Martin Panza, Hollywood Park's 34-year-old racing secretary, probably never had a better idea in his life. While eating dinner with two other track executives last December, Panza marveled at the excitement generated by that day's paltry $73,755 carryover on the pick six, a wager on the winners of six successive races. If railbirds got that worked up over such a shallow pool, he thought, what would they do if the water were deeper?
After six months of aggressive promotion, Hollywood Park guaranteed a $1 million pick-six payout on June 14. That day a track-record $3-3 million was wagered on the pick six, and the card's total handle was more than $18.5 million, the largest at Hollywood Park for an event other than a Breeders' Cup or a day that included a simulcast of a Triple Crown race. When Hollywood guaranteed a $1.5 million pool on July 18, the handle rose to $3.8 million for the pick six and nearly $19 million for the day. "It was like sharks feeding," says Hollywood marketing director Keith Chamblin. "All we had to do was throw more chum in the water."
At a time when race tracks all over the country are trying to bolster slipping attendance, Hollywood's experiment is a reminder that the prospect of a mammoth payoff is a powerful lure even for regular gamblers. Call it the Powerball phenomenon: Unlike giveaways of T-shirts or Beanie Babies, this promotion draws the hard-core fans who are more likely to return to the track. "The pick six is a cerebral bet," says William Nadler, director of promotions for the New York Racing Association. "People will spend hours and hours trying to put together a winning ticket."
No one suggests, however, that mental stimulation is the main draw. Says Washington Post racing columnist Andrew Beyer, "I don't think there are many things that can excite the imagination quite like a million dollars."