Today I had the good fortune to go to the Saratoga Raceway for the first time. Despite living in the Albany area for eleven years of my life, this was my first opportunity that coincided with the desire to go.
I bet a total of $11 and left with $5. Not a great return, but then again, I wasn’t exactly betting sure-thing bets.
Reading the daily program was like reading a table of random numbers. There were the horses’ records and the jockeys’ records; each of their performances during varying track conditions; total prize money won this year, last year, and in their careers; and a detailed breakdown of their last few races, including split times and the color underwear the jockey was wearing. It amazed me not that so much information was kept, but that there are consumers of that information out there somewhere.
I’m not much of a gambler, probably because I know math a little too well. Even if you’ve never studied probability, it doesn’t matter. Look around: there’s no shortage of money. It’s coming from somewhere, and that somewhere is the difference between their average intake and their average payout. Ironically, the most successful businesses are those based on risk: gaming and insurance. Actually, their risk is fixed; your risk is not. Over a long-term average, the house always makes money. It doesn’t matter how one individual does at the track. The collective performance of the thousands of race enthusiasts pretty much always averages out to a profit for the raceway.
Does knowing the mathematics of gambling take the fun out of it? Yeah, a little. But going for the races itself wasn’t enough excitement. Sure, there was beer and food available. But ultimately the action centered around 90-second races punctuated by 30-minute intermissions. The betting is what made it fun, whether you choose to bet a ten-cent superfecta or a hundred bucks on the favorite to win.