No Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow Pick 6

Rainbow Pick 6

There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

For the second time in three years the Rainbow Pick 6 at Gulfstream attracted a massive amount of wagering handle at the end of  the meet due to the mandatory payout rule.

For the second  time in three years the Rainbow Pick 6, despite the huge pool size, paid very little.

Similarly the Black Gold Pick 5 at Fairgrounds attracted a lot of wagering handle on the final day of the meet this year and just like the Rainbow Pick 6 had a disappointingly low return.

These are just the most recent examples of why jackpot wagers are bad for horse racing.

Rainbow Pick 6

In 2011 the Rainbow Pick 6 had a mandatory payout on the second to last day of the meet.

The pool swelled to nearly $5.1 million as many horseplayers took their shot at what they thought would be a life-changing score.

Unfortunately the sequence was fairly formful with two favorites, two second choices and one third choice winning the first five legs and a 10/1 shot winning the finale.

The resulting payout was a meager $3,279.

Not a bad return considering the results but nothing close to the life-changing score many had hoped for.

Flash forward two years and the same scenario played out.

The Rainbow Pick 6 pool swelled to nearly $5.3 million despite the off track and scratch-laden off the turf races.

The sequence was again very formful with two favorites, three second choices and 6/1 winner in the other leg.

The resulting payout was only $4,234.

Again not a bad return considering the results but again no life-changing score for the thousands that bet into the pool.

Black Gold Pick 5

The Black Gold Pick 5 at Fairgrounds did not attract nearly as much wagering handle as the Rainbow Pick 6 and surely that was caused by the mind-boggling decision to closeout the meet on Easter Sunday.

Most tracks were not open and many horseplayers were probably spending time with their family and friends.

Despite these circumstances the pool nearly doubled in size to over $800,000.

Two favorites and three other logical horses won and the resulting payout was $5,578.

Once again a decent return considering the results but once again no life-changing score.

Coincidence or Not?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two bets have failed to produce monstrous payouts when the mandatory payout rule was in play.

There are several reasons for this, namely:

  • the low minimum wagering amount ($0.10 for the Rainbow Pick 6 and $0.50 for the Black Gold Pick 5)
  • the attraction of higher bankrolled horseplayers who can cover all the possible combinations
  • the players pools, such as the one offered by TwinSpires (which put in $100,000 worth of tickets)

Add to that a formful sequence, which obviously is not a guarantee, and the resulting payout will likely never be life-changing.

But What About…

Critics of my opinion will likely point to the handful of actual life-changing returns, such as the $3.6 million return in February of this year for the Rainbow Pick 6.

My response to that is in order to cash a ticket like that you have to:

  • pick illogical horses that no one else would consider and that you wouldn’t normally use in any other wager
  • be extremely lucky that those long shots win and no one else has them covered
  • have a large bankroll to cover all the impossible long shots in the sequence

To me that is a formula for failure when betting on horses.

In the above example the sequence consisted of:

  • 56/1 winner ridden by a jockey that had zero lifetime wins
  • 9/2 winner ridden by Joel Rosario
  • 17/1 winner ridden by a low percentage bug boy
  • 7/1 winner ridden by Jose Lezcano
  • 10/1 winner ridden by Luis Contreras, who was having a terrible meet
  • 10/1 winner ridden by Paco Lopez

Not a single favorite in the sequence and two nearly impossible horses to come up with.

It’s not surprising the lone winning ticket cost over $3,000.

An Actual Life-Changing Score for the Average Horseplayer

About two years ago I spent a month creating a road map for the future of Maryland horse racing.

I sent the presentation to every one in the industry and not surprisingly only one person replied and said they would look at it.

(If you are interested you can view the presentation here: Maryland Racing Plan)

Oddly enough some of the changes I suggested have occurred, such as moving certain stakes races, but that could just be a coincidence.

For the purposes of this discussion the one part of that presentation that is relevant is a new bet I called (although now I wish I would have suggested a better name) the Jackpot 8.

You can find that on slide 25 of the above presentation but the gist of it is a Pick 8, with a low takeout (8%) and low minimum wager amount ($0.05)  that pays out to anyone that selects all eight winners and pays consolations to those that select seven of eight winners.

If no one hits it 75% of the pool carries over to the next day and the other 25% is paid to those with the most winners.

