Tom Jicha

Tom Jicha grew up in New York City and worked with John Pricci at the short-lived revival of the New York Daily Mirror. Tom moved to Miami in 1972 for a position in the sports department at the now defunct Miami News.

Tom became the TV critic in 1980 and moved to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1988. All the while he has kept his hand in sports, including horse racing. He has covered two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinel’s horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017


QUESTION to INDUSTRY: Why Should One Bet Be Taxed More Heavily Than Another?


The average takeout for straight bets is a little more than 17 percent. For exotics, it's more than 22 percent. How does this make sense? Why should the more difficult to hit bets be taxed more for the attempt? The answer is typical: This is the way it always has been done. Another argument is this pushes people into easier to hit pools. This is outrageous paternalism: We know what's better for you than you do. A dirty little secret is the heavily taxed exotics subsidize the rebates to the computer guys, who aren't even real horse players.

The boss saved me some research with his column the other day (which I don’t agree with but applaud the effort to think outside the box).

J.P. reported the average takeout, according to HANA , is 17.25 percent on WPS and 22.28 percent on exotics. This saved me from tracking down these stats as soon as I finished getting my house into something resembling what it was before Hurricane Irma.

(Thank you again to those who sent well wishes. As the governor of Florida stressed, property can be replaced, lives can’t. My wife and I and our immediate family in South Florida had a lot of property damage but we are all safe and sound and have mostly dealt with the cleanup and restoration by now.)


The average takeout numbers are exorbitantly high and unfair but the bigger issue is a question I am ashamed of myself for never having raised. Why should any horse racing wager be taxed more heavily than any other?

The response that this is the way it always has been done is insulting and unsatisfactory. For most of the years this “has always been done,” racing had a monopoly on gambling opportunities. It could afford a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

As Bob Dylan sang, “The times, they are a changin’.” Racing no longer even has a monopoly at tracks with slots, which has become most of them.

Without endorsing what should be at least two to three points lower, if the rake on WPS is 17.25 percent, I would really like someone to explain why all bets are not 17.25 percent. In earlier times, I suppose it could have been argued that it took more labor by tellers to punch in a Pick 3 or Pick 6 than a Pick 1.
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Now most wagers are made via automated terminals on track and computers off track. Tracks don’t have to do anything but crank up their computers after the race to see what the winners are going to get paid. This is no more difficult or time consuming for a Pick 4 than it is for a Show bet.

In fact, many tracks get to hold bettors’ money in the more challenging multiple-race and multiple-horse wagers when there are no perfect tickets, another outrage. This is never the case with WPS. So, if anything, tracks should charge less for the super exotic bets. But my contention remains all bets should be evenly taxed.

Expanding on that, if the whales are getting say 10 percent rebates on straight bets, shouldn’t these be taxed at a greater rate than the pools where rebates to the last-minute (or perhaps past-post) computer guys aren’t as much of a factor? The dirty little secret is raising the rake on the exotics preferred by casual players subsidizes the rebates to the computer gangs, who aren't even real horseplayers.

But the bigger point remains: why should any bet cost more than any other? It’s counter-intuitive that the harder a bet is to win, the more a player should be charged to make the attempt.

That some jurisdictions now offer Pick 5’s at the lowest takeout on their menu, some as low as 12 percent, bolsters my case. If they can offer a Pick 5 at 12 percent, why can’t all bets be similarly taxed? I have yet to hear any track say these low takeout rates are costing them money.

I have heard it said that higher takeouts on the more difficult bets are an attempt to push players into the pools where success is easier to achieve. I concur that this is the most prudent wagering strategy but that is for the individual to decide, not someone from on high.

If protecting the public from themselves is the goal, an argument could be made that racing should cease to exist. Nobody would lose anything. I jest, of course.

Also, if protecting the public from themselves is a goal, why do tracks expend almost their entire promotional efforts tempting players to jump into super jackpot pools. When was the last time you saw or heard a racetrack ad that says, "Win $6 on a $2 bet"?

This is a classic example of the paternalistic attitude that we know what is better for you than you do.

I categorically and emphatically reject this.

No Casino Bucks, No Jackpot

Racing got what I fear is a terrifying preview of the future this week.

Delta Downs has been forced to cancel eight stakes at its upcoming meeting, including the Delta Jackpot, which has ascended to national prominence and put the Louisiana bullring on the map. The culprit? Casino revenues are down big time because of Hurricane Harvey.

Delta’s casino relies heavily on patrons from the Houston area, where storm recovery has taken priority over slot machines. As has become the case at many venues, purses, especially big money stakes, are almost totally dependent on the casino dole.

Several states have either begun to reduce the set-aside from slots that goes to racing purses; have already done so; or are debating it in their legislative halls.

When this drip-drip becomes a deluge, which it inevitably will, racing as we now know it will cease to exist. The Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion, $1 million apiece when they are renewed next week, will go the way of this season’s Delta Jackpot if and when state lawmakers cut the casino money now dedicated to racing, as they have been threatening to do.

As much a racing champion as I am, I can’t say I will be sorry. Tracks have done nothing that I have been made aware of to prepare for this day.

Moreover, fans have not benefitted in any meaningful way from the casino windfalls. To use one prominent example, did the Whitney Stakes need to have a $1.2 million purse? Would it not have gotten the same field for a flat million? To answer my own question, of course it would have. Four weeks later, Gun Runner crushed the same caliber field for $750K in the Woodward.

If you took $200K from the Whitney and applied it to the benefit of fans, there would have been no need to kick up admission prices $5 a head for the Travers. As long as Resorts World is sending humongous checks to NYRA, there should be no admission or parking charges at any New York track. It's not as if the Aqueduct casino ceases to suck up money by the carload while the horses are at Saratoga.

The Whitney is just an expedient example. Stakes schedules are replete with ridiculously over-endowed races, some of which draw four- and five-horse fields—and not the best four or five.

I am not unaware that there is a legal prescription that a certain percentage of slots money goes to purses. This could be easily negotiated, especially since most of the horsemen who put on the daily show rarely share in million-dollar-plus purses. States are in the process of negotiating purse enhancements downward every day by attempting to lower the slots funds being sent to racing.

To bring this column full circle, if fans were allowed to wet their beaks from the casino money even just a little, there would be no need for some bets to cost more than others. And the rake could be a lot lower than 17.25 percent.

Miami, Sept. 14, 2017



Written by Tom Jicha

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