Putting the ‘Practical’ in Practical Punting

I thought it would be another day at the track, until I saw Stuart’s face. I’d been one of Stuart’s for the last three years. It’s great fun, very little actual work, lots of excitement when there is, plus I love the whole culture of horses and horse racing, so it really was the perfect job for me.

Stuart was a heavy in racing circles. He had five clerks working for him at any one race meet. We were in constant contact, used the same oddshorse betting calculating algorithms and combined the research we did throughout the week. Stuart looked after us, we were a team, everyone bought something to the table and so we prospered.

But this one morning I could tell something was different.

There was still half an hour before the gates opened to the public, an hour before the first race. Stuart called us into the lounge and handed out photographs of a man I’d never seen before.

“If this guy approaches you change all the odds to 3 to 1 on,” Stuart said nervously. “He’s a shark.”

No one argued. You don’t argue with the boss. But we were all curious. After all, that’s what the odds making algorithms are meant to prevent.

Stuart noticed our quizzical looks and explained.

“He’s one of those Practical Punting guys.”

Usually someone with a system is someone with a disappointment ahead of him. Sure there are people who win more than they lose, but the law of averages demands that it’s going to happen sometime.

The problem with system betters is that they’re difficult to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. They’re even more difficult to do anything about even when you do spot them.

It’s like this: In a casino a card counter gives themselves away by betting in a predictable way in certain circumstances. Card counting is illegal because the odds in a casino are fixed. Any attempt to manipulate those odds is illegal, and so the casino can throw you out.

At the track it’s different. First there is to timeline of betting. Someone, like this Practical Punting guy, can do his homework and come in to bet on one race only. You’d never see him coming until it’s too late and the bet is laid. Second, the odds on any horse are changing all the time. So if this guy has figured out a discrepancy between the chance of the horse winning a race and the chances we give it of winning the race he can pounce.

Those who do their homework, however, are vastly outweighed by the mug punters. Whatever we lose the Practical Punters we get back from the speculators. The difference comes down to the size of the bets. And this guy was a heavy hitter. Take one of his bets and you’d likely go bankrupt.

But it’s never good form to simply turn someone away. When that happens all you do is make them the centre of attention and next week you’ve got half a dozen punters who’ve now learned the same system. And you don’t know who they are.

I can tell you all the bookmakers keep a very close eye on systems betting guides like Practical Punting. Done properly a punter can make a lot of money before attracting attention. But get too greedy and it’s your face being passed around in the racing lounge before the day begins.


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