It is similar to the Rainbow Pick 6 and Black Gold Pick 5 but the one big difference is there doesn’t need to be a single winning combination to trigger a payout.

It’s basically a Pick 6 for the small guy that also would appeal to the big guys as well if the bet wasn’t hit for a few days.

Is it a perfect solution?

No, but at least it doesn’t have the ridiculous stipulation that only a single winning combination triggers a payout.

Over To You

I don’t think my opinion is in the minority regarding the current jackpot wagers.

They favor big bankrolls but are advertised as a way for the average horseplayer to make a big score, which obviously is not the case.

So my questions are do you agree with my assessment?

Do you bet either of the two jackpot wagers mentioned above on or regularly basis or only when the pool is huge or a mandatory payout is in effect?

What do you think about my presentation and the poorly named Jackpot 8?

Let me know in the comments below and please share this with anyone that might find this post interesting using the sharing options below.

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of baldur mcqueen



  1. Richard Hoffman says:

    I don’t play the pick 6 except when there is a mandatory pay-out at the end of the meeting. The wager is too expensive and favors the gambler with a large bankroll. It just seems a very poor bet for an average type player. I do play the pick 4 wager occasionally. I think it’s a better and more reasonable bet. But the pick 6 is too extreme, especially those that require a two dollar bet per play. That only benefits the very wealthy wagerer.

    The “Jackpot 8”, or whatever, seems interesting, but I’d have to check it out for a while before determining whether it is an effective use of funds.

    • Richard,

      I agree that the Pick 6 is for the big bankrolls, which is why I rarely bet into that pool. Glad you are disciplined enough to avoid it as well considering that we are constantly bombarded with carryover notifications and the push by some media outlets to bet into the pool even if you don’t have the necessary bankroll to seriously compete.

  2. i play the pick 6 once in a while when i can hone in on a single pick in at least 4 of the races. I hit a pick 6 cold (one combo) in 1984 at hollywood park….the only time i ever hit it….4 m/l faves won, a 2nd choice and a 3rd choice… paid $595….i really like your idea of the low takeout and the 25% payout to the most winners if no one hits it….the jackpot eight should be renamed to the winning 8 i think… big deal either way…..looking forward to seeing your presentation…..the .05 cent minimum is okay…..but since our pick sixes in so cal are $2 minimum, i think even making it $1 min. would be great…..

    • Mike,

      Glad you like the idea and while I don’t play the Pick 6 very often I wouldn’t lower the minimum to $1 because it would hurt the pool size and reduce the number of carryovers since the big bankrolls will be able to cover twice as many combos for the same price.

  3. I disagree that jackpot wagers are bad for horse racing. I think the handle generated is evidence of that – people are interested and betting it. I personally think the rainbow 6 is gimmicky and I rarely bet it when their is no guarantee payout. Although I must admit that it is fun playing a pick 6 for $0.10 – it offers the possibility for me to cover many more horses than I normally would be able to afford. In the end, the fun factor sometimes outweighs the bad economics of the wager during non mandatory payout days (high takeout, and the unlikelihood of being the only winner).

    I think for the horizontal player it offers tremendous value (like this past Friday). The carryover of nearly $2 million was essentially free money in the pot and would inflate the potential payoff accordingly. If you understand that the probability of making a life-changing score is slim, and instead focus on the tremendous value, it is almost a requirement to play it for any serious horse player. I enjoy playing horizontal wagers (i.e., pick 3, pick 4, pick 6, etc..) because although the takeout may be high relative to other wagers, you are only penalized once as opposed to making a win wager on 4 consecutive races and being taxed accordingly.

    While I think the Twinspires $100,000 player pool was ludicrous in this situation, because the probability of making a huge score was slim based on the amount people playing it (maybe $10,000 would have been more reasonable, especially considering the $0.10 increments). I’m curious to know how they did. Does anybody know how many times they had the winning combinations? They needed to have it at least 24 times to break even.

    I know that the argument is that these types of wagers decrease churn at the track and maybe be detrimental in the long-term. I’m not so sure of that yet – I think these types of wagers cause excitement and may even bring in new fans that we so desperately need.

