Creative Gambling with Small Bankroll at the Races

When the bankroll runs low why not try some action among friends? (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Recently a friend and I were at the racetrack and had each gone flat broke fairly early in the day’s card. Neither of us wanted to go home just yet, and neither of us was permitted by our spouses to reload at the ATM beyond the allowances we had each been afforded.

The racetrack wasn’t willing to let us bet with a promise that we’d return to pay our losses the following week, and the kind of guys who used to take those type of bets are in short supply these days, seeing as how it’s called bookmaking and it’s illegal.

So my friend suggested we bet with each other, with the loser settling up his debt at the track the following weekend. Despite having been wrong about every bet I had made thus far that day, I wasn’t done yet. I agreed.

The way it worked was this — each race we would both pick a horse. We would alternate from race to race who got to pick first. Then we “cross-booked” each other’s horses. If the horse I chose won the race, my friend owed me the amount I would have won if I had bet $10 to win on the horse. If his horse won, I’d owe him however much he would have won. If neither of our horses won the race, it was a push.

This method of cross-booking was a total failure. And by total failure I mean that most of the time neither of our horses would win, so we’d neither win or lose a thing. It just didn’t feel like enough action. So I proposed we tweak the rules — instead of our horse needing to win the race, we’d treat our two picks as if they were in a head-to-head match race.

The selected horse that finished in front of the other’s pick would be deemed the “winner,” and we’d pay out at the win odds for a $10 bet.

This method worked fabulously, and by that I mean after three races I was losing hundreds of dollars to my friend who was picking huge longshots, one of which beat my “safe” 6-1 horse somewhere in the back of the pack and cost me a bundle.

Rather than go back to the lower variance method we started with, I suggested we add MORE horses and each get to pick two, somehow believing that increasing the variance would be better for my chances of getting even. It wasn’t, but I managed to get lucky anyway and chip away significantly at my debt before the end of the day. At the end of the day’s races I “only” owed my friend about $100, much of which I had paid off by buying all the food and drinks at the track on my credit card throughout the day.

Time to watch the races at Parx. (Eclipse Sportswire)

I had a chance to offer this same arrangement last weekend while playing poker at Parx. Starting in January, Parx moved their poker room away from the racetrack and into the casino. In the old days I could play poker and bet the horses at the same time at Parx, making the short walk between the table and the track between races to make my bets and watch the race. Now the poker games are held in a separate building far from the track, which is a bummer for those of us who liked keeping all of our vices within close walking distance of each other.

While watching the races on one of the monitors in the poker room, I proposed a similar bet to the guy sitting next to me, who was also a racing fan. We stuck with the first, low variance model of cross-booking. In the end I won about $50 from my tablemate - not so much that it was going to make things uncomfortable between us. He was winning a lot at poker and I was losing, so he was happy to pay up if it meant keeping me in the game. That’s another important lesson - don’t forget to feed the fish.

Cross-booking has another good application for casual horseplayers — it’s a fun way to run your Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup viewing parties. You can have your guests “draft” the horses in each race one at a time, and cross-book each other’s selections, with everyone agreeing to pay the same amount to the winners - which can multiply your winnings exponentially depending on how many friends you have and how terrible they are at gambling!

Ultimately, it’s better to bet the horses through the windows. It’s how the racetrack gets their cut, which they need to fund purses and operations and the like. Also, when you bet through the windows you can bet the exotics, like the Pick 4 and trifectas, which are far more fun than just betting a single horse to win any day of the week.

But … if your wife or husband has you on a tight allowance, or until Parx moves the poker room closer to the track, cross-booking is there for my fellow degenerates.

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