Cyberage Gamblers Slash the Odds
Till a quarter of a century ago, the punter invariably received a raw deal in the eternal tussle between him and the bookmaker. However, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of the computer, much of that has changed in the past decade.
In the fifties, a professional punter in Britain would have to employ touts to visit different parts of the country in order to keep a track of the morning trackwork of his followed runners--an extremely expensive exercise. In those days, other than casinos where one could try one's luck at roulette baccarat, poker and the like, gambling was restricted to horseracing.
The age of communication took a long time coming, but when it did, it proved to be a boon for professional punters as it changed all that.
The chain of betting shops, which sprouted up in Britain in the sixties and seventies, drastically transformed the image of the regular punter. He was no longer the archetypal shabbily clothed greying man willing to pawn his wife's jewellery on one last wager that would take him out of the red and send him on a cruise round the Mediterranean. Rather, the regular gambler in that era could have been anyone from the grandmother next door to the sleek executive who drove a Ferrari. And they would be putting their money on just about everything under the sun that bookmaking firms like Ladbrokes would be laying odds for beauty pageants, soccer matches, cricket matches, greyhound races, car races and what have you.
The trend of the sixties and seventies was to be instrumental in metamorphosing the image of the gambler from a losing one to that of a winning one. The punter however had to wait for the silicon chip revolution of the late eighties to live up to his newfound image.
Despite cellular phones being banned in most of the racing centres in the country, punters are known to use them, either illegally in washrooms or in car parks just outside the racecourse without breaking any laws.
With this state-of-the-art communication system, serious punters who make a living from the racetrack can speak to his contacts and his off-course bookmaker within a space of a couple of minutes. This gives him an edge over fluctuating odds in a competitive race.
Aided by video recordings, he is able to scrutinise the form of runners. His ultimate weapon, the personal computer has placed the high-tech punter if not on an equal footing, then at least close to his adversary--the bookmaker. The punter is now able to utilise within a short space of time the wealth of data at his disposal. Pedigrees, form, trackwork, stipes' reports and handicaps are literally at his fingertips.
In fact, bookmakers have become alert to the fact that a punter in Calcutta can place a wager on a photo-finish verdict in the Mumbai `after' being informed of the result via illegally used mobiles--quite a turnaround from the days when satchel bearers ruled the roost.
This of course does not mean that any and every punter who has access to a cellular phone and a computer database coupled with a winner-spotting programme can come out on top in this game of chance. Rather, an astute punter, who is aware of the variables that affect the chances of his potential winner, now has a few more weapons at his disposal to beat the books, which, of course, is the ultimate goal of every professional punter.
However, one aspect of the game the honest form-worker will never be able to beat is the `professional race-fixer'. More often that not, such a character would come unstuck sooner or latter as unless dope is used, the horses are thankfully not a party to the `fix'.
There are, however, exceptions. One Tony Ciulla claims that he altered the outcome of over 200 races in America in the 1970s. After gaining immunity from the state prosecutors, he pointed the finger at several jockeys but lack of evidence meant that it all proved to be a storm-in-a-teacup affair.
In yet another scandal surrounding the New York track in the 1970s, a certain Mark Girard who was a veterinarian by profession, pulled off quite a coup. He imported two similar looking horses (Libon and Cinzanao) from South America, one a champion galloper, the other a rogue. After collecting a substantial sum of $70,000 in bets, he switched runners--a virtually impossible task on reputed present day tracks across the globe.
Such cases are, however, few and far between and it would be fair to say that the serious punter would be treading on pretty safe ground if he chose to lay his wagers at any of the reputed racecourses.