    I wagered $114 into the Rainbow Pick 6 last Friday and was lucky enough to be one of the winners. Although $4,234.01 wasn’t a life changing score for me, it sure did help out right before tax time. That same $114 would have been $2,280 if this were a conventional $2 pick 6 – way over my budget. So I think when this type of wager has a mandatory payout, it is great for the small-budgeted horse player that is looking for value. I can’t think of a better valued wager in all of horse racing. Can you? I think most of the people that wagered over $5 million last Friday thought the same thing.

    • Paul,

      Any wager that carries over for weeks on end is killing the churn rate. Having all that money tied up when it could be re-bet is definitely detrimental to the sport and to have the payout at the end be a measly $4K only makes the situation worse.

  4. Chris Hurney says:

    Great article. The problem with these mandatory payouts is you are not really getting any major bang for the buck if you hit. If a carryover is 1.5 million and 6 million is being bet into it I am expecting if I hit to be only paid a 25% premium. These jackpots are way better to bet into when there are in the couple hundred thousand range and there is only a couple hundred thousand bet into it. There you are getting your money in if you actually did hit in a better spot. Honestly the only way to hit one of these is to hit the quick pick button or purposely construe tickets where no more than 2 favorites hit and to for sure play against any big favorites that are probable singles. Your idea for a pick 8 is ok. But at that point if you have ten horses to a race you are looking at odds of 100 million to one if it was random. I guess on a dollar level it is five million to a dollar. The problem with these two jackpots was the fact that on most days the field sizes were so small. I believe they do it on purpose to get to the point of a mandatory payout day as the house take on a five million pool is monstrous. 8% takeout will never happen on these jackpot bets. The only way though horse racing can compete with others is to lower takeouts for sure.

    • Chris,

      The “Jackpot 8” would be harder to hit than a $2 Pick 6 but the odds of doing so are not outrageous considering the average field size is less than 9 at most tracks.

  5. When these jackpot wagers come to mandatory payout day, they are no longer jackpot wagers. They are standard wagers with big carryovers that people can play cheap. When you can play a Pick 6 with a $.10 base, a mandatory payout, a $1.9 million carryover and a huge amount of new money, there is absolutely no reason not to play. No one is expecting a life changing win on mandatory payout day, or at least they shouldn’t be. There are people going ridiculously deep to hit. Thinking about it, $4,200 for a dime on a chalky sequence that had everyone in the world going deep is a terrific value.
    Having said that, I do think that the Jackpot formula needs some changed. I think the Rainbow 6 should have a maximum carryover of, say, $2 million. Once it hits that point, mandatory payout. That way things won’t get ridiculous like they had been getting. Also, upping the maximum to $.50 like the Black Gold 5 would probably be a smart move. I think you’re Jackpot 8 is a start, but with a $.05 minimum, it would be tough for a carryover to start or ever get reasonably big. 8% takeout sounds terrific though.

    • Doug,

      The “Jackpot 8” would be harder to hit than a standard $2 Pick 6 even at a $0.05 minimum thus making the chance of a carryover more likely.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lenny, I always find it interesting when people try to critique any bet that pays out a significant pot (such as the 3.6MM Rainbow pick six back in February). Of course it’s a bad bet (That’s why it pays so much) and of course the picks seem illogical, because that’s exactly the approach you must take to win a pool of that nature. You’re essentially betting against the masses, so you have to consciously think opposite of the masses! I purposely front loaded my ticket that day because I thought the fields were wide open and was hoping that I would catch a few long shots early on . I also purposely singled a long shot in the last race because the masses would never have the balls to “single” a long shot in the last race. My goal that day was just to have one shot at winning the entire pot. When I got to the last leg and was the only person sitting on the 7 horse “Feline Forum”, my goal was acheived. I went in with that mindset and was fortunate enough to actually have the right horse singled in the last leg. And next year when the Rainbow gets up to a few million, I’ll look for that day where I see some very even fields, and I’ll take that exact same shot! Paul from NJ – the 3.6MM rainbow Pick 6 winner.

    • Paul,

      Congrats on your big win. Your points validate why all jackpot bets are bad bets. Essentially you must handicap the races then pick use the horses that would otherwise be non-contenders in order to win. For you this worked out but for tens of thousands of people they threw money away for weeks building the pot. Personally I like to be rewarded for handicapping a race and correctly selecting the winner not picking random long shots that merit no inclusion except to eliminate other people’s tickets.

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