Punting the gallops. A mugs game?

There are many reasons for betting on the gallops, not all of them to do with money. Compared to sitting in a noisy, garishly lit casino for instance, many people feel the racetrack is an enjoyable experience in itself. The open air, the colours, the space to move around, the quaint rituals of the on course bookies, the terminology, the excitement of the races themselves, all these are things that contribute to the pleasure of the racing experience.

Some people enjoy the release from the pressures of life, some dream of striking it rich, others perhaps merely want to escape the spouse for a while! The biggest motivation though, for most committed punters, is the money side of it. The thrill of a big win is what makes it all worthwhile and they obviously hope to come out ahead over time. Most don't. This is clear. With bookies framing the market to somewhere around 110%, and the tote considerably less generous, the pool originally contributed by punters is much bigger than the pool from which they share the returns.

So is punting on the horses a mugs game, as you so often hear? Not necessarily. This is because of the skill element. Gambling pastimes can be divided into two types, those requiring skill and those where the returns are fixed. A game like Roulette is a good example of one with fixed returns, as is Lotto. You can vary the way you select your numbers as much as you like but there is no 'good' or 'bad' way to bet, your expected returns are always the same.

However, certain games like casino Blackjack require decisions which do affect your expected returns. There is a skill element to them. Games which have a fixed expected return are generally bad to play because you cannot win in the long run. Your statistical disadvantage will gradually grind you down even if you are lucky enough to start out ahead for a while. So whilst some of these games seem reasonable for the punter in that the statistical disadvantage is only small, in reality these are the true 'mugs games' as you ultimately cannot win.

Gambling pastimes involving skill can further be divided into two categories, those where you are competing against the house and those where you are competing with your fellow punter. The latter are more common and represent the best chance the skilled punter has to come out in front over the long haul.

Very common are totalisator type situations, where people are encouraged to bet on the result of something, usually a sporting event, and the house simply acts as a middle man, laying off one bet against another. If you take 10-1 on a certain tennis player to win Wimbledon, the bet is being balanced by other punters who preferred to back someone else. Sportsbook, or whoever the middle man is, does not have to worry about what the real odds should be, as long as they get enough punters disagreeing with each other to balance their book. Naturally their book always adds up to over 100% and therein lies their profit.

Some brave gaming houses like Ladbrokes will take bets that cannot easily be offset, on things like whether aliens will have landed on earth by the year 2050, but the odds they offer in such cases are extremely conservative. (At least in my opinion!)

It is the bookie and totalisator type situations which, although they are usually framed to well over 100% and appear very ungenerous, actually offer the punter a chance to get the edge. This is because such a large number of people bet on events with a skill element, without having a reasonable degree of skill. Why is this the case? I don't know, but it may have something to do with the average IQ of the general public. Actually, that is perhaps a little harsh. There are reasons why people may choose to bet on something requiring knowledge they do not really have.

Firstly, harking back to the opening paragraph of this article, they may particularly like a certain gambling activity for reasons not related to monetary returns. The atmosphere and excitement of racing events could be a reason. Another classic case in Australia is football betting, where loyalty to particular clubs gets in the way of reason. Fans who only follow the game in a generalised sort of way may like to bet on their team as a show of loyalty, perhaps not even waiting for final team selections.

This is where the well informed punter can make some money. If your level of knowledge or skill is sufficiently above that of the average bettor, you can offset the percentage removed by the house and still have something left over. This is where the professional stockmarket speculators, sports punters and racing punters slot in. They know their particular game so well that they are willing to sacrifice the house percentage, knowing that their edge over the remaining players is greater than that amount.

How do the gallops stack up for this kind of activity? Quite well. There are a very large number of poorly informed punters in the gallops market. The strange prices you sometimes see on the Tote are testament to this. Also, walk around any racetrack or into any TAB and you will see many tickets being good naturedly torn up by people who are not really there to win, they are there to enjoy themselves. They expect to lose, and of course they usually do. Melbourne's spring carnival, especially it's showpiece Melbourne Cup, brings these happy-go-lucky punters out of the woodwork in droves. Millions of dollars are bet by people who wouldn't know a fetlock from a dreadlock.

Where do you fit in? I can't answer that question. However, you are on the internet doing research, so it's a fair bet you take your punting more seriously than the average person. Maybe you already have the knowledge built up over years of following the racing game to offset the bookies take and possibly even make a bit extra. If so, good.

The difficulty lies in the fact that even with very good general knowledge about the gallops, if you are making a living in some other area it is very hard to fit in the immense amount of research, replay watching, analysis, information gathering and other preparation needed to be really top notch. This is why we do not dismiss out of hand the services that charge for professional market framing. If such a service is good (a big if) and the amount paid for its information is only a small percentage of your total turnover, in some cases it may be well worthwhile.

In summary, gallops fits the criteria of being a gambling pastime involving a high degree of skill, thus lending itself to professional punting. The professional punter must have a high degree of knowledge and skill (or access to same) in order to gain a sufficient percentage edge over the average bettor to both offset the substantial 'house' take and still turn a meaningful profit on both turnover and hours invested.

Overall, we recommend that if you do not have the time to be fully professional yourself or alternatively find one of the rare good tipping services, that you restrict yourself to extremely modest stakes, expect to lose a little, and consider that loss as payment for your enjoyable outings to the track.

Footnote: Smartgambler's parent company OZmium Pty Ltd, has acquired rating and information service Pro-Punter, the best on the market. (See previous page) If you are considering a serious foray into racing, pay them a visit. They are now the de facto racing section of Smartgambler.


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