Monday, March 15, 2010

Undercover Bettor

As most know, Churchill COO Bill Carstanjen was the protagonist on last night’s Undercover Boss on CBS. I really enjoyed the show to be quite frank. It is fun to see a fish out of water, when the water is a racetrack – a place we all know as horse owners, fans and bettors. He spoke with many at the track – a trainer, a jockey valet, a press person and a cleaning person.

But I wondered what it would be like if one of the jobs he took was that of a customer?

First Bill would have to wake up really early, or stay up really late, reading the program, or Racing Form. He would have to work at it, because betting is difficult. Then he and his shadow, Bettor Pete, would have to head to the track, pay for parking, admission and head to his spot in the simulcast center. There he would have to track down the changes – always a tough task at a simo-center. And make all necessary adjustments.

Then it would be time to make a bet.

He and Bettor Pete would check the TV monitors and see that an exacta was paying $22 at two minutes to post, but the other track they were following, a similar ex is paying $38.

“Let’s play the $38 one, as it is paying more” COO Bill says.

“Each track decides if it shows payouts in $1 increments or $2 increments. The $22 ex for $1 is actually a better bet than the $38 one for $2. So we should bet the $22 one.” Bettor Pete explains.

"How do you know which track shows $1 and which $2?" asks COO Bill.

"Experience. It took me a long while, though" replies Pete.

"That seems strange, especially for new people racing is trying to attract" says Bill.

"That's the way it works, " says Bettor Pete.

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “Why would racing not show all increments the same, for the good of the customer?”

Then the race would go off, with Bill and the bettor holding a live $2 3-2 ex for $44 smackers if successful. It is looking good. The three horse has a big lead and the two is coming wide…… yes! Victory!

But there is an inquiry. Bill and his bettor are trembling – although it appears there will be no change, after all we saw this type of non-infraction be left up 100 times or more – it is never an easy time for a bettor. Then the tote board goes dim, there has been a change. It is announced, with no real explanation from anyone on camera and the prices are displayed.

“What happened”, says COO Bill. “Is your money just gone?”

“Yes, that’s the way it works” says the bettor. “In places like Australia and Hong Kong they have protocols to handle inquiries so the public is better informed, but here it goes from track to track. Most times your money just changes hands without nary a peep. And rulings change from track to track, so it is a bit of a mystery”

“Well I guess someone wins when you lose, so bettors are still getting paid somewhere”, COO Bill explains.

“Sure” says Pete. “But if you went to work on Friday and found that your paycheck was given to someone else, would you be happy because at least someone got paid?”

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not have a uniform set of inquiry rules, and report it the same way all across the sport, so customers feel that their money is more respected?”

“On to the next race,” says the bettor.

For the second, Bill and the bettor both agree, the seven horse is the play. He is 6-1, and looks like an overlay.

“The only problem I see,” says the bettor, “is that the six horse is trained by a guy who just got caught with a positive test, so we clearly have to watch out for this fella.”

“Positive test?” says COO Bill. “If he has a positive test, why is he training a horse in a race today?”

“That’s the way it works,” says the bettor.

As the race draws closer the odds drop to 5-1 on their potential play, but still right in the wheelhouse of the bettor.

“Anything over 4-1 and this bet is King” our bettor tells Bill.

“Gotcha” says Bill. “Let’s go bet”

At ten seconds to post they lay their cash down. They each bet $40 to win.

Any they’re off. The seven horse, their bet, gets an easy lead. $40 at 5-1 is $200 profit, a nice days work. But COO Bill – a numbers guy at heart – notices that at the bottom of the screen the horse, who was just 5-1 at the quarter, is now 5-2 at the half!

“Hey our horse is 5-2 now!” he pleads to bettor Pete.

The horse, all out in a game effort, loses in the last jump.

“Oh well”, says the bettor.

“Oh well!?! What do you mean, oh well. We just bet a horse at 5-1, and we said we would never bet him at anything less than 4-1. He ended up at 5-2 while the race was being run!!! What the heck is up with that? How can we take the odds board seriously!?”

“That’s the way it works,” says the bettor. “Racing probably has the power to do something about it, but we just end up waiting and waiting for a tote system overhaul, fixed odds betting, or something to address it. I think a lot of them are only concerned with slots.”

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not update the archaic tote system to 21st century technology, to make it better for customers and help grow racing?”

“For our last race of the day, I do like the four at Fair Grounds…...” says the bettor.

Bill jumps in: “Fair Grounds, I like that track!”

“No, I was going to say I do like the four at Fair Grounds, but I have stopped betting that track because this meet there was signal dispute. These things happen time and time again and bettors are left out in the cold. I, and many players here, are stopping playing tracks that do that.”

“I’m sure they have a reason for doing that… " says COO Bill.

"I don't know why they do it, but that's the way it works," says Pete.

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not fix any issues amongst themselves without withholding signals, so the bettors can still play their favorite tracks?”

“Well what about the next at Calder” says COO Bill.

“I don’t play Calder. They raised takeout two years ago." replies Pete.

"Oh" says Bill.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure Pete” says COO Bill.

“So do you want to be a bettor Billy?” asks Pete.

“If racing makes some changes, Pete, only if they make some changes.” says COO Bill.


Anonymous said...


Daniel said...

