Taking on Takeout

In this article, takeout doesn't refer to Chinese food from around the corner, but rather to the percentage of money that a track will deduct from wagers for its own operations, and as a rule of thumb it hovers around twenty percent.  Usually, takeouts are set by state racing organizations (in Illinois, the Illinois Racing Board or IRB).  Yet, sometimes a track will lower it or raise it.

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, when Churchill Downs raised takeout percentages before its Spring meet, the twitter-verse went amok.  The "Boycott Churchill" campaign popped up, and it got more steam when Churchill made a series of decisions appearing stupid and turned friends into foes. (Ex: Turcotte, Fox Hill)

So the Derby is over, so California Chrome won (don't remind me; I know I whiffed), and so we move to Baltimore, Maryland.  Home of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.  Home of the Preakness Stakes. Home of a track that has higher take-out percentages than Churchill.  Home of a track touting a two-day three race wager with a takeout north of twenty-five percent.  Yet, the boycotts aren't as loud for Pimlico Race Course, home track of the Preakness Stakes.

A logical question to ask is why not? True, even I see some logic in the "Boycott Churchill" platform, but my reason isn't because of take out hikes or PR missteps.  It stems from the Kentucky Derby point system and the exclusion of the Illinois Derby as a qualifying points race.  It also becomes quite difficult for me to take on the full Churchill-owned boycott for wanting to watch/wager on one of my home tracks, Arlington International (that is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated).  You can't boycott everything.

Let's go back to Churchill and Pimlico.  According to the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), they created a ranking of tracks in North America in matrix form and evaluated them based on takeout, field size, and other factors.  After Churchill Downs raised the takeouts for its meet, Churchill ranked 22nd in tracks, after being a top-ten track the prior year.  Pimlico was ranked 32nd last year and is ranked 45th this year.  Yet people who boycotted Churchill are NOT looking at Pimlico, despite the fact that the Baltimore-based oval (according to their own metrics, since HANA is behind the Churchill Boycott through its website and twitter account) was ranked below Churchill.

So if takeout hawks balk at Churchill for raising a takeout, how come there isn't ire at Pimlico or the Maryland Jockey Club (who is a part-owner) for maintaining one?


Now let's look at that special two-day wager.  Pimlico announced a pick three at a fifty-cent base that links the Pimlico Special on Friday, the Dixie Stakes on Saturday one race prior to the Preakness, and the Preakness Stakes.  It copies off of Churchill (who we're supposed to boycott because they're eeeeeeeeeeevil) and their popular Kentucky Oaks-Woodford Reserve-Kentucky Derby pick three.  I agree that the 25.75% takeout percentage is silly and stupid, but I do give credit for at least trying something new.

I'm not a takeout hawk by any means. My reasons for Churchill angst are more geared to the Illinois Derby's exclusion as opposed to what has happened recently or what releases HANA has made.  Further,  I personally think HANA has done a bang-up job turning takeout into a political wedge issue that only divides the wagering public and confuses them.  In horse racing, gamblers boo high takeout but a track boos low takeout.

The clip above from the "Treehouse of Horror VII" episode of "The Simpsons" comically shows what happens people are confronted with wedge issues.  In this analogy, substitute "abortions for all" with the gamblers booing high takeout, "no abortions for anyone" with track management booing low takeout and the "miniature American flags" with food trucks.    Provide a food truck and everyone wins.

What I'd like to see isn't people boycotting everything but a track or two of a takeout percentage or trying to send some agenda to a track.  If people boycotted every questionably high takeout track, they'd be left with only a few tracks, to which reasons could be found to boycott them (polytrack at Keeneland, excessive amount of overnight stakes in New York, hatred of undulating courses at Kentucky Downs, and so on).  Soon people would paint themselves into corners, sounding like people who only listen to music from bands playing smoky clubs and releasing their music on old Memorex cassettes because it's "independent".

What I'd like to see is discussions on takeout being more reciprocal and civil.  Sit down large and small gamblers along with track executives and have each side argue why they want takeouts the way they do.  Then try to find a middle ground.  And copy it at tracks from Aqueduct to Zia.

Oh, and I like food trucks too.  But I like to eat, also.

See you in a week for the Preakness.


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