Racing was my first gambling love. Poker was my second. Racing, I was pretty much always terrible at. Poker I was ok. Just like a million other teenage kids in the late 90s, when I saw Rounders I was so intrigued by the idea of playing poker. Here was a game that if you put in the work and made good decisions you could make money at. I bought all the books, Super System, Theory of Poker, Caro’s book of tells, and like 20 others. I studied, I played, I lost, I studied, I played, I lost some more, I studied, I played, I won a little, and so on.
My summer job was as a surveillance operator at my mom’s poker room. I had 8 hour shifts to sit and watch hands and guess what I thought players would turn over for their hand. It was great practice. Then after college I started going back to horse racing (you can see how that went HERE) . I occasionally played poker after that but never in any serious way. Getting to the rooms was too inconvenient when you could just get all the racing action on youbet and TVG from home.
My first years working in racing, 2004 to about 2009, I remember there was always the constant talk of “poker did this (insert idea) and boomed!” Almost every decision I heard management make was related to what poker did to create popularity during the explosion of 2002 to 2005. Remember there was a time poker was EVERYWHERE. In racing they tried, but it clearly never took off to the degree poker did. I remember there was NHC coverage for a bit that was kind of similar to how they showcased the World Series of Poker. I think I still have a DVD of it somewhere. But it just never exploded or even really left the ground in terms of excitement and popularity like poker.
What poker did wasn’t all that complex. They showcased the game, they talked of the mathematics, and they showed everyday people and pros winning lots of money. Me and every other punk kid watching on TV said “I can do that!” They didn’t shy away from the complexity of the game, but rather showed guys agonizing and considering all the dozens of factors that would lead to a fold or call. I remember them talking about pot odds, implied odds, and concepts like that. ON TV! There was some dumbing down, but they never avoided going into the intricacies that really made the game interesting. You could see people winning and if you wanted to look up a player’s results you could go to Hendon Mob or CardPlayer or other sites and look up all their results. If I Google the Top 10 results from the NHC the first two links I get are from the National Homebrew Competition.
Part of the difficulty of being able to showcase winners in racing, is I don’t think there are many. With the high takeout and other factors, it’s just hard to get over the hump to be profitable, let alone make a living at it. I think I know two people who genuinely make their living betting the races, and I know a lot of people who bet the races. I remember one racing entity I worked at once and asked how many of our VIP’s made money. The answer was zero. There are more pro poker players making a living in poker in a 1 mile radius around the Commerce Casino in LA or the Bellagio than there are pro-horseplayers in the entire country. I really do believe that. I’m not talking just about millionaires or anything. Just someone trying to grind out 50 or 80k to make a living at it. In racing it’s a huge achievement just to end the year in the black, let alone enough to make a living. Obviously the many diverse participants in poker and racing have different goals. Some just enjoy a day betting every so often. Some are weekend players. Some are serious amateur players. Some are action junkies (holla) Some want to be pros. There is certainly room and need for all those kinds of players in both poker and racing. Not everyone wants to be a pro and that’s fine.
But that brings me to something else I’ve noticed different about poker and racing and kind of what spurred on this post originally. Some friends were discussing on twitter yesterday people talking about ticket structure. A couple said it was annoying, and a couple said it’s helpful. It’s actually something that’s not really talked about in racing circles hardly at all, whereas in poker, betting decisions are dissected CONSTANTLY and in many ways. Hand analysis videos by people like Doug Polk have hundreds of thousands of views. Go to Two Plus Two Forums and there are literally tens of thousands of hand breakdowns and conversations. Poker Youtube star Andrew Neeme (highly recommend his vlogs) spends his videos discussing hands and working how he can get better at playing them. There are also facebook groups like Hand History Lounge where the whole purpose is to get group feedback on how you played a hand. My experiences have been in Poker, players actively seek out bettering their betting and play. In racing, almost nobody does. People seek out becoming better handicappers, but not so much better bettors.
In poker, most people are going to win with pocket Aces a decent chunk of the time. In racing many people will be able to hit a Pick 3 or Pick 4 on occasion. But did you play the Aces properly if you only got 4 bets from other players when you could have possibly gotten 6 if you played it differently? Was your Pick 4 ticket a good one because you won and profited $200? Or could you have played it smarter for less and still hit? Or could you have hit it 3 times if you backed up your strongest opinions and were right?
In poker it seems that if you bring questions on strategy to players they will have a dialogue with you, and are excited to do so. In racing, people think you’re just attacking them. And in some ways I get it. People post their tickets hoping to get encouragement from others and maybe have others follow along. I always root for my friends tickets on social media, even if I think they’re making a bad play from a structural standpoint. In my experiences, questioning their ticket structure has just led to them getting pissed, especially coming from me, who, well, you know.
I think good betting dialogue would be a good thing in general for racing and for people who are participating in betting. But from what I’ve seen the desire to have those conversations, at least on social media, seem to be pretty dismal. Maybe the thing to do is to create a forum or place where people can actively seek out advice and exchange thoughts on plays, as opposed to a more open forum like twitter. And again, in many ways I understand why people don’t want to engage in those conversations. People want to play the game, try and pick some winners, and have some fun. Or they think they’re already great at it, despite what I’m sure their numbers would say. Plus they don’t want to be corrected by know it alls, or pros, or anyone else. As I said, I know many have different goals with playing the races or poker. Just have been really curious to see why there’s such a massive difference in how poker players and horse players seek out/value those discussions.
Just thinking out loud, would love to hear folks thoughts in the comments.