HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA. February 5, 2013--As horseplayers go, Ray Paulick is an excellent journalist who probably never had to depend on betting for a living. We are only acquaintances, however, and, as such, I don’t know that is for sure.

But I certainly would categorize both of us as old school, in the best sense of the term but on this issue Mr. Paulick is out of touch; not necessarily philosophically but in all practicality.

The way the game is played today, making scores in exotic and super-exotic pools is not only an exciting way for the action crowd to participate in horse racing but the only way the average horseplayer can survive.

Until straight wagers are raked at a realistic max of 12 percent and a full frontal promotional assault is made on Wall Street gamblers--especially day-traders—increasing churn via straight wagering is as practical today as high-button shoes are fashionable.

In a recent blog post, Paulick began with a quote from the ivory-towered Charles Cella, who holds dominion over all things Oaklawn: “I think exotic wagering is the worst thing in the world for horse racing.”

At one time, Cella was onto something when he said that wagers with a lesser degree of difficulty kept players around a lot longer.

Given today’s dwindling betting base and high blended takeout rates, however, tracks no longer have the luxury of churning their way to profitability in the traditional sense.

And isn’t profitability still the only way all of us--big, small and weekend warrior; owner, trainer and casual fan keep score?

As Larry the Liquidator of “Other People’s Money” fame once said, the quickest way to go down the tubes is getting an increasing share of a shrinking pie.

Given the shortage of customers and “recreational” money, what remains are people who know what they’re doing. Of course, there are various levels of expertise.

But bettors who win consistently are still those that outwork the competition and, given that, the biggest problem for horseplayers trying to survive and advance is remaining focused on the task.

Expertise and undisciplined greed notwithstanding, lack of focus and exhaustion from today’s stress-filled lifestyles are the enemies of all horseplayers seeking success on a consistent basis.

Add to this the large betting menus of today’s simulcast marketplace, where nine of every 10 dollars are wagered, conflicting post times and lack of a uniform payout structure requiring a few extra seconds of thought are needless distractions.

Parenthetically, time come for all payoffs to be posted at the uniform rate of one dollar since that’s how odds are commonly posted. Further, all fractional wagers should posted at the lowest denominator, i.e. Dime Supers and, where available, 50-Cent Pick 5s, 4s, 3s, trifectas, etc.

Posting trifectas, superfectas and sequential wager payoffs at a $2 rate insults the intelligence of horseplayers everywhere and is a disingenuous and deceptive promotion that should be stopped.

Tracks should know that even whales take advantage of the leverage provided by fractional wagers and, believe it or not, horseplayers are capable of simple multiplication.

Continuing this digression, guaranteed minimums are real and provide a basis for players getting involved in certain pools, especially large bettors, but over-the-top shilling by simulcast hosts suggesting that players are getting something extra, or that you could win a million bucks for a dime is, at best, sophomoric.

Paulick correctly notes that it’s very likely that more exotic players are losing today and winnings are winding up in the hands of fewer players, which is why today’s average bettor has to outwork parimutuel opponents to mitigate potential bankroll gaps.

It’s no secret that larger professional players and serious recreationalists are betting through rebate shops, including some well-known industry types that keep this fact on the down low.

Further, racing’s biggest gamblers can buy sophisticated batch betting models that guarantee a profitable return if the handicapper can consistently eliminate four or five horses in a 12-horse field, far easier than identifying four or five top contenders.

While there’s nothing illegal about it, batch wagering can only succeed if the projections are based on accurate odds. That accuracy can only be guaranteed at the end of any wagering session.

In a game where late-odds fluctuations are routine, even at America’s biggest venues, late-odds changes are anathema to straight win players who must have value--disproportionately higher reward than risk—to survive. Grinding out straight value plays consistently is virtually impossible
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Exotics make the game harder because of the higher degree of difficulty; no argument. But they also provide a means for the average player to leverage his smaller bankroll by giving himself more ways to beat a race or series of races.

In this fashion, average players can take advantage of mistakes when the big player overleverages his bankroll which consequently creates more value for his parimutuel rivals. When it comes to wagering in today’s game there’s no easy route to success.

Indeed, takeout levels originally increased with the proliferation of exotic bets, but with the success of tracks such as Betfair Hollywood and Tampa Bay Downs, to name just two, the pendulum is swinging the other way.

Tracks are making sequential wagers more attractive by offering some bets at a vastly reduced rate which in turn increases pool size and provides opportunities for higher payoffs because lower takeout is a rebate for all.

Where Paulick’s logic gets faulty is in not realizing that a 14% Pick 5 does not tie up money for five races; it actually increases intra-race handle and wagering in other sequentials such as the Pick 4 , Pick 3 and Rolling Double.

Saver wagers are no longer regarded as throwing good money after bad. If the whale is using his money to leverage his wagers and increase his chances of profitability, so, too, can the average player given the benefits of combining low-takeout sequentials with fractional buy-ins.

Back when life was simpler, when illegal sports betting wasn’t as mainstream as it is now, there wasn’t a casino or OTB parlor on every corner, no simulcasting, and everyone went to the track to bet win, place, show and the daily double, insuring pool liquidity, it was possible to patiently grind out profits by churning bankrolls.

Exotics and super-exotics no longer are about competing with lottery or casino jackpot payouts, although that thinking prevails. Handicapping is an intellectual exercise, not unlike poker, only horses are used to beat other humans, not a deck of cards. So to compare betting on horses with other forms of gaming, sports betting notwithstanding, is to insult the handicapping process.

The digital age, with its quality-of-information explosion, coupled with the shrinking pie phenomenon, has made grinding out profits all but impossible.

Most successful horseplayers today take a portfolio approach to wagering. They begin with their preferred wager, usually a high risk-high reward bet, and use surrounding pools to grow profits via arbitraging. That’s horseplaying in the modern age.

Even for the recreational player, the game demands a long term approach. Straight betting, mind-numbing simplicity notwithstanding, will not sustain players in the long term under current market conditions and given the current blended tax rates.

Making a score no longer is cause for calling a travel agent, it’s simply the path to fiscal survival. But only if the would-be winning horseplayer insists on increasing his knowledge, honing his wagering skills and--I almost forgot—focus, focus, focus.