One day this spring, when a big crowd was betting big money on a routine weekday card at Pimlico, a track official noted an undeniable fact about the modern racing business. Pimlico could spend heavily on its advertising campaigns and promotions, but nothing could lure bettors like a sizable jackpot in the Pick Six.
For this reason, tracks across the country have been trying to find a form of exotic wagering that will generate huge pools and payoffs. These efforts have given the sport the Pick Six, the Pick Nine, the Superfecta and the Twin Triple. Now Freestate Raceway is introducing another one: the Super Bet. If anyone hits it tonight, the payoff would be more than $60,000.
"It's a great type of bet," said track president Frank DeFrancis, who will probably try to institute it at Laurel Race Course if it succeeds at his harness track.
Originated at Sportsman's Park near Chicago, where it once produced a payoff of more than $700,000, the Super Bet consists of two exactas and one triple. At Freestate, a bettor must pick the exacta in the third and fifth races, and the triple in the seventh race. He makes the entire wager before the third race, with each combination costing $1.
Suppose, for example, the bettor wanted to box three horses in each exacta and four horses in the triple. He would tell the ticket seller: "Box 1, 2, 3 in the third race; box 1, 3, 5 in the fifth race; box 2, 3, 4, 7 in the seventh race." All these combinations would fit neatly on one ticket. The teller then would say, "Eight hundred and sixty-four dollars, please."
Each of the exacta boxes would consist of six different combinations; the four-horse triple box would contain 24 combinations. To put them all together in the Super Bet would require 6x6x24, or 864 combinations.
If nobody hits the Super Bet, nobody collects a penny; all the money in the pool is carried over to the next day. To stimulate wagering when the carryover pool is low, Freestate guaranteed there would be at least $10,000 in the pot on the night the Super Bet started, and has continued to sweeten the pot. After Wednesday's races, the Super Bet carryover was $33,000, but Freestate increased this to a guarantee that the payoff would be worth at least $50,000 the next night. Even with these incentives, though, the fans at Freestate have wagered no more than a few thousand dollars a night on the Super Bet. At Freestate, as at every other track, horseplayers are showing that they weigh risks and potential rewards very intelligently.
For bettors or a syndicate of bettors to have a realistic chance of hitting something as elusive as a Pick Six or a Super Bet, they must make a significant investment. Even if a syndicate were prepared to put $5,000 into the Super Bet, its members couldn't feel very confident, since there are 2,612,736 possible winning combinations (assuming there are nine horses in each field).
If there were a consolation payoff, a chance to recoup if one's bet came close and just missed, players might be willing to take a shot at a medium-sized jackpot. But the absence of an adequate consolation payoff will always dampen their enthusiasm. (At Santa Anita, the big gambling syndicates didn't get excited about the Pick Nine even after the carryover reached $1 million, because the bet was so hard to win and the consolation payoffs were so paltry.)
The Super Bet may start attracting the attention of local gamblers when the carryover pool grows to six figures, and it will occasionally generate the kind of fireworks that Sportsman's Park saw with its record payoff. But DeFrancis and other track operators will have to keep searching for a type of bet that stimulates big pools and payoffs on a regular basis.
I thought the most promising wager of this type was the Twin Triple, because it offered such a good consolation payoff that it was worth playing any time -- even when there was no carryover jackpot. Unfortunately, Laurel abolished the wager last fall after a brief experiment.
Sooner or later, an innovative racing executive is going to conceive of an exotic wager that offers a legitimate financial incentive for all types of bettors to play it every day. When it happens, this yet-undiscovered form of wagering is going to sweep the industry. Until then, however, those of us who like the idea of winning $100,000 at a crack will have to be content with the Super Bet.