I have been in mutuels for more than 20 years, when I first started there was no simul-casting, we could watch the " BIG # 3 " on a snowy screen, any bet made a Remington, stayed @ Remington.Then it was off to Retama Park in San Antonio, and simul-casting appeared out of nowhere, 1995, it was amazing, being in San Antonio, and watching races by NYRA, then the explosion of Racinos opened, tracks that people thought would never survived, survived, bringing in diluted products ( races being written for 3 legged horses), the best example of this Presque Isle Downs, with the addition of slots Presque Isle has risen from the Ashes, back in the 70's they had $1500. purses, racin for hay, now,a casino race track, beautifully written races, good horses. If you are going to be on track bettor only study that way, if you are going to be simul-cast bettor study that way, just remember, it can also go the opposite way, your 5-1 to a 5/2, can go to 10-1 as well, I know the best example is the Risen Star @ the FairGrounds, I had my money on E.J. Perridon ML 15-1, he went off @ 30-1/40-1 when all the simul-cast money came in he was @ 85-1 so my $20WP did well, it is all about numbers, the amount wagered the # of tickets sold, and if you live on the west coast, east coast money will never reach the track until the race kicks, that is why the difference.

Anonymous said...

Well Daniel, perhaps a little research( just a little) would make you look like you actually knew what you were talking about.
PresqueIsle Downs is a new racetrack in the same area(Erie , Pa) as the defunct Commodore Downs. Yes the do have a casino and very nice purses. They also have a Tapeta surface, which is fantastic, and draw many top horsemen. Actually a pretty nice place.

RaceTracks do have many issues to adress to draw more horseplayers, however the nature of simulcast creates several issues. One is the bulk of outside pools come in at or very near the start. This is going to create a change in final odds. But lets be realistic, a drop from 5-1 to 5-2 is not the norm. The current system allows betting until "They're Off".
Anybody remember the days when post time meant the sound of the bell locking the windows, only to have the start delayed 2-3-5 or more minuts with the windows locked. BUT final ods were final odds. Take your pick......

Whoet's Picks said...


now challenge the COO to actually do this


Challenge all COO's do do this,

we can have the COO Handicapping Tournamnet

Present this idea to NTRA if HPAA or waht ever you are called can't do it.

Indulto said...

Very well done. Hopefully a little humor will get a lot of attention.

Anonymous said...

The big swings in late odds is simply attributed to two factors. First full card simulcasting from not only the US but from around the world has now caused large amounts of money coming in late. Not late being after the pools closed but late being after the horses break from the gate. Second and MOST important in the large swings is the smart money from the big players, computerized players and non computerized players. These guys are professionals and if you as an everyday player can spot a "nice" play they certainly can and they certainly have the money to bang away at the pool.

Yes the technology is there to prevent that from happening but who is going to pay for it. The last I checked United Tote lost millions last year, Sci Games Racing Division lost millions and Amtote barely made money. The tracks, the unions, the regulatory bodies have squeezed the tote companies so much that it is very diffcult for them to make money let alone put millions forward in research and development. If the totes do decide to move forward with a project to "fix" this issue, who is going to pay that? The tracks, the ADW's, no it will be the player with higher takeout/retentions and lower rebates.

You know the odds are going to change. They always have. It has only gotten worse since big money and smart money comes in late.

Anonymous said...

I liked the show as well. But you know what was really sad was that a COO of a company could go undercover and not be recognized. I used to be senior management at a race track. I couldnt go anywhere around the track, the OTB's, or any of the neighboring race tracks without numerous people knowing who I was. That was because back in my day we got out on the floor and talked to the players and the employees. We went into the jocks room and talked to the riders and the valets. We ate breakfast (busiest time of day on the backside) in the backside kitchen and talked with the grooms, exercise riders and horsemen and we hung at the entry box to talk to the owners and trainers. So when you went around your own track or another track in the neighboring states numerous people knew who you were or at least recognized you (especially with a camera crew following you around). It is a shame we put the Churchills of the world as leaders of our industry because if a COO of a company can walk around one of his own racetracks, even if it is half way across the country, and not be recognized, maybe that is just one of the reason why racing is having such a problem

Buddy said...

This was a joke. Bill and the other people knew what was going on all the time. The phoney Bill was so bad I turned it off when he got halfway thru cleaning at Arlington. His lies about Arlington made me hate Churchill Downs more. Arlington needs alot of paint because they are letting it turn into a dump. The money at Calder was spent on slots like the $128,000,000 at CD. Nothing for horse players except raise taxes. It was the worst thing I seen on TV in years. The whole thing was a lie.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT writing!

Can't wait to show this to my wife tomrrow morning.

What a shame it is that you weren't there to edit William Murray's gallant, failed effort, The Right Horse (1997), which I just re-read this weekend.

How much better it would have been had you been there noticing what had been explained in race track lingo (unfairly over the head of the novice bettor, the book's target audience), etc.


Anonymous said...

I know Bill and this is very possible in that he does not leave his office. He could have done this at CD and nobody would have known him. Now if they would have had Steve Sexton do this he would have been known at each of those tracks. When he was in that position he knew his players and employees. The bottom line is it is "reality TV" matter how scripted it is :).

Anonymous said...

that was great...we see it day in and day out...