the current bill is drafted.

A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers of the legislature — 23 senators and 60 representatives — and ratification by the voters in the November general election.

SB 151, which contains Beshear’s proposed constitutional amendment, was introduced last week and assigned to the State & Local Government Committee, whose chairman, Georgetown Republican Damon Thayer, is the measure’s sponsor.

The amendment would allow up to five casinos at racetracks and two at other locations, though the latter could not be within 60 miles of one of the state’s eight tracks.

But that wording could change significantly by the time the committee is expected to take it up on Wednesday, with Beshear and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, planning to testify for it and Cothran against it.

Thayer previously compared the bill’s drafting to “threading the needle” — finding a compromise that works for those who want casinos only at tracks and those who want no guarantees for tracks.

But responding to criticism of the bill’s language, both he and Stumbo said a simpler amendment would have a better shot at passing.

Specifically, some legislators in both parties and chambers have been critical of the amendment’s preferential treatment of the horse industry and in how the 60-mile radius in essence gives racetracks like Churchill Downs in Louisville and Turfway Park in Florence monopolies in their markets.

If those tracks didn’t get one of the five racetrack casinos, then there wouldn’t be any casino in the Kentucky portion of their markets.

“There are some legitimate constitutional concerns that are being brought up and I think we’re going to have to be mindful of those,” Thayer said on Thursday.

He said that he thinks a simpler amendment — leaving the racetrack issues to enabling legislation that would be considered later if the amendment passes — is “the way we’re headed.”

In an interview with The Courier-Journal, Beshear said he may make changes to the bill in response to complaints from legislators.
“We’re getting a lot of useful suggestions, and I’m going to be talking with a number of folks in the legislature,” he said.

As it stands now, the bill has at least five votes in committee — six are needed for passage — and Thayer has said it likely will get to the Senate floor, where Republicans command a 23-15 majority, including one independent who caucuses with them.

While the Family Foundation has declared the bill dead, and opponents plan to rally against it Tuesday at the Capitol, Thayer said he doesn’t believe anyone really knows where the votes will be when and if the roll is called on the floor.

“I think that’s difficult to say definitively, at this time, whether it’s going to pass or fail,” he said. “I think it’s very close. I do think it could go either way.”

Cothran said he believes the bill might die in Thayer’s committee. But if it does get to a floor vote, he believes a decisive defeat “is a very real possibility” — and effectively would spell the end to the push for expanded gaming, assuming the makeup of the Senate remains similar.

“I think that any kind of conservative leadership would have plenty of justification to say the next time they bring a bill like this, ‘been there, done that,’ ” he said.

Cothran acknowledged that “as long as there’s big money in it for casino advocates,” the incentive to continue the push remains. “But I think that they’re going to find fewer politicians willing to risk their credibility on it,” he said.

Thayer said he agrees with Cothran on every issue but this one.

“To me it’s about letting the people decide,” Thayer said, declining to say whether he thinks the issue is dead forever if his bill fails.

“I never want to say anything is alive or dead forever,” he said. “But this is the last time I will sponsor it.”

Patrick Neely, executive director of the pro-gambling Kentucky Equine Education Project, said they don’t see an end to the issue if the bill fails.

“As long as our signature industry remains at a competitive disadvantage and as long as hundreds of millions of Kentucky dollars continue flowing to out-of-state casinos, the issue will continue to be debated and discussed,” he said.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

American Morally Accepting of Gambling, But Can Horse Racing Position Itself to Take Advantage???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from John Pricci of HorseRaceInsider.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

America’s Ready For Horse Play

Even in this regressive society, it’s OK to promote gambling. That’s the sense one gets from reading a poll on morality, a study the Gallup organization calls its 2011 Values and Beliefs poll.

In a telephone canvas of 1,018 U.S. adults, with a 95 percent confidence level based on a sampling error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points, three age groups were asked how they viewed moral acceptability in seven categories.

The poll’s results ring true in areas you’d expect. The youngest age group, adults 18 to 34, were much more liberal in their views on morality when compared to adults 55 and older. The third group, a demographic most coveted by business and advertisers, were adults 35 to 54.

