Del Park Gives Bonus Experiment Some Time

Delaware Park is attempting to increase ontrack wagering on horse racing.

Delaware Park has received mostly favorable feedback on its ontrack exacta bonus experiment, but its potential may be hard to gauge until it has a chance to grow.

The experiment, which awards a roughly 10% bonus to those that play exactas at the facility, began Sept. 4 and ends Nov. 6, closing day of the Delaware track’s 2010 meet. Through Sept. 27—14 racing programs—bettors received an extra $33,941 for winning combinations, track officials said.

Two-dollar exacta payoffs during the period totaled $8,983.40 offtrack and $9,982.80 ontrack, a difference of $999.40. The experiment, which effectively lowers the pari-mutuel takeout on exactas from 19% to 10%, is designed to increase on-site business.

“We’re still sort of in the beginning stages of the experiment,” Delaware Park senior vice president and general counsel Michael Vild said Sept. 28. “We decided to give it a couple months and then take a close look at it. Hopefully we can expand it to other pools (in 2011).”

Vild said regulars at the track like the program, and overall industry comment has been positive. The one negative the track hears is that takeout should be reduced for all bettors, no matter where they play races from Delaware Park.

Officials are working on a way to display both exacta payoffs on the track’s simulcast feed—something Vild said would be “an important way to market to simulcast customers.” Delaware Park is located in a highly competitive gambling region with multiple tracks, off-track betting outlets, and casinos nearby, and advance deposit wagering readily available; it’s not a stretch to believe customers would migrate to another facility.

Delaware Park, which has video lottery terminals, already competes with nearby Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack in Pennsylvania, and on Sept. 27 Hollywood Casino at Perryville in Maryland opened not far from Delaware Park. The Maryland facility operated by Penn National Gaming Inc. has slot machines but no pari-mutuel wagering, table games, and sports betting like Delaware Park.

When sports betting launched in Delaware late last summer, it was scaled down to only parlay wagers on professional football because of a court ruling. Last year’s numbers weren’t bad considering the restrictions, and so far this season, business is up, officials said.

“People are more aware of it because we have a season under our belt,” Vild said of sports betting. “This year we offered bets on pre-season games. In the first two weeks we’re up substantially from last year, but I don’t know if that says a whole lot because we really didn’t have a chance to market (the product) last year.”

Last year’s high point for sports betting came in November, when $3.56 million was bet, $2.3 million of it at Delaware Park, according to the Delaware Lottery. Net proceeds were $678,000 at the state’s three tracks; Thoroughbred purses get 9.6% and harness purses 10.2%.

Vild said thus far there is only anecdotal evidence wagering on horses picks up when the sports book is busy, particularly on weekends. He did say customers that play table games and poker at the track regularly ask about race and sports betting, which is located a short walk away in the clubhouse.

Customers in the poker room, Vild said, requested that a pari-mutuel machine be installed. Televisions in the room already show horse racing.