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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Gambler Lost

A friend of mine, Bobby Z, has decided to give up on all horse racing and has migrated to greyhound racing. You may remember Bobby from The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping contest this past year,  I asked Bobby what made him change over and he offered the following:

Some reasons I prefer dogs over horse racing (both harness and thoroughbred).

1. It is easier to handicap the tendencies of a animal only in a race instead of handicapping the animal, trainer (intent), driver/jockey, racing secretary decision to add AE to a conditioned race and some times the owner.

2.  I am sick of inconsistent calls by judges.

3. Just for the pure excitement in that a race of 30 or 40 seconds has more action than five harness races or flat races.

4. Greyhounds are genetically engineered like the horses BUT when you get one nice puppy, you can bet he/she will have about 5 other or more siblings waiting in the wings at that or another track that race very similar. In horse breeding on very rare occasions will there be twins born and only once in my knowledge did they both make it to the races.

5. The dog tracks actually take less retention rate on their wagering pools (with one track on win money at less than 10 percent at Mardi Gras). In the end, they take less, we win more when we win. Nowhere in North America except at the Meadows will you see a 35% retention rate on any pool (Trifecta in this case). Other Pa tracks are around 30% with the lowest being at Pocono for about 25%.

6. Another good reason for me to not come back is I spend about $40 a month on programs for American tracks (at least Canadian tracks are free).  I get free pp's for greyhound racing. Most of my tracks I bet are bonus tracks (3 percent rebate). 

7. At Wheeling Downs, I get $10 a week in free wagers (any breed) and $5 off food each week. If I go on a Wed, I get another $5 off the buffet.  Room rates are $49 instead of $119 with the coupons given for each week.  At the Meadows, you are lucky if you get a free cup of coffee.

8. Bottom line is that I have a lower win percentage in the greyhound racing than horse racing but my ROI is 10 percent higher. I can hit less times (be wrong in my handicapping) and still make more money than horse racing. (767 races in the Pen V Chip had 31.81% winners and a ROI of 0.862. Since Oct 30th to February 4th, had 1,723 races with a hit rate of only 26.64% but a ROI currently standing at 0.9721).   

The biggest drawback is admittedly small pools, so a big time bettor (anyone who bets more than $20 exotic wagers per combination or $50 to win) will invoke the law of diminishing returns. It’s perfect wagering for a small time bettor.

I talked to Bobby afterwards and while some of the issues Bobby raises are unique to him,  the bottom line for him is two-fold.  One is he feels more appreciated by the dog track than he does at his home horse track and he gets a better shake playing the dogs in terms of not having to pay for programs, is offered discounts, and deals with a lower rake..  As for his ability to handicap the greyhounds versus the horses; I don't think it is fair to comment on because you are dealing with apples and oranges.

 So you may be wondering why I am talking about one former horse player?  Because if you look at his individual complaints at the 10,000 foot level what has caused racing to lose him is a common theme with many lapsed horse players.  There are cheaper entertainment options out there where a gambler can try to make money.  Be it rebates (which you can get with some racetracks through ADWs); free programs, which while I understand the reason harness racing charges for them but others don't care about the reasons, they consider only their wallet; and ultimately the lower takeout which awaits him, low enough that he drives right past the local harness track to on his way to West Virginia.  If not for the fact he enjoys racing, he would probably be spending his gambling dollars in a casino.

I am speculating his participation in the Pen vs. Chip contest inadvertently speed his departure from harness racing, not because he did bad (he finished second), but for the first time he was looking at statistics of his performance over a long period and it opened his eyes, making him make change from the horses to the dogs. Mind you, while we are not talking about a professional horse player, we are talking about a gambler who played daily. I suspect there are a lot of non-professional horse players who if they did the math would be fleeing racing. Imagine the professional horse players lost when they did the math?

Now this is not an endorsement for anyone to go over and play greyhound races. In some states, not only is it illegal to race greyhounds, it is illegal to wager on them via simulcasting. Others have moral objections to the treatment of greyhounds. I assume greyhound racing will be the first pari-mutuel racing sport gone when the slot subsidies are eliminated (there has been an abundance of greyhound tracks closing) which may happen quicker due to the objections of many regarding greyhound racing in general.

What I do know is if horse racing doesn't reduce takeout rates, the exodus will continue for two or three points in the rake can make a difference between a winner and a loser.  People like me are a minority, if you keep losing sooner or later you are going to wise up and move on to the next game..


1 comment:

Earl Paulson said...


If they want to keep the sport of Harness Racing alive they will have to be more fan friendly. However, now that they have casinos, I'm afraid that many tracks don't really want to promote horse racing anymore. They look at that giant oval track and think what a nice parking lot it would make for the casino bettors.

Even Jeff Gural, the savior of the Meadowlands, is only trying to keep that place alive in the hopes of having a casino there sometime down the road.

When our "boys" went off to war years ago, the song they sang at home was "How are you gonna keep them down on the farm, after they've seen Par-eee?" Now, that the racetrack owners can make a ton of money without the horses, it's how are you gonna keep them interested in the farms after they've seen slot mon-ee?

I don't think there is any way to stop the downward spiral for Harness Racing, but I'm hoping it will at least last as long as I do.

Earl Paulson