NY Harness Track Eyes Lower Takeout Rates

An upstate New York harness track announced March 11 it wants to reduce pari-mutuel takeout rates to the state minimum in response to calls from horseplayers.

Tioga Downs, a former Quarter Horse track that reopened after video gaming machines were approved for most New York racetracks, is located west of Binghamton. One of its owners, Jeff Gural, is a Standardbred owner/breeder with strong and sometime controversial opinions on the racing industry.

Tioga Downs in a release said it’s “hopeful that a positive response, over due course, will result in increased handle on its live races and foster an industry trend toward more competitive pricing.” The New York State Racing and Wagering Board must approve the request.

Tioga Downs’ 2009 takeout rates were 18% on win, place, and show bets; 20% for exactas and doubles; and 25% for all other exotic wagers. With regulatory approval, the 2010 rates will be 15% for win, place, and show bets; 17% for exactas and doubles; and 21% for all other exotics.

Tioga Downs officials were among those at the 2009 International Simulcast Conference, where speakers discussed a need for lower takeout. The track has been talking to the Horseplayers Association of North America.

“Horseplayers have voiced their concern over the high takeout rates across our industry and we are responding to their call,” Tioga Downs vice president of racing and simulcast Jason Settlemoir said in a statement. “The (United States Trotting Association) recently polled visitors to its Web site, and 1,259 out of 1,710 people who voted—roughly 74%--responded they would be more apt to bet races if a track lowered their takeout rate.

“We will advertise that our takeout rates are the lowest allowed by law in New York State, and are anxious to see if business picks up due to the bettor realizing more money is going back in their pockets. We hope that bettors and host sites will support our initiative to lower takeout rates, and if our handle goes up, maybe our industry as a whole will adopt this philosophy.

“We would even consider going lower on the takeout rates to between 8% and 9% like the typical hold in the casino world if the state would allow us, and our export sites would be on board.”

It’s a one-year pilot program. Settlemoir said horsemen at Tioga Downs support it, but it will not be done at the company’s other New York track, Vernon Downs, because horsemen wouldn’t consent.

Tioga Downs said it will charge most wagering outlets 2% for its signal and also lower decoder costs.

HANA president Jeff Platt said he hopes the Tioga Downs effort gets noticed in the marketplace.

“We believe lower takeout is a step in the right direction and applaud Tioga for reaching out to the customer,” Platt said in a statement. “Lower takeout gives players a better chance to win and over time enables players to bet more. In addition, by offering a low signal fee, Tioga is telling both (advance deposit wagering companies) and horseplayers, ‘We want your business.’ ”

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