Everyone is praising the Strategic Wagering Initiative. For sure, the guaranteed pools are being exceeded which means these guaranteed pools cost the tracks and the USTA nothing; the tracks get Pick 4 pools bet into which increase their handle and the horsemen and track operators are happy. For starters, it's a job well done. But what is the the long term benefit of this program? For sure, being willing to take on the risk will allow smaller tracks to participate in guaranteed pools, but other than that, what is happening?
Are people wagering more overall at these tracks or is money being diverted from another exotic wager to the Pick 4? Is this money which would have been wagered at another harness track racing at night without the guarantee just being shifted to another track? In either case, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
On the other hand, is this money coming from thoroughbred players or new horseplayers taking a chance at an exotic wager with a guaranteed pool? Is the handle on other wagers at the track increasing? This would be a good thing. Are more people coming out to the track or is the majority of money being wagered through ADWs which means the benefit to the tracks and horsemen are minimal?
What I would like to see is can the guaranteed wager be used to get people back to the track? Cal Expo has a Pick 4 where a bonus is paid to winners of their Pick 4 to offset the takeout if you wager on track (or through Twin Spires). We all know a dollar bet through an ADW is not the same as a dollar bet on track. I would like to see what happens if a track offers a guaranteed pool for a Pick 4 but adds an additional $2,000 to $5,000 bonus to the pool for all winning tickets purchased on track, be one or twenty winning tickets be purchased on track. Would that money be enough to entice people back to the track where the benefit of each dollar is maximized? Would it get those people to wager on all the races on the card or will they just wait for the Pick 4? More importantly, does the increase handle make offering an on-track bonus worthwhile?
Now the Strategic Initiative has just begun so they are feeling their way now. Hopefully, by the time the initiative is concluded, we will find a way to maximize these type of wagers for everyone's benefit.