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Showing posts from June, 2017

The Old Days Were About the Gamble, Too

I was chatting with racing historian and jack of all trades Bob Marks via email recently. I shared a story about the 1980's and the state of racing in Ontario.

The family stable, along with some friends, bought a horse in a New York sale, sometime around 1983. He turned out to be a pretty decent colt, winning a few New York Sires stakes and a 3 year old open or two. At four and five he really blossomed and raced in the FFA class at old Greenwood.

During that time there was no simulcasting, and several Ontario tracks like London, Rideau and others would have free for all invites, for say $30,000 or $50,000 purses (well above the local $14k FFA). These would mostly attract Toronto Saturday night horses. One such event was the Connaught Cup at old Connaught Park near Aylmer, Quebec. Our horse was invited and off we went.

The event was pretty huge, with people everywhere. They showed up to watch horses of a quality they could not see regularly. Keep in mind, these were not the top FFA&…

Fixing Odds is a Fix, But it's an Impossible One in US Racing

I watched a youtube interview with long time horseplayer Dave Gutfreund today. Dave decided to hang it up with horse race betting and concentrate on poker. He believes (among other things) late odds drops through money jamming the pools at one minute to post (via computer batch wagering and off-track money) are too much for him to handle.

He's right and this is a huge issue for gamblers, because it's very difficult to decipher what odds a horse will go off at when we make a wager. If we believe a horse is worth a 30% chance and we see 3-1 we wager, but the horse could end up at 7-5 so it's a bet we never would've made.

In Australia this was an issue, as well, but there was a fix. A fixed odds fix. In the early 2000's, fixed odds wagering represented about $40M in handle. By 2016, this number had vaulted to over $3.5B.

The market spoke and the industry listened. They offered what the customer wanted, in a tech world which demands it.

This avenue allows the industry …

There's No Joy in Toutville

I read an interesting thread on the twitter about public handicapping.

Scott and others make an interesting point when it comes to handicapping the horses for everyone to see - does one pick winners, or try and make money? As most who play this game know, there isn't that big a correlation between the two. 

In my very limited time posting picks (in a trade magazine) I found this a real struggle. When suggesting a pick 4 play, for example, I would key a 15-1 morning line shot who I thought would go off at 5-1, have about a 20% chance to win, while being no lower than around 9-1 in the pick 4's. I'd pitch a chalk I thought was 8-5, who'd be 4-5. I'd do all kinds of things I do as a matter of course when I wager to try and squeeze value out of the pool.

Needless to say, with a short time frame, the hit rate was poor. I'm reasonably sure I got called some pretty bad names (by new people who don't already call me pretty bad names).

I think those who do post pic…

Racing's Competition Excuse

I read with interest yesterday's Bloomberg piece on Hong Kong racing. Some of it was certainly perfectly good fact, but I found it a little doom and gloom; talking about 1% growth rates, n' all.

The fact is Hong Kong racing has seen a major resurgence since 2006 when handles were US$7.7B. Last year's US$13.6B was more than a 70% increase since the so called "great recession". If the same thing happened in North America, handle would be about $24B instead of its current $11B, and I don't think anyone would be saying we're doing poorly.

It doesn't mean there are no storm clouds on the horizon in Hong Kong, and the article rightly talks about them. But the bottom line is, despite massive competition, leaks in the betting pools on the interwebs and all the rest we see in Hong Kong, the product, and business, is very strong.

Soccer betting, for example, has been up leaps and bounds. But handle keeps chugging.

Meanwhile on the competition front, something s…

More Narrative Busting

In horse racing we read over and over again (mainly from insiders) that the big problem with ADW wagering is that purses don't get enough of a share; that it's an upside down business model. In some quarters companies who take bets are considered 'pirates'.  You've heard it all before. It's a narrative that has lived on for many years, and is probably believed more now than ever.

Yesterday on the twitter machine we saw this tweet:
Most don't know that ADWs make next to nothing in Cali. If u live there and bet a PENN super bulk of 32% takeout goes to TOC NOT the ADW. — Ian Meyers (@ihmeyers) June 21, 2017 He's absolutely correct. California racing's pricing is steep. A bigger share of wagering than anywhere else in the nation from ADW goes directly to California purses. It's why you see such small rebates from the state (and, rebating is almost totally prohibited in-state). It's why in-state players play (and get ground down) by massive…

The Gambling Little Things

After being immersed in the gambling world for too long to mention, the differences between what goes on with the private companies who try and earn your business versus North American racing never ceases to amaze me.

I like to scan for carryovers now and again. If work is a little slow during the week or I am sitting around in the evening and have a bit of time to handicap, I figure why not look for an edge and invest a few dollars.

Today, DeRosa posted there's a pick 5 carryover at Fort Erie, so I decide to have a look. Carryovers are value, attract money, and are some of the best things this sport offers gamblers. In fact, it's one of the very few edges this sport has in the gambling world. 

I log into the Canadian ADW to research and I see this:

That tells me just about nothing.

I don't know what race the carryover starts on, if it's a jackpot or not. It's relatively meaningless to me.

Since DeRosa is not an idiot, I kind of figure he's not betting into a …

The Unbearable Lightness of Being There

This past weekend the North America Cup charged $10 for entry, for the first time in a long, long time.  As most know, with slots tracks, the doors were thrown open for anyone to enter, big day or small, and this is simply the way the (harness sport) works. The full story, with some thoughts, was penned here.

Most people like the idea of not charging admission to the races, because of one simple premise: If you don't let people in free you are limiting the audience, and racing needs an audience. Further, this audience - if only one person out of 1,000 loves the races and comes back - is positive for growth.

