The Big M is trying to get a handle on their betting

The track replaced its Pick-8 with a Pick-5 in hopes of better returns.

by Debbie Little

Last weekend, The Meadowlands introduced a second Pick-5 to their betting menu, replacing the Pick-8, which didn’t catch on as they had hoped.

The Pick-8 was introduced on October 20, 2023, changing their “Sensational Seven” betting lineup to a “Great Eight”.

While the Pick-8 was certainly well received initially – especially if there was a transfer of several weeks – it never caught fire, according to Jason Settlemoir, Chief Operating Officer/General Manager of The Big M.

“You know, (the Pick-8) didn’t perform terribly, it was just one of those things where we wanted to listen to our customers and we wanted to see if we could find something that would move the needle,” Settlemoir said. “Ultimately it comes down to listening to our customers. And listen, I’m up against huge numbers from last year, especially on the export side.

“And it seemed like there was a – I don’t want to use the word outrage because that’s not really what it was, but a dialogue between our customers and the management here at the track. And we listen and have an open conversation with them about these kinds of things. And I thought maybe this would make a difference by allowing us to move the handle number a little more than what we did with the Pick-8.

The Meadowlands has shown over the years that they prefer to try new things rather than the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.

In early 2023, the East Rutherford mile oval had six major stakes: a Pick-5, Pick-6, Pick-7, Hi-5 and two Pick-4s. They added a second Hi-5 in March last year, followed by the Pick-8 in October.

The track must be doing something right as they are coming off a career year that saw them average $3.08 million per race card in 2023, easily their best since Jeff Gural became president/chief executive officer in 2011.

Settlemoir said he knows trying to repeat or exceed a career year may not be possible, but impossible isn’t part of his vocabulary.

“I understand that and I understand that, but I will always be 100 percent committed to doing something to boost sales,” he said. “I don’t like to do things half-heartedly and I like to listen to my customers. And I think that is one of the reasons for the success with our handle last year and the years before that. Just simply listening to the customer and what they have to say and an extra drive from myself and the management team here at The Meadowlands, who also want to see these numbers increase.

“We may dive in and find out it doesn’t work, and then go back to the drawing board and make some more changes and see what we come back with. But I thought it was worth trying to move the needle north on the handle, because I don’t like to rest on laurels. Never has, and never will. And I always want to try to do better than what we did before. So bigger and better is always the motto that I use in the office when it comes to those kinds of things: bigger and better.”

When asked if it was necessary to come up with an additional bet on multiple legs instead of dropping the Pick-8 and leaving the remaining bets as they were before October, Settlemoir didn’t necessarily think less is more.

“You know, I’ve never had a customer tell me we have too many deployment options,” Settlemoir said. “I think you can get to a point where there’s too much going on in a race in terms of different types of betting and then you dilute the other pools. So that is something we pay very close attention to.”

Les Stark, a big player at The Meadowlands, likes multi-leg betting, but the Pick-8 wasn’t his thing.

“I might have bet on it once when the carryover was pretty big,” Stark said of the discontinued Pick-8. “Other than that, I never thought about it.”

Stark said he has no objection to The Meadowlands adding the extra Pick-5 and removing something he would never bet, “as long as it doesn’t bastardize and shrink the pools to the point where you don’t want to play anymore. them.”

His example was the handful of Pick-3s at The Big M.

“Most of them, especially on a Friday night, are not going to have pools that are large enough that, at least for me, I would consider betting in,” Stark said. “So I like the Pick-5. My only concern would be that the second would take money out of the first and that they would both be smaller than when the single Pick-5 stood alone.

“I would like to see them try to chart better races to make the product more attractive. They are doing everything they can to figure things out because their product sucks right now.

Stark said if some of the name horses that are starting to qualify end up racing at The Meadowlands, their product will improve quite a bit. However, just the fact that it’s the Championship Meet isn’t enough to get his attention.

“If there are things that look plausible to me to bet on, then I will,” Stark said. “I’m not good at picking the best $4,000 claimer, which has all bad rules. I’m not good at that. I am better at finding young horses that may have potential and that are not (a chance of) 4-5. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Just as the Pick-8 was for the past six months, the Late Pick-5 is now on the clock, so to speak, according to Settlemoir.

“That’s what we do with everything,” Settlemoir said. “We’re trying just about everything we can and some things are successful, some things aren’t, and some things are in the middle and we’ll see where this ends up.

“I hope he attracts more attention and I think we’ll definitely see him handle more than the Pick-8. But you know, we have to keep an eye on this stuff and if it works, great, we’ll keep doing it, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the drawing board. That’s one of the things that Jeff (Gural) always wanted to continue doing: try different ideas and try different things and listen to the customer. And those are the things we do.”