Thursday, April 18, 2013

If Pittsburgh Phil Were Alive Today.....

The Colins Ghost blog is one of the more fascinating and interesting blogs in blogland. At times he not only writes snippets about the history of racing, the horses and the people who raced them, he writes about betting.

Today he detailed an excerpt from a book written about the legendary horseplayer Pittsburgh Phil (be sure to visit for a great picture of him). The quotes, taken at a time when governments, tracks and racings participants were beginning to bleed the customer dry with increased takeout, are telling.
  •  If Pittsburgh Phil were alive today he’d sooner match coins on the street corner than buck the deadly percentage of the pari-mutuel machines.
Average takeouts were about 10% at that time, versus 22% today.

Back in 1900, Phil was pretty legendary. He watched works, timed races, kept his ear to the ground and he gambled. If he wanted to bet a horse with a 25% chance to win, he'd look for 7-2 and often he'd find it from a willing bookmaker. He'd bet his $100, or what have you, and get his price. He'd watch the race knowing he had an edge, because, well, he had an edge.

It's simple-to-understand gambling, and it is why he did what he did.

Today if he doped out a horse like a Mike Maloney or thousands of good horseplayers do a day, he'd certainly have a different time of it.

If he wanted to bet a horse with that 25% chance he would check the tote at 3 minutes to post and see 4-1. He could make his bet and at the half mile pole see his horse at 8-5. He'd watch the race thinking he had an edge, only to see it evaporated by this "new technology tote system", which is in fact technology about thirty years old.

Perhaps, like most serious players today, he would seek a rebate and not look for edges per se, but look for churn and volume, hoping to end up with more money than he started with. He'd have to learn a new way of doing things.

More likely, I think he'd probably move and set up shop somewhere else. He might do what Dave Nevison does in the UK. Sniff out a horse, find a bookie to take his bet, just like Phil might've done a century ago, and then look to lay some of it at Betfair, juicing his final odds to a point where he has an edge bet. 

Maybe he'd head to Hong Kong and try to take advantage of dumb money in the pools, with big money pokes at a Triple Trio, like the very successful Alan Woods did for years.

Times change, but one thing that never changes is a horseplayer's search for making a value bet. Value betting, an often misused term, simply means betting a horse whose chances at victory are higher than the odds offered. Today value is hard to find - 22% blended takeouts, and a tote system worthy of an episode of the Flintstones assures that. This, as the Colin's Ghost article says  "make[s] an impossible situation and prove[s] a short cut to the nearest poorhouse.”

In 2013 we are promoting a gambling game that most gamblers see as a short cut to the nearest poorhouse. Food trucks, bands, youtube videos and mobile betting can never, ever reach the pure bettor. Turning racing into a better gambling game - the way it was in Phil's time - isn't turning back the clock, it's doing something that's fundamental for any gambling game to thrive.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Interesting to read! I do wonder at times how much the internet makes things 'easier' as a whole, so more people try something, decreasing the possible success of it because there are suddenly much larger numbers involved.