Show Time at Oaklawn Park

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In a move designed to build the confidence of new horseplayers while emphasizing that racing offers a different form of gambling from random gaming like the lottery, Oaklawn Park is paying more money for winning on-track show wagers this year.

Bobby Geiger, Oaklawn's director of wagering and simulcasts, said while it's a thrill for new players to hit a Pick 6 or Superfecta, those wins are rare. And for new players, such advanced wagers reinforce the lottery approach to horse racing.

Playing to its strength of large on-track crowds, Oaklawn executives thought show wagering would be the best way to introduce handicapping to the casual, often young, people who show up at the Hot Springs, Ark. track. As a wager that's not too difficult to hit, it's a bet that allows new players to learn that selecting horses is more fun than lotteries or pressing a slot machine button.

To achieve this, the track decided to increase on-track payouts for show wagers, using the net-pool pricing of tote companies that allows a portion of a wagering pool be assigned a different takeout rate, in this case lower. The approach allows Oaklawn to offer its on-track show wagers at a 10% takeout instead of the standard 17% for off-track outlets.

The track promoted the higher on-track payouts and players responded. The percentage of on-track handle into show pools at this year's meet is 17.76%, up 5.09% compared with last year. Most of that action has come from exotic pools.

"We love our fans. They are great and they come out and have a good time," Geiger said. "A lot of them are newbies and on your first trip to the racetrack, it's just not a lot of fun if you don't cash a ticket.

"So we were thinking, how can we draw people to the easiest ticket there is to cash, which is the show bet. So we came up with this idea of dropping the takeout from 17% to 10% just for on-track show wagers, then promote it and see what happens. And it has far exceeded our expectations."

The shifting numbers in terms of action suggests new players are gravitating to the bet. Geiger also has seen more experienced players taking advantage of the good deal.

"One of the most popular bets at Oaklawn this year has been the show parlay. I've been out in the grandstand and there are groups all over—even seasoned players who are still making their super bets and tris—but they also have show parlays running," Geiger said. "That component caught us a little off guard. We weren't really sure that the seasoned, wagering veterans would embrace it as strongly as they have."

Geiger hopes it pays more dividends in coming years as new horseplayers return to test their skills.

"Short-term it's already been a success. But I don't think we'll have the full answer for two or three years because of all of these newbies who came out to Oaklawn and experienced racing in a different way this year. They didn't come out here the first time and try to hit a trifecta or a super, instead they were betting to show and got to enjoy the best part of going to the races: cashing a ticket," Geiger said. "We'll see if they become dependable race fans in the years to come. I think this will be a multi-year study in terms of gauging this as a success or failure."

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