Difficult to understand and dangerous

AI could lure away gamblers with virtual horse racing.

by Trey Nosrac

Hot wars in the Middle East, artificial intelligence trolls taking over our brains, tribalism, political gridlock, immigration, global warming, and my front right tire keeps losing air. If the world does not have enough problems, consider one you may not have heard about.

Imagine the scene below.

Today, the horse racetrack is visually stunning. The horses are magnificent, the day is scenic, the weather perfect, the sounds exciting, and your horse, number 6, Withering Heights, is circling the pack and closing in on Planetary Dreams, the leader. The crowd roars, and the hooves pound as Withering Heights, on whom you wagered 10 dollars and went off at odds of 6-1, passes the second-place horse, Cool Breeze. The camera zooms for a closeup as Withering Heights and Planetary Dreams widen their eyes and strain for the finish line for a photo finish. Heart pounding, you lean forward for the finish.

This scene is 100 per cent BS.

The race is a manufactured experience in the fledgling universe of virtual sports betting. The horses, racetrack and presentation are fake. The money wagered on these digital races is real. Who would wager real money on a phony horserace and waste their money on what is a randomly generated video game, a game where the “horses” are controlled by a CPU for the paying customers and spectators? The answer is some today, more tomorrow.

You and I may huff, “I would NEVER bet real money on fake horses. Only a fool would bet fake sports.”

Maybe, maybe not, but never is a long time. Virtual sports betting creators are much more concerned with creating new customers than converting dinosaurs. The worrying part is that improving a virtual horse racing experience is as simple as enhancing graphics and algorithms.

And equally frightening is that content generators can stage a hell of a horse race program with minimal effort. And deeply scary is that virtual sports entrepreneurs can offer the player much more favorable odds. In a virtual horse racing world, races go off as scheduled, none of the horses break stride or are completely uncompetitive, and the weather is always perfect.

Of course, a virtual horse race runs full-faced into gamblers who enjoy experiencing a skillful and decision-made wager. Opponents of virtual racing will howl that this type of wager is simply a twist on slot machines, and they will be correct; and are probably minimizing the problem.

The new generation of simulated horse races will not be cartoonish, crude plastic ponies. AI will maximize virtual sports presentation and addictive behavior. Virtual sports could turn into slot machines on steroids. The near-miss phenomenon will make each race close, and that “almost won” is psychologically and physiologically reinforcing.

A quote from a traditional horse gambler about his experiment with virtual horse racing: “They’re also more real than the slots I’ve indulged in before. Play a game for long enough, and you forget that the horses you’re roaring on are predetermined or that the potential goal scorer will never, ever score, tangled in a net of algorithms. Objectively, you know that it’s all pre-programmed, but in the action phase that goes out the window, you become involved in what you see on the screen.”

The idea that gamblers will spend money on a sport that doesn’t exist feels dystopian. But there is a market for virtual sports gambling. The market is growing. Losing traditional horse racing customers and potential new customers is a given. How many? The answer is difficult to pinpoint, the numbers are complex, and the participants who create the games are reluctant to share their business and are not held in high esteem by “real” gamblers.

Let’s look for a bit of light in a very dark tunnel. If virtual horse racing appeals to the slot machine crowd, and since live racetracks rely on existing casinos – why not introduce the virtual horse racing experience at our casino-dependent tracks? A touch of synergy. A new product for casinos. Live horse racing and fake horse racing all in one location. More money for all. Who knows, but these are desperate times.

“Technology is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand and stabs you in the back with the other.” — Carrie Snow