There is a very, very good article up, "Lunch with Mike Maloney" at the Louisville Courier Journal, that explores the mind of a guy who plays the ponies for a living.
It is a very tough game - prices are high, this is not 4% rake poker - and boy do you have to work at it.
A lot of that is pressure and just the grind of being there. And it's very labor-intensive work. I work 80 or 85 hours a week when I'm playing seriously. If I don't work those hours, I'm not successful. It's that tenuous for me: If I don't do it at a certain level of effort, then I can't be successful.
And there ain't many out there doing that, that's for sure.
Mike is the rare person who makes a living by playing the horses. :Rare is a good word for it, " he told us over lunch at Ginza Japanese Steakhouse. "The number I hear floating around is a couple hundred of us in the country."
Mike shares more thoughts, many of which we have gone over before in the handicapping series, or on the blog. Primarily, discipline, bankroll, and the grind.
People are surprised when they sit with me, or we'll have family or friends or some of my wife's tennis buddies and their husbands, and people are always surprised: They expect you to pick a long shot or two on a nine-race card and to have a $40 winner. And they expect all those phenomenal feats, and I'm not capable of that on a regular basis. Now once in a while I will do something like that, but the thing that I am good at is understanding odds, percentages, how to structure bets, how to manage money, how to manage myself, how to manage my emotions. That's what derails most people.
All this work, high prices, tax issues. It is no wonder that there are only a handful of people doing this. We obviously need to lay the foundation to make sure there are more Mike's attracted to trying this professionally. I know several people on my circle who play poker like this. We need to make the environment similar, to encourage more betting. In our post "Becoming a Player" we go through many things that you would need, or would be helpful, and that about sums it up.
At the recently concluded Standardbred Wagering Conference, one of the sessions was about what can be done for the customer. The WEG exec who deals with many of these issues talked about rebating, offering out timely information, their VIP program, where people who bet more than $250,000 a year can get some perks. During my discussion with them, and others, I stressed the importance of pricing, because when someone is a 0.90 ROI player (a good everyday player), it gives him a shot to become a winner. When these people are grasping at the brass ring, and so close to profitability, they are a tremendous resource to the industry, because they are so close to putting through mind-boggling amounts through the pools.
One person who clearly gets the concept is handicapper and ADW owner of Premier Turf Club, Ian Meyers. In a recent discussion on chat board Paceadvantage.com, he posted this, about players who are grinding it through in a semi-pro way:
The pros are between 0.93-0.97 ROI (pre-rebate) on average. Some years they might be at or above 1.00 but it's pretty rare. I understand Peter Wagner hit 1.03 on $150mm wagered about 10 years ago and we have two players above 1.04 on more than $2mm in handle. That's just flat out astonishing.
So there we have that - players who are pros are not geniuses, they are not hitting 3-1 shots every second race and walking away with 1.97ROI's, or doubling their money. They are grinding at very small ROI's, with a very small edge. The players he mentions are professionally playing, and sending massive amounts through the pools are doing it for one reason only - because the rebate moves them into profitability. The price pressure is relieved and they can win. This is the primary reason as well, why pinnacle and other offshore pirates attracted so many players. Not because people wanted to send money a million miles away off pool, because they helped them win.
That is why, when often times we hear racing say "price does not matter much", they are clearly wrong. It not only matters, it is everything to encourage every day players. And since they are a tremendous resource to the industry because they contribute liquidity and large handles, we should encourage more to be like them every day. We might just wake up and find racing is suddenly popular again.