On the controversial subject of abortion, for instance, results were exactly what you would expect with one out of three older adults believing abortion is morally unacceptable, only 34% believing it would be acceptable.

One might surmise that so-called middle-aged Americans would have a significant edge over disapproving young adults when it came to abortion, but the spread was a narrow 42% to 44% of those believing abortion is morally unacceptable.

Another category running to form were the views adults had on pornography, the least morally acceptable of the remaining six categories which included divorce, pre-marital sex, embryonic stem-cell research, gay/lesbian relations, and gambling.

Pornography was morally acceptable to less than half the population, running straight along age demographic lines: 42% of young adults, 29% middle-aged adults, and only 19% of the 55-and-over set believe pornography is OK.

Premarital sex was surprising in that even older Americans don’t believe it’s verboten any longer with, from youngest to oldest, 71%, 58% and 53%, a clear majority, believing it’s still a moral imperative to wait until the honeymoon.

It should surprise no one that the 43rd President of the United States was in the minority on the subject of embryonic stem-cell research. Americans believe this type of study is acceptable by margins of, oldest to youngest, 62%, 59% and 66%.

With more than half of America’s couples ranking among the formerly married, it came as no surprise that divorce is the least objectionable of all the 1950s mores in the modern era–except if you’re a politician, of course.

Age is no factor when it comes to divorce, it being considered morally acceptable to 72% of the 18-34 group, 66% to the 35-54s and 70% of those 55 and older, the last margin seemingly high. But we saved the best for last.

Of the seven categories as delineated by the Gallup organization, gambling ranked second only to divorce a moral acceptability.

If these 1,018 adults are representative of all Americans, then the racing industry is missing a bet by not promoting the gambling aspect of the sport.

Gambling is not a moral issue to 59% of older Americans, a majority you would expect because it’s become an accepted form of entertainment for those most inclined to have disposable income, even in this economy.

Two out of three middle-aged citizens don’t consider gambling a moral hazard, either, acceptable by a margin of 65% to 35%.

Likely owing to the popularity of poker, particularly Texas hold’em which, like handicapping horse races, is a game where skill and intellect can trump chance, young adults have no moral qualms with gambling by a wide margin, 71% to 29.

Much is made of the fact that takeout in hold’em is far less than that of horse racing, and that’s true, but at some point poker players have to risk their entire stake to win big. Not so at the races, yet racing never makes the argument.

In parimutuel betting, it’s the crowd that sets the price. The bettor can choose to play or not play. This is a huge advantage since until you place the wager, the outcome costs you nothing. there are no pools to seed via blinds big or small.

Chances are that the big hold’em winner will have much of his money in the pot, a situation in which he’s betting blindly by definition. A highly skilled handicapper can know more than the crowd, and even more than insiders who rely on the opinion of others.

Racing has done an awful job positioning its gambling vs. other games of chance. Worse, it’s never taken the time to educate the public on handicapping and betting in a studious manner.

As was stated in Tuesday’s piece on the new Racing Fan Advisory Council in Ne York, the NTRA pushed for the creation of a fan education component at racetracks back in 2005. Name one that did so.

Sorry, pre-race seminars have more to do with touting winners than educating fans: Teach the man to fish.

The industry never has taken fan education seriously enough to see it as a means to service existing customers and creating new ones.

Polls like this are encouraging news for the industry if it wishes to target the 35-54 demographic, still vital and in their prime earning years. So, too, the 21-to-34 set, young and looking for a new and exciting challenge.

Gambling–no matter how right wing-nuts try to control the message–is no longer considered taboo. The industry needs to know this, step up, and act with the courage of a Thoroughbred.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is Pari-Mutual Wagering Dead…Even With Slots?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Frank Angst of the Thoroughbred Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Track owner Penn National sees little pari-mutuel future

While the company’s name still references a racetrack, Penn National Gaming Chairman Peter Carlino made it clear on Thursday that he believes pari-mutuel wagering has dried up, even at tracks with added gaming.

In a conference call with investors and analysts, Carlino said his company no longer will argue that adding slot machines at tracks is a way to improve pari-mutuel handle. He said that when the company lobbies for slots at tracks, it will move to new arguments—including the ability of racetrack slots to promote agri-business—because he believes increased purses do not improve the quality of racing or increase pari-mutuel handle.