I never really get this line of thinking.

Google is google, not because of flying cars, or Motorola buys and sales, Google Glass, Google Home, or Android operating systems. Google is google because when people visit their search engine they are prequalified to do something, and google gets them where they want to be for a fee. Out of $100B in revenue for Google, about 90% comes…

Fooled By Randomness

We as horseplayers, industry watchers, and well, humans, immediately want to look for reasons for something when it happens. As someone much smarter than I wrote, we look for causality in just about everything. The problem with that is, much of the time there is none.

Today it was reported that Belmont viewership was down over 15%.

That was because, of course, there wasn't a Derby runner in the field, that the field wasn't deep enough, the card wasn't as good, and maybe people didn't really like Andy Grammer. 

Maybe one of those are correct, or (more likely) none of them are.

The fact is, this is a one-off horse race, with little long term data to compare it to that makes any sense. The result could be completely and utterly random.

This is a characteristic of small data, and we fall for it often. If a trainer is 8 for 11 over three years with a move, we should bet him each and every time thereafter. What often happens, is the trainer then goes 0 for 14 and we lose ou…

UK Rake Hikes - Tote Betting Has Its Place, But It Can't Be King

It was announced this week that (again) the UK tote has raised takeout on UK punters:

"From June 29 the win pool deduction is set to increase to 19.25 per cent from 16.5 per cent, while the place pool deduction is to increase by two percentage points to 20 per cent."

Although that might be a shockingly high increase to many of you, the UK tote - set up in the 1920's by Churchill to combat corruption in the betting pools - only represents 3% of the betting market (as of 2015). 

The reasons for the hike are probably pretty obvious. In the unregulated, mature UK gambling market, products like fixed odds wagering and exchange wagering generate the most net worth to the punter. Customers flock to those high volume low takeout (overround) products -  $3 of every $4 are spent with fixed odds bookies and exchanges. Betfred (who runs the tote), appears to have decided in the sunset of their deal with racing, that the only strategy they have left is squeezing the lemon.

While the t…

Why Horseplayer Advocates (& Horseplayers) Give Up the Fight

As most know by now, the $891,000 pick 6 jackpot was hit last week at Santa Anita, but as the DRF reports, it was not without controversy

The controversy arose a half-hour before the race when Horse Identifier Jennifer Paige discovered Fly to Mars was a gelding, even though he was listed as a colt in the track program and past performances.

Paige immediately phoned the stewards, who said they were alerted as the horses were loading the gate for race 10. Stewards quickly investigated and learned the Peter Miller-trained Fly to Mars had in fact been gelded since his most recent start in June 2016.

He was a “first-time gelding,” a piece of information that most bettors consider to be a potentially significant handicapping factor.

The problem Saturday is that no one knew Fly to Mars was a “first-time G” until after race 10 had been run.

At the present time there are insiders, horseplayers and others calling for changes to the "first time gelding" reporting rules, because t…

Racing & Change? Not Kodak Daunting, But Daunting

We've spoken about the harvesting business strategy here before. This involves straddling a middle line of the status quo and only making small tweaks, rather than big change. Although many of us - fans, bettors and even those working in the business - find this frustrating, at times there is a reason for reluctance to change.

One such case from the business world involves Kodak.

In 1975, some may not know, Kodak invented the initial plans that would end up being the digital camera. The inventors were allowed to keep working on it, to make it marketable, and in 1989 a near-prototype was created. It looked and acted the same as the digital cameras of today.

When it was brought to the leaders and the marketing department of Kodak, the project was immediately shelved. It was deemed too big a change, because Kodak owned the many steps of photography production - the camera, the film, and the development of pictures at mall kiosks everywhere. Change might mean billions in new sales in…

Optimal Purses Are Finally Being Openly Discussed

I read with interest the Tim Ritvo interview yesterday in the LA Times. One section was of particular eyebrow raising interest:

[You could put the money into purses], but purses … and horsemen will go crazy when they hear this, are not indicative of success. [New York Racing Assn.] has all the purse money in the world and their field size has not improved; $100,000 maiden special weights struggle every day. I do not believe that people who are going to sales and buying million-dollar horses care if maiden special weights are $60,000 or $100,000 when they spend a million dollars for a horse. What they are looking for is the development of a horse to win graded races.

The everyday guy, of course, that extra $40,000 helps, keeps him in the business a little bit longer and helps pay the bills. I don’t think solutions are taking money and throwing them into purses. I think we’ve seen that in slot-filled jurisdictions. They’ve taken a lot of slot money and thrown it in purses, but…

Tim Ritvo Has His Work Cut Out for Him - California Horses Don't Seem to Race Much

In a sport apparently in need of millennials, California has been attracting them this week. Unfortunately, twenty-something-twitter-memes involving gifs of burning dumpsters is not exactly  positive.

Although I don't believe that a cancelled Thursday card signifies the death of the sport on the left coast, I do certainly think California racing isn't hunky dory.

Racing, in a state that would be the eighth largest country (in terms of GDP) in the world, struggles, and it has continually confounded us.

Sure, we can point to the fact that studies completed as far back as 1989 have told them to lower the juice and be more customer-friendly (while they have arguably done the opposite).

We can point to a 12 Monkey's, X-Files CHRB meeting moment where everyone applauded a takeout increase (seriously, could you see any board of directors applauding a price hike..... "Reuters reported the Ford BOD applauded that their cars just got more expensive"). There are seemingly o…