In Germany, bookmakers are allowed to operate, but money staked with them annually (in 1961, the equivalent of under $ 4,000,000) amounts to only about half the total amount staked with the totalizators.  Britain is practically the only country where bookmakers are both legal and dominant in the racing world.  Totalizator betting game exists, of course, but takes a backgammon seat to the bookies.  (Its relative unimportance is indicated by the fact that the tote board itself is rarely in as prominent a place as in America.  On some courses it cannot even be seen from grandstand.)

A British bookmaker at the race course usually operates a stand or “pitch,” dominated by a large blackboard on which he writes his odds (which change as frequently as the tote’s).  His clerks handle the money, record the bets, and issue the tickets to the bettors .  The bookmaker also has in his employ several “runners,” who are in effect private information bureaus.  Runners know everything worth knowing in the racing game, are experienced in recognizing “blind” bets that are put on by big bettors to mislead bookmakers about betting on other horses, have sources of information about bets being laid by stables, and similar kinds of expertise.  One bookmaker told me: “A runner with all the snippets you can use is worth fifty [$ 50] a meeting.  He keeps you from doing a lot of silly things like shortening the odds too soon.”
On the course the runner often passes his information to the “tie-tac”man , who communicates it by hand signals to the bookmaker elsewhere on the course.  The code used by the tic-tac man consists of gestures with the hands to the head, throat, and nose, and is a complex form of semaphore that varies from place to place and even from bookmaker to bookmaker.

From the information passed to him the bookmaker adjusts the odds, sometimes “hedges” (i.e., lays off) his bets, and in general tries to keep just a little ahead of the bettor, who is looking for the same sort of information to aid him in his object of winning.  Lay-off bets often become necessary when a bookmaker receives heavy betting on a horse with sizeable odds: If the horse were to win, the payout would ruin the bookmaker.  So he places several bets of his own on the same horse-enough to help him out if the horse wins, but not enough to prevent him from making a profit if the horse loses.

A major percentage of British betting takes the form of legal off-course betting with bookmakers (or turf accountants, as many of them like to be called) at their betting shops.  A great deal of this betting is done by post and telephone by customers who have credit accounts, but any special racing event like the Derby brings the crowds of occasional gamblers in to have a flutter.  In general, British betting shops are like other shops in having a counter, a cash register, and a number of clerks to take the money.  A bettor writes on a slip of paper the name and time of the race, the name and number of the horse he has chosen, and the size of his bet.  Then he hands the paper and his money to a clerk and receives a ticket, which he will exchange for his payout if the horse wins.  A blackboard shows the latest odds, and copies of racing newspapers are available for customers to look at.  Attempts are seldom made to persuade customers to increases the size of their bets.  Instead, the staff behind the counter is usually quite anxious to make sure the inexperienced customers know the basic facts about bets and odds.

There is no “show” betting in England.  A gambler (whether betting with a bookie or through the tote)  backs a horse to win, to place, or “each way.”  On an each-way bet he wins if his horse comes in either first or second-unless there are fewer than five horses running, in which case the payout is only on “win” bets.  In races with over eight horse running an each-way bettor receives a payout if his horse comes first, second, or third; in races like the Derby or Grand National, if over 22 horses are running, payouts are made to four places.  A British bettor can also put his money on a special combination bet called a “forecast” (the same thing as the Canadian quiniela).
Bookmakers everywhere set their own odds for a race, largely by the horses’ past performance.  Then the odds are “lengthened” or “shortened” according to the volume of betting. In America, a bookmaker will usually pay at track odds until they go too high; then he puts an upper limit on his payout, to protect himself against a big loss that might put him out of business.  For example, if several hundred dollars (or, in the case of a big-time bookie, several thousand) comes in on a particular horse (whose track odds are, say, 100 to 8) the American bookie would be very unlikely to pay out at longer odds than 10 to 1.  This upper limit for odds and payouts is in effect the bookie’s favorable percentage, the profit-ensuring technique that keeps him in business.  The British bookie, however, is obliged by law to pay the “starting price” of the horse- the price as set out by the bookies at the track-no matter what it is.