“There aren’t sufficient numbers of racing customers in the world anymore because they died,” Carlino said.

Carlino said everyone realizes Penn National’s approach has been to buy tracks that have added gaming or have a chance to add gaming. In Maryland, where Penn National owns a 49% interest in Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, a percentage of gaming revenues supports purses. Carlino expressed frustration that tracks currently are left out of that equation.

“A huge mistake in Maryland—that’s never happened anywhere else anywhere in the country before—was to allocate slots proceeds to purses,” Carlino said. “I’m glad that horses are going to be eating well, but they’re not going to be running well if there’s no racetracks where they can run. The legislature completely ignored the people who have the real investment in the state, the racetracks.”

Carlino said Pennsylvania’s model for racinos, which he said included large licensing fees upfront and low taxes going forward, is the best. He encouraged Ohio Gov. John Kasich to consider a similar model.

“There is reasonable hope, if not an expectation, that [Governor Kasich] may recognize the advantage of protecting the racing industry in Ohio–which has a long history and needs help–and using that opportunity–since it’s already keyed up and ready to go–to generate revenue perhaps with license fees up front and a reasonable tax rate,” Carlino said.

Carlino said his company has begun to lobby in Texas with the hope that legislators will consider taking action this year. Penn National owns a half-interest in Sam Houston Race Park.

In Ohio, where Penn National owns Beulah Park near Columbus, Carlino speculated the state could allow racing licenses to be moved to areas that will not compete with the state’s planned free-standing casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo. Carlino said Penn National is emphasizing that with racetrack slots sustaining racing, states pick up important, environmentally friendly agri-business.

Penn National tracks without added gaming will face cutbacks.

“Operating these tracks at a loss is not in our long-term plan,” Carlino said. “We will ratchet down costs in Texas. We will ratchet down costs in Maryland. We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll be tough and brutal about that because we have to. We’re not running a public charity.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

One Company, Two Approaches: Cater to the horseplayer or the horseman???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Richard Eng of Las Vegas Review-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

While Gulfstream caters to bettors, Santa Anita targets racers

This is a tale of two racetracks, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, which are operated by the same owner, Magna Entertainment Corp. and Frank Stronach.

At the same time that Santa Anita has raised its takeout on multihorse and multirace wagers, its sister track, Gulfstream, has lowered bet minimums and takeout, making the product more user-friendly.

Sounds like a case of Stronach’s left and right hands not knowing what the other is doing.

Santa Anita raised the takeout by 9.6 percent (to 22.68 from 20.68) on exactas and daily doubles and by 14.5 percent (to 23.68 from 20.68) for all other exotic bets. A predictable result has been a drop in handle of nearly 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Gulfstream has been creative in offering a 10-cent pick 6, a 50-cent pick 4 and pick 5 and $1 minimums on all other wagers.

The takeout in the pick 5 is a low 15 percent, making it one of the best bets in horse racing. It mirrors the Monmouth Park pick 5 in that regard plus has a similar carry-over provision if no one correctly selects all five winners.

I think a low-priced, low-takeout pick 5 is a good way to market to everyday horseplayers for this simple reason:

Suppose I take the time to handicap the five races in the pick 5. Not only will I play a pick 5, but I will bet many of those races individually, increasing my overall handle. That’s good business.

The takeout in the Gulfstream pick 6 is only 20 percent. But the most intriguing part is the entire pool will be paid out only if there is one unique winning ticket. When there is more than one winning ticket, 60 percent of the pool will be paid out and 40 percent will go to the carry-over pool.

The idea is to create a large carry-over pool that will spark more interest, and I think that will work, too.

Santa Anita offers a better price (15.43) in win, place and show wagers than Gulfstream (17.0), and in the trifecta and superfecta, which are a ridiculously high 26 percent at Gulfstream.

However, it seems like the philosophy of the two tracks is different. Gulfstream apparently listens to its fans in making the betting product more attractive. Santa Anita is trying to appease the owners and trainers who race there at a much higher cost to its players.

We horseplayers might be dumb, but we’re not stupid. I think, as a group, we are more discriminating than track managers are giving us credit for.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?