Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beat the Racetrack

There was an article tweeted this morning (h/t to @o_crunk) about cheating in casinos. The article mentioned a classic time for innovators - the "Thorp Age" - where the book "Beat the Dealer" was published. The 1962 book, based on optimal betting and card counting, professed that perfect play could result in a 1% edge playing blackjack. It flew off the shelves and changed the game of blackjack forever. Most people could not "Beat the Dealer" but it didn't stop them from trying. 
  •  Beat the Dealer became an improbable bestseller, as thousands of gambling naifs imagined themselves proud owners of a genuine get-rich-quick scheme. Most overestimated their skill and determination, but flooded the casinos nonetheless. Suddenly blackjack became big business.
Although casinos used countermeasures to combat Thorp's work, it can be argued that the book helped the casino business and Las Vegas more than it hurt it. Because people thought they could win, they visited. They brought friends, they played other games, and most of them probably lost anyway.

I think this lesson was not lost on the industry. You can visit a lot of casinos and play very low takeout slots, or video poker that pays out at or above par with perfect play. It's "Beat the Dealer" but under their own terms. They don't do that because they're a charity; they do it because it makes for good business.

In horse racing (pre-computer), the work of Ziemba is probably the closest thing we've seen to "Beat the Dealer". Dr Z's method of betting place and show in underlaid  pools made some fans players. However this never really caught on. Beating 20% takeouts by a  method like Dr. Z's was not only difficult, it would become impossible.

In the 2000's it is not as much about beating a racetrack by an angle or method, but via a medium. Rebate shops and betfair do not exist because of anything too fancy. They exist because people think they have a chance to win, just like the Beat the Dealer readers did in the 1960's. It's exactly the same principle.

If rebate shops and low takeout exchanges sell racing to a new demo, give people at least a chance to win and promote racing to gamblers like Beat the Dealer did, why is the industry constantly against  them? I think it's because they don't believe the concept of Beat the Dealer works. I think that's an almost Shakesperean flaw for our entire industry as a gambling destination.

If you give people a chance to beat your game, they will try and beat your game. It's not casino specific, or game specific; it's human nature. If people are trying to beat your game, they're interested in it, they're talking about it, they're visiting your venue, and they are paying customers. 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Betting on Thoroughbreds has changed so
much since the "Golden Age" of the 1890's
that it is almost impossible to generalize
about the game. One thing is clear and
that is that the "Takes" have risen to
a point of no return to the "average player". In the 1890's you could get
"Takes" of 5% from most "Books". Today
we have "Takes" from 15% - 27%.
A small percentage can still beat the
game but it is diminishing.