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Parimutuel wagering: A primer

As the Breeders' Cup approaches, a few facts about betting

November 04, 2009|Pete Thomas

A casual horse player's guide to parimutuel wagering, especially as it pertains to the Breeders' Cup World Championships on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita. . . .

The money trail

First-time track-goers may wonder where their money goes.

Parimutuel wagering is different from regular sports betting, in which the house (a bookie or legal sports book) generally takes a 10% cut referred to as juice.

At the track your wager is like a stock transaction: A $2 bet ticket buys a share in the horse's performance. The track is the broker and thus gets a commission fixed by the state and, of course, shared by the state and by horsemen.

During Santa Anita's 2008 Oak Tree meet, for example, the distribution of the average dollar wagered -- within a fraction of a cent -- went like this: 80.66 cents to winners, 2.55 cents to state and local governments, 7.59 cents for track operations, 1.28 cents for satellite wagering fees, 7.20 cents for horsemen (purses), and 0.61 cents for breeders' and owners' awards.

It could be worse

That 20% cut from your win ticket is not as severe as other forms of gambling. Take the California Lottery, for example: Only 53.9 cents of each dollar goes back to prizewinners.

In Las Vegas, table games such as blackjack do not demand a house cut but are designed in a manner that favors the house by 3% to 4%.

Ponies or football?

Are you better off betting on, say, football, where all you have to do is pick one team versus another?

No, says Gary Young, a professional horse player from Pasadena, who claims to have won the Pick Six more than 200 times. That's because point spreads and ridiculous money-line odds in team sports betting are great equalizers -- and if you don't believe this, just visit your illegal bookkeeper's residence.

"Every bookie I know lives in a really big house and has lots of money in their pockets and has a really nice life," Young says. "There's just one thing they've got to worry about, and that's the next knock on their door" from authorities.

So where is the value?

The Pick Four and Pick Six provide the biggest bangs for a buck.

Kurt Hoover, a handicapper for HorseRacing TV, says the Pick Four has become the top proposition bet because it's easier and cheaper than the Pick Six, but still potentially lucrative.

"It's a $1 wager, whereas the Pick Six is a $2 wager, so your money doesn't multiply as quickly and exponentially" as you add multiple horses to races within the wager, Hoover says.

The Pick Four, which entails picking winners in four consecutive races, can pay from $20 if all favorites come in to thousands of dollars if there are longshots. In win, place and show betting, 15.43% comes off the top of every bet. In exotic betting, it goes up to 20.18%, which makes exotics the less fair of the two kinds of wagering.

Six the hard way

Young says of the Pick Six: "It can pay your bills for a couple of years if you hit it right. But the negative is that you can go a long time without hitting one."

Hoover adds: "It takes a different type of mentality to play the Pick Six because you know you're going to lose more often than you're going to win -- but you hope to make a profit overall."

And finally

Young advises people to cast aside foolish systems and learn to read the Racing Form, or at least inspect horses in the paddock.

"People just have to learn about the game," he says. "If you go out there and you're just going to bet on which horse has the prettiest silks or which name you like, that's not going to do it."

Actually, in the short term, it might.

--

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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