On doping indictments, bettors were the smartest people in the room

by Garnet Barnsdale

“There are always tells. There are always details. Take it from a lifelong gambler. Tells, once you spot them, there is no bigger edge. Before we try and answer the question posed, let us acknowledge something I think is quite relevant. Sure I may be biased, but I am also right. In relation to the horse juicing indictments, the gamblers, and nobody else, were the smartest people in the room. It was the tells. We all saw them. We all knew in our hearts they don’t lie. Details don’t lie either.”

The excerpt above was borrowed from an excellent column (full story here) written by my friend, professional gambler Johnathan Stettin for his website Past The Wire and it couldn’t ring truer.

Prior to the doping indictments (full story here),we all knew. What we didn’t know and are all horrified by is how smugly they allegedly spoke about the abuse and multiple dead horses, but I’m sure if you have been reading this or other industry publications, you are well aware of the sordid and terribly sad details.

From a bettor’s perspective, it’s disappointing but not at all unpredictable that many — not all — in the industry either don’t even acknowledge we exist or look at us as degenerates. For the tracks that don’t — and there are some still out there — what can they do now to retain their core customers while hoping to attract newbies?

The obvious immediate answer is by showing a commitment to continuing to clean up the business and rid the sport of cheaters and animal abusers, but what about the day-to-day operation and your core business of gambling on the races?

Setting aside the oft-repeated gamblers’ plea to reduce takeout, how about at least increasing the promotion of bets where more people can win and show long-term profits, instead of Jackpot bets which are good only for lone winners who scoop jackpots and a scourge for anyone who happens to win when there are multiple cashable tickets? Do some quick math and you’ll see how oppressive the takeout is when most of the pool is carried over to another race unless there is a jackpot winner. Do we really need the odd big winner while everyone else is eroding their bankrolls past the point of no return playing these bets? Is any track ever transparent about how much of the pool is paid back when there are multiple winners? Is that the way to build your business?

To wit: let’s take a look at Friday night’s late Pick 5 at Mohawk Park as an illustration of how great a multi-race bet with a reasonable 15 per cent takeout can be and regularly is. The sequence started out with 7-2 second choice Smile Sally winning for the second week in a row and beating many of the same horses. She was close to a must-use. Leg 2 featured pacing mare Reclamation taking a huge class drop from the mares preferred to a non-winners of $11,000 last five conditioned race and she dominated at 3-5 as expected. You’d think she would be singled everywhere. Leg 3 is what made this sequence pay handsomely as 19-1 shot Mister Magic was deftly stickhandled in the lane to a win by Johnathan Drury. Mister Magic was a longshot mainly due to post 9, but he was sharp and not impossible to use in a wide-open race with sketchy favorites. Leg 4 was predictably won by 4-5 favorite Sly Eleanor N and the final leg was taken by 7-2 second choice Pretty Hot who is always tough at the non-winners of $3,000 last 5 class, and she showed it grinding out a first-over win.

So we had two winning odds-on favorites, two second choices and one longshot winning. What’s it pay? $4,488 for a $1 bet, more than 1.5 times what a $1 parlay would pay. With 15 per cent rake taken out form the $69,681 pool, that meant that there was $13.20 in winning tickets. All you really needed to hit the ticket was to like Mister Magic enough to include him because the other four winners were hard to miss. The payout was tremendous value when you consider that if the takeout was 25 per cent, the payout would have been $3,959, more than $500 less. This is so worth promoting as a great bet, because, well, it is! It seems kind of Wizard of Oddsish to instead trumpet these jackpot bets from behind a curtain when the only true value might be to lone winners, and I’m not picking on WEG here. All tracks that feature Jackpot bets do it. Mohawk Park’s Pick 5 bets are the best value in the industry in my opinion.

If you think takeout doesn’t matter, you only need to look at how fast Mohawk Park had to remove their guarantee for Pick 4 pools once they introduced a 15 per cent takeout Pick 5. You don’t need to be a math genius to understand that 15 is less than 25, and bettors have flocked to the late Pick 5 and it has shown nice growth in less than three months. Kudos to WEG for offering another bet that gives punters a good chance of showing a profit over the long haul. Friday night’s late Pick 5 outhandled both Pick 4s: $69K vs. $55K and $57K. The wildly popular early Pick 5 handled $142K.

You want another idea that we keep seeing brought up and rarely happens except on smaller scales — free data! The USTA steps up with free past performances for “Strategic Wagering” and this weekend when they arranged free PPs for all tracks through an agreement with TrackMaster.

But that’s not enough and perhaps a bigger topic for a future column. Most Canadian harness tracks offer free programs and video feed right on their website. In 2020, this should be standard for every racetrack in operation. Tracks that are serious about retaining or growing their business need to show it to their core customer base. These are just a couple of ideas.

Please stay safe everyone.