Why Horse Bettors Should Eye Takeout Rates and Bet Accordingly

Written By Paul Bergeron on June 1, 2021 - Last Updated on June 2, 2021

One angle not often considered by horseplayers is the track’s takeout rate. The takeout is what tracks keep from betting pools before they distribute winnings. The takeout money is shared by the horsemen and the track, which uses it to fund continuing operations at the track.

Takeout is based on percentages and they vary from wager to wager and from track to track. Tracks may adjust their takeout rates from time to time, depending on situations such as wanting to make certain wagers more attractive.

Since simulcasting was introduced to horse race wagering in 1995, and then more recently, with the popularity of online horse betting or betting through smartphone apps, the competition among tracks to attract more interest has intensified. Less often do players stick only to betting at their hometown tracks.

The takeout percentage can lead some bettors to follow and bet at some tracks more than others – regardless of the quality of races.

And while that could be used as an incentive for some players, it’s not an often-used angle, according to experienced horseplayers.

Takeout rates and Belmont Stakes

This weekend, the horse betting world will focus on Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the sport’s Triple Crown. The race is set for Saturday, June 5.

Tracks do not adjust takeout rates for Triple Crown races, “rates are maintained 365 days a year,” New York Racing Association Communications Director Pat McKenna said.

Belmont Park is run by the New York Racing Association (NYRA). Takeout rates there are more favorable than many tracks, according to some reports. The rates are posted on Belmont Park’s website:

Pick 5 – 15%
Win, Place, Shoe –16%
Exacta, Quinella, Daily Double – 18.5%
Trifecta, Superfecta, Grand Slam, Pick 3, Pick 4 – 24%
NYRA Pick 6 – 15%
NYRA Pick 6 carryover – 24%

Andy Serling, an NYRA analyst and race commentator on Fox Sports’ America’s Day at the Races, said he considers takeout to be an important factor, “but it’s not really on the minds of many bettors.

“With everyone today betting all over the globe – and at any track they like – mostly through their apps like NYRABets and the others – one track lowering their takeout won’t specifically help that race track like maybe it would have before simulcasting was made available in 1995.

“In other words, Belmont Park could lower their takeout, but unless all the other tracks did the same thing, it wouldn’t make any more than a microscopic difference in today’s ecosystem.”

Serling said, “In an ideal world, we would find that sweet spot for what the takeout would be that could benefit all who are involved – including the bettor – but I’m not sure what that percentage would be, or even how we’d figure it out. Everything is all so intertwined.

“Should the sport all come together and decide what the best rate would be and apply it across the country? Yes, that could lead to positive outcomes. But given the relatively fractured state of the racing industry at times, seeing that happening is easier said than done.”

Where tracks’ takeout rates favor bettors the most

Takeout rates can be difficult to find on track websites or even through general online search inquiries.

In 2017, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) compiled a comprehensive list and created a chart with 62 tracks’ rates as well as an overall measure of the tracks’ “bettor friendliness” rating, as reported a year ago by Horse Racing Nation. Takeout rates ranged from 15% to nearly 26%.

“To suggest some of this [takeout rate] information is buried would be an understatement,” TIF officials wrote at the time.

Churchill Downs raised its rates in 2014, and because they received negative feedback from bettors in comments sections, it seems that many tracks make their “take” harder to find.

Belmont Park’s rates today, unofficially, are more favorable to bettors than those at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, home of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Those TIF rankings from 2017 rated tracks for overall bettor-friendliness; takeout rate was one of the primary criteria. That year, TIF ranked Belmont Park at No. 7, Churchill Downs at 22nd, and Pimlico was 32nd.

Looking only at takeout rates for win, place and show bets in 2017, Woodbine had the lowest rate at 14.93%. Remington Park, Hastings, Meadowlands, Santa Anita and Los Alamitos were next, each having takeout rates of less than 16%.

In December 2020, Santa Anita, which has had its share of complications the past year, including the pandemic, reduced its takeout rate to what then was the North American low of 15.43% on all $2 win, place and show wagers during its winter/spring 2021 meet.

Pick-5’s takeout rates favor the bettor

There was a time when Pick 4 take-outs were more favorable to the horseplayer than Pick 5s, but that number recently has moved more in favor of Pick 5 bettors, as reflected above at Belmont Park, for example (15% vs. 24%).

Smaller tracks have tried low takeout rates for Pick 5 bets to get more people to focus on that particular bet at their track. Additionally, when a player’s Pick 5 bet loses, the player might feel really strongly about one of the five races and bet separately on that race.

Sam Houston Race Park in Houston did a lot of marketing when it reduced its take about 10 years ago. One horseplayer was lured, but did not gain much from it.

“I tried playing them on some Saturday nights without success,” said regular horseplayer Mike Koblenz, from Arlington, Va. “This reinforced an old lesson that the difficulty of handicapping the cheaper horses trumps the takeout percentage.

“If I have a horse that I really want to bet and at a track with a higher take, then I’ll still bet the horse. But I won’t try to construct an exotic wager around it, because exotic takeout rates often are higher. Instead, I’ll just bet him to win or win/place.”

Serling said takeout-rate adjustments could affect churn. Churn is defined as how long a better can keep betting, for example, from his or her initial $100 that was set aside for horseplaying.

“If tracks lower their takeout rates, then it’s conceivable that bettors will be able to play a bit longer with that $100 as they cycle through winning and losing their bets,” Serling said. “Studies have shown that churn will go up; hence, the ability to bet for a longer period of time is increased.”

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Canterbury Park: takeout promos can boost handles

Minnesota’s Canterbury Park tried a record-low 10% takeout at Canterbury Park in 2020 to boost wagering on both the Pick 5 and Pick 6, and it helped to increase the track’s handle significantly, year over year.

In 2019 Canterbury had an average handle in the Pick 5 of about $8,300 which totaled around $550,000 for the season.

In 2020 Canterbury Park hosted 12 fewer race days, had no fans to start, and only gained limited attendance later in the meet. Despite these factors and the fact that Minnesotans cannot bet Canterbury Park via online platforms, the average handle increased to over $79,000.

The question, however, was: How much of those winning payout dollars were bet back into the Canterbury Park track?

“I applaud any track that tries to come up with promos that offer low takeout rates,” Serling said. “But in this case, those good intentions suffered due in part to bad weather – particularly rain. Canterbury Park features a lot of turf races, and some races had to be taken off the turf course, that reduced the size of fields. Unfortunately, these are factors that were out of their control, so the experiment wasn’t done long enough to give it a chance to see if it would work.”

Serling said that high takeout rates are one reason why he’s been an outspoken critic of the jackpot bets, because these types of bets are only paid out to one winner one time.

“On jackpot race days, if a player doesn’t hit it on that day, the track keeps its takeout and the carryovers are built on the backs of the smaller, daily players. It’s very player-unfriendly,” Serling said.

“Horseplayers complain that ‘the tracks do nothing for us,’ but I’d say the tracks do. They put on a show with a lot of moving parts. You’re dealing with livestock, here. And they give players the chance to bet horse racing. Certainly, you can argue that they could do more, but you can’t say they do nothing for the horseplayer.”

Photo by Seth Wenig / Associated Press
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Paul Bergeron

Paul Bergeron is a freelance reporter based in Herndon, Va. His 30-year career includes positions in the sports department at daily newspapers, including The Washington Post; and association publications related to the apartment industry. Currently, he writes regularly for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), commercial real estate firm CoStar and various industry blogs from his Thought Leadership Today platform on LinkedIn. He can be reached at [email protected]

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