Between The Hedges: A Closer Look At NYRA’s Empire 6 Wager

The following is the second edition of a bi-weekly series entitled Between The Hedges. The series will revolve around the business of betting focusing on trending wagering topics and statistics. Each installment will include a column penned by Joe Longo, NYRA General Manager of Content Services, examining certain areas of interest within the landscape of the thoroughbred racing industry. Upcoming topics will include a look at minus pools, post times, purse distribution and coupled entries. Send your questions for Between The Hedges to

The multitude of jackpot style wagers offered by racetracks across North America is a frequent talking point for horseplayers. NYRA’s Empire 6 is no exception.

Informed horse players are sensitive to takeout. With that in mind, NYRA established a daily mandatory payout of the Empire 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack in January as part of a pilot program to further understand the benefits of the wager for both the track and player. The daily mandatory payout was recently extended through February with the pilot project expanded by offering the Empire 6 as a retail-only wager.

The Empire 6 was launched on August 7, 2019, replacing the traditional $2 Pick 6. With a $0.20 minimum and 20 percent takeout, the Empire 6 included a jackpot provision in which the full pool would be paid out only to a single ticket selecting the first-place finisher in all six races, otherwise 75 percent of the day’s net pool would be distributed to those who selected the first-place finisher in the greatest number of races with the remainder added into a jackpot and carried to the next day’s Empire 6.

At the time of the Empire 6 launch, the jackpot-style wager was successful at racetracks around the country and fractional base wagers were increasing in popularity. By lowering the minimum base, it would open the wager to a demographic that may have been priced out by the prohibitive cost of coverage in a $2 Pick 6. Fast forward to December 31, 2020 and the average daily handle on the Empire 6 was up almost 100% over the traditional $2 Pick 6.

The largest Empire 6 mandatory payout pool was on August 9, 2020 with $6,140,421 in new money, as a result of an 18-day carryover period that started with the first day of the Saratoga meet that grew the jackpot to $1,393,463 into the mandatory day. Several other mandatory force out days at Saratoga topped the $5 million mark.

The jackpot feature is a double-edged sword in that tracks receive a significant amount of new money wagered into the Empire 6 pool on the mandatory payout day, but it also keeps money out of circulation that could be wagered into other pools on the days leading up to the force out. NYRA has experimented with different mandatory force-out schedules ranging from over a month to every other week.

In addition, we also looked at forcing out the pool on marquee days versus regular days. On marquee days there are more eyes on the product and more people playing so the multiplier should be significant, but it does raise the concern of what effect the jackpot wager has on NYRA’s other pools.

Tying up several million dollars for six races that likely include major stakes will certainly impact the pools, but will players be more likely to bet those races in different pools having handicapped them already? Or, should NYRA shift the mandatory payout to a nondescript Sunday in hope of doubling that day’s handle? These are the types of questions we ask ourselves when formulating a schedule.

The Empire 6 experiment for the month of January proved to be successful.

Total handle on the Empire 6 was $1,942,010 for 18 race dates in January compared to $1,361,819 over 17 race dates in January 2020, an increase of $580,192 or 43 percent. Some of this increase was driven by the additional race day, but the daily average handle was up 35 percent.

Thus far, the pilot program has demonstrated that bettors at the Aqueduct winter meet will support a daily mandatory payout of the Empire 6.

For more information on the Empire 6, visit

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