Sucker or Skill GameWritten by Jon Stettin
When it comes to horse racing I have known for quite sometime, the answer is a skill game. I was surprised to learn through a recent conversation on social media that many play the races who do not really feel as I do. More bettors then I'd imagine actually expect to lose annually and continue to play. I really can't get my arms around that. Even if you are playing for fun per se, is the fun not the expectation of winning or at least the possibility of your study and handicapping turning you a profit?
There are two groups in my educated opinion who beat the races. The first would be the player who grinds out a small profit from meet to meet or annually. The second would be the player who actually makes a living playing the races. The latter means their sole or primary income is derived from playing the races, and if they don't win or have a large bankroll to fall back on they are in trouble. Two groups, each a little different but both beating the game in their own respective way.
A point of contention in the aforementioned conversation was what percentage of active bettors actually beat the game by falling into one of the two categories I explained. My best estimation is somewhere between 5 and 10% collectively. To my surprise, there were quite a few people who thought I was outright nuts, which I very well may be but not because of this opinion. These people felt the percentage was 1 or even less than 1 percent. On one hand that's discouraging on many levels; on the other, a personal one, I'm fine with the majority of people playing believing that and I welcome them all into the pools.
What is discouraging about that opinion, and mind you these are opinions as nobody truly knows the percentage of winning players, is that so many people play thinking they will likely not win. I usually feel I have a pretty good chance of winning every bet I make or frankly I won't make it. Do I win them all, of course not, but if I thought I had a 1 percent chance or less I'd stay home.
For many years I played the races for a living. The game was different then but not really a whole lot easier. During that time, I was going to the track daily. I knew the few other players there who also beat the game and played for a living. I do not know all the grinders as they were a bit more under the radar. There were maybe three or four making a living at my home track back then. Maybe one or two, I did not know. Today I still know three or four people making a living betting the races. This makes me comfortable with my 5-10% estimate.
What a lot of people do not realize about playing professionally, and I think you truly must grasp this before opining on any percentage is that it is a full-time job. It takes as many hours per week as owning a business and more than a 9-5. Most don't have that discipline or dedication. It is an unconventional lifestyle — no car loans. Cash only. Try putting down professional gambler on an auto loan application and see how that goes. Mortgage, not a conventional one anyway. Relationships, good luck when Friday night is your study night and Saturday you are exhausted after the California races end. Oh yeah, Sunday is a race day.
These types of sacrifices are necessary to have a shot at playing for a living — every week. A day away is a possible missed opportunity you can't afford. Bad runs will leave you stressed about the life you have chosen and how you are going to cover this month's expenses. It is not for the faint of heart. It is however, doable if you have the talent to go with the discipline and dedication. Will everyone who tries, make it? No. But 5-10% just might.
I think we can all agree there are times when the results of a race convince you that it is possible to use those past performances to your benefit. There are probably at least a few races a day on your card of choice that fall into that category. Sure there are always head-scratchers, but on at least some of them, if you dig in enough afterwards, you can at least make sense of them. This equals a skill game to me.
Takeout is a problem. We have to deal with it, and it certainly makes our task tougher. This is where the other talent to go along with your handicapping comes in. You have to find value and structure your wagers properly. These are not the elements of a sucker's game, and if less than 1% are winning, that is exactly what it would be. Glad I don't have to hang up my tack just yet.