Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Playing the Pick 5 With Bettor X

 This was originally printed in Trot Magazine's Horseplayer Issue. 

The pick 5 is a racing staple with almost every track trying to take advantage of its popularity. But, as players, can we honestly say we play them correctly?

One player who does play them well is “Bettor X”; he’s someone who has been playing professionally for 30 plus years. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the Horseplayer’s Issue.

Q: All pick 5’s are not the same. What do you look for in a sequence that makes you want to play or pass? How important are these decisions to your yearly bottom line?

The things that entice me to look at a sequence are carryovers and/or low takeout. Once I look at a sequence, I need to see legs where others might make mistakes and I can have a reasonable chance to capitalize on those mistakes. If I can’t find those mistakes or I don’t think they are big enough to capitalize on then I have no problem passing. Forcing plays in multi-leg wagers is long term destruction.

Q: Amateur or newer players tend to gravitate to “spreading” (adding a lot of combinations) especially with 20 cent or 50 cent denominations. Can you explain why this might not be a good strategy?

While most people think lower denominations and spreading to cash tickets is good for new players, I think it’s the exact opposite. It grinds them down quicker with no real chance of winning. And it dilutes their chance of winning something that matters, or getting the thrill of being alive for a score which will keep them coming back or getting excited about getting better at betting. Most spreads are chalky or include chalk so that eliminates a lot of chances to gain equity in a sequence which is crucial in giving yourself a chance to win and showing long-term profit.

20 cent minimums lessen the value of longshots and increases the value of chalk, whereas dollar minimums do the exact opposite. So, when structuring your tickets, you need to take this dynamic into account. Singling chalk in spread races is great in 20 cent minimums. Just like spreading to beat chalk when everybody is keying chalk with $1 minimums is great.

Q: So, one simple way to create better tickets is to find horses to lean on in spread races. Are there any other hard-and-fast rules you can expand upon that will help players make more money in the long-run?

There are so many variables when playing tickets that hard and fast rules are difficult. The only rule that you should always abide by is: Don’t be afraid to lose. If amateur players just follow that one rule, it will keep them from making numerous bad decisions that most players make.

Q: Batch bettors and sharper players gravitate to larger pool tracks. I know you often look at some less popular signals. Do you play tickets differently based on pool size and competition?

Yes, you definitely have to play different, whether its strategies, amounts or other things, when you play big tracks or pools vs smaller tracks or pools. Bad morning lines are better to attack at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Trying to beat popular drivers and trainers is much more lucrative at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Playing larger denomination (narrow) combos on chalk is much better at big tracks. There are many differences, you just need examine payouts (and money alive each leg if available) to figure out what occurs at each specific venue.

Q: We all know carryovers are a takeout reduction and drive a lot of new money because of it. Are all carryover pick 5’s playable or are there instances where you will take a pass?

If you don’t like the sequence or don’t have an edge (or a clue) then don’t play.

Q: For harness racing, with its high favourite hit rate, do you believe one dollar minimums on pick 4’s and 5’s would help the sport grow its handle in the long-run?

Yes. One dollar minimums would grow handle with harness racing being so chalky. As I noted above, lower minimums can make sequences unplayable unless you play certain types of strategies. You need to include all groups of bettors in the pools to grow handle. Lower minimums grind the small guys down and keep a lot of bigger bettors out of the pools so it’s very tough to grow handle in the long-term.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Rebates For All!

So, I did a little reading on the railway rebate system. No, stop laughing, I really did. And it was a pretty interesting exercise. 

For those who don't know, railways across particularly the northeast U.S. around 1870 were in their nascent stages, and they were controlled by very few. This is not because of some underlying conspiracy, it was just due to the capital costs involved. And these near monopolists had a pretty monopolistic way to charge. 

They pretty much made the prices up. 

If you wanted to ship your cattle that weighed 8,000 pounds 50 miles, you paid say $200. And the $200 was kind of pulled from thin air. 

Sharp people like Rockefeller who was refining oil in Cleveland at the time knew the game and said to these railroaders, "I will guarantee you lots of shipping and keep your cars full, but your prices are just guidelines, give me back some money."

They were happy to comply. This practice of rebating freight was not against the law, nor was it unsound (volume discounts are available to this day on many things). And with prices artifically (not market) set it was a business practice. 

Congress and other lawmakers in the U.S. were loathe to regulate any new business, and this paid off handsomely for the relatively new country compared to its regulation-laden, old school European counterparts. Business was allowed to thrive or fail. But, as was custom as well, when things were wacky, and the greater good - economic growth, free passage for goods - was threatened, they acted. 

This scheme was threatening to the overall business health of the country. Smaller businesses were squeezed out, consolidation and price fixing occurred, new entreprenuers and businesspeople were disincentived. 

With the passing of the Interstate Commerce Act in the late 1880's the government simply said "Rebates for All". Prices fell and the rest was (business) history. 

Horse racing, "the railroads" set their prices pretty much the same way. Takeout rates are made up, as can be done with a monopoly on gambling. And like the railroads, they rebate action to bigger players, while the smaller ones suffer.

Unlike the railroads, however, there are no gatekeepers. The business just trudges along with higher and higher prices, and rebates for some. It keeps the rail cars filled and they seem to be happy about it. 

But the business has been dying a slow death, with inflation adjusted handle stagnating; even with technological advancements and off track wagering. The funnel is not being filled. 

Some people out there believe all rebating should be stopped and things will be better, but with respect, they have not thought this through. High takeout for everyone would be the result because it's too hard to lower national takeout. And that's bad. 

But rebates for all? Yes, that would help immensely and give this game a shot in the arm it hasn't seen in a 100 years; just like it helped one of the (now) most powerful countries in world history to grow business and demand for their products.  

It'd be nice if 140 years later this industry gave it a shot. But I guess we shouldn't hold our breaths. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Sinking the Sunk Cost

 Axios reported today that fledgling CNN+ is "doomed".  The parent company has suspended all marketing spend and began firing people, this, just a month or so after launch. Eliminating so much sunk cost is something a lot are loathe to do. Things have to be super-bad for these changes to be made. 

The thing is, CNN+ did this right (and still could succeed, as the piece alludes) because they built out a 4 year plan for success. Four years is about what normal new business allows for such investment. 

Flipping to racing, we seem to try things that we have sunk cost (hope) for a longer period of time, if it's minor, or an inside idea. We can hammer racing roulette messaging for instance, because it takes such little investment, even though it won't work.  

Meanwhile, on the important things? It's not like that. It's the opposite. 

Canterbury Park tried a lower takeout menu, and as Crunk showed on his blog, the results were - all other things equal, with his usual astute analysis - fairly good. Lower takeout is a CNN+ strategy: a 4 year one. It was scrapped almost immediately, of course. This despite being unlike CNN, it actually showed promise. 

3% cash back is used as a novelty, not a strategy by racetracks. If the business doesn't get more than the 3% they offered in like a week, it's doomed as a long term strategy, despite it showing logical and empirical might. 

CNN+ sunk a ton of money in something, got terrible results and they're pivoting. That's good and the way things should be done when investing in something new. Racing never seems to invest in something new, but on the off-chance they do, even if it shows promise, they scrap it almost immediately if the Brinks Truck doesn't roll right in. It really is, in my view, a pox on our house. 

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