Commentary

Rainbow Six: Too much fun to resist

Updated: February 13, 2013, 4:34 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

For the savvy, price-conscious horseplayer, there is no worse bet in the sport than Gulfstream Park's Rainbow Six. With the exception of the rare case when a single player holds the only winning ticket, the takeout is more than 50 percent, a destructively ruinous rate that can destroy your bankroll. Yet, since the carryover pool, which was over $2.1 million entering Wednesday's card, started to build, horseplayers have attacked the bet with vigor, their dreams overriding reality.

And I can't say I blame them.

Play three horses per race in the traditional $2 Pick Six and it will cost you $1,458. Play three horses per race in the Rainbow Six and it will cost you $72.90.

Horse racing has long tried to duplicate the type of low risk, high reward gamble that lotteries offer. For the most part, it hasn't happened. Pick Six pools can build up to juicy numbers, but most players know that they have little chance of hitting them because it can be so expensive to build the type of ticket that has a reasonable chance to hit. For the most part, the big Pick Six carryovers have become the private domain of players willing to ante up $5,000 or more to go after the pool.

That's not the case with the Rainbow Six because the bets are sold in denominations of 10-cents. Play three horses per race in the traditional $2 Pick Six and it will cost you $1,458. Play three horses per race in the Rainbow Six and it will cost you $72.90.

The 10-cent denomination is the key because it changes the bettor's mentality. Whether it's a matter of wishful thinking or not, the dime bet makes people think they have a legitimate chance of winning big because they can afford to play a ticket that has a plausible chance of coming in. In Sweden, a 10-cent bet on the V-75, essentially a Pick Seven, is wildly successful, handling about $13 million every Saturday.

The drawback to the Rainbow Six is that the payoff is not going to be much … that is unless you somehow are holding the only winning ticket. The entire pool is paid out only if there is only one winning ticket. Otherwise, after the takeout, 60 percent of the pool is paid out to the winners and the other 40 percent goes into the jackpot.

It may be that big bettors and players who can't stomach the high takeout are staying away, but there are many others who can't resist. On Sunday, there was $532,197 in the Rainbow Six pool, meaning over 5.3 million individual combinations were sold and $170,303 was added to the jackpot after no one held a lone winning ticket.

There are two ways to approach the Rainbow Six as a player. One is to try to take down the entire pool. If that is your strategy you have to throw in some crazy long shots. A series of 3-1s, 5-2s, even some 10-1s, is not going to give you the lone winning ticket. You need a winning 35-1 shot in there, maybe even two.

Or you might want to aim lower and try to simply hit the bet, knowing you're going to share it with others. If nothing else, it's fun and thrilling to be alive in any kind of multiple-race wager going into the last couple of legs. Better yet, despite the takeout disadvantages, the Rainbow Six sometimes actually creates some value. Last Friday, the parlay value of the six winners was $706, yet the Rainbow Six paid $3,521.

For Gulfstream management, the hope is that no one hits the wager for a long time and the jackpot builds.

As the carryover builds so too does the excitement. There have been a handful of occasions over the last several days where there were horses in the last race on the card that, had they won, the entire pool would have been taken down. Most were somewhat hopeless long shots but the mere chance that someone was going to go home a millionaire was enough to pump tons of energy into what otherwise would have been just another race.

For Gulfstream management, the hope is that no one hits the wager for a long time and the jackpot builds. The bigger the jackpot the bigger the excitement and the bigger the handle. The bigger the Rainbow Six play on any given day the harder it is for anyone to take down the pool. With so many combinations now being covered, it's getting to the point where it has become nearly impossible for there to be a single winner.

Could we see a $5 million jackpot? $10 million? It's not impossible. Might you be the one holding the winning ticket for $2 million, $3 million some day? You never know, and that's why staying away from the Rainbow Six is getting harder to do every day.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com