One more thing should be noted in this quick look at racing odds.  In cases where a particular horse in a race is almost certain to win, it would be foolish for bookmakers to bet against its victory.  So they offer odds “on” instead of “against” – which means that your stake money will be more than your win.  If the odds are 2 to 1 on and you bet $ 2, your total payout would be $ 3 – your $ 2 stake money plus your $ 1 win.  A classic example of “odds on” was the odds of 100 to 1 on offered by bookmakers on the great American horse Man O’War in three races in 1920.  In other words, a bettor would have had to stake $ 100 to make a profit of $ 1.  Odds on would appeal only to those bettors who could afford the large stake necessary to make such a win worth having.  Nevertheless, the horse that runs with odds on is the closest to a “sure thing” in racing.

But not always –or, anyway, not according to that knowledgeable American author Damon Runyon, who used the idea of odds-on to build a dramatic climax for his short story “All Horse Fritz who has a fantastic streak of luck at the races and nets himself $ 100,000- almost enough to buy a gift of emeralds that, he hopes, will win backgammon to him his former girl friend, “Emerald Em.” But the emeralds cost $ 101,000.  So Unset Fritz looks for and finds a safe bet a  horse running at 100 to 1 on.  He stakes his entire capital in order to win the extra thousand.  Needless to say, the horse accidentally falls during the race, Fritz loses, and the girl rejects him.


A game called “horsey-horsey” (a corruption of “housey-housey,” another name for bingo is simply public betting on old films of American horse races (far left).  Mostly popular in Britain, it is usually played in disused cinemas.

On the other hand, the bet probably furthest from a sure thing is a special bet call an accumulator  in Britain and a parlay  in America.  This bet transfers any winning from horse to horse in different races at the same meeting.  Assume that there are six races in the day: You choose a horse in each race and then bet on the first one.  If it wins, your entire winnings are placed as a bet on your chosen horse in the second race.  If it wins, your winnings are again transferred, and so on.  As can be seen, your winnings can snowball immensely; but the chances of any bettor being right six consecutive times are more than slim.

Nevertheless, here too the improbable often happens: Before the war in the Normandy village of Saint-Saenz there was an inveterate gambler who was in debt to the local landowner for the food he and his wife had last eaten, and had lost his job as a tractor driver became he could never be relied on to be in the fields if there was any racing going on within 50 miles.  He borrowed a few francs from his brother-in-law, saying that since he was determined to give up gambling anyway he might as well have one last fling, and put the money into an accumulator bet.  All of his horses won and he cleared 500 francs.  (He must have been less inveterate a gambler than he seemed, for he never made a bet after that day.  He persuaded the owner of a cellar to let him have it at a nominal rent, started a café, and made a success of it.  It was called Café Cheval.)

But even his bettor wasn’t so vastly lucky as a man from Coventry, England, who in 1951 won the equivalent of $ 8500 for a 14-cent bet on an accumulator on four horses.  The odds against this quadruple win were 60,640 to 1- the highest ever recorded on a horse race.

Systems are not so common in horse racing as they are in such games of pure chance as roulette or dice.  I have mentioned the system associated with the American daily double; another is the popular “doubling” or “progressive” system.  An Australian game gambler who must remain nameless uses it (and makes a regular living with it) in the following form:

Players place their bets on the horses, which are represented by numbers on the betting slips to avoid possible recognition.  After the film winning bets are paid off at the odds that were quoted for the original race.

He sets himself a specific goal for his day’s win-usually $ 10.  Then he play bets on the favorite to win the first race (his bets are always placed at the last minute, to be sure of the starting price).  The size of his first bet is calculated to ensure him a $ 10 profit if he wins; thus, if the favorite’s starting odds are 5 to 1, he bets $ 2.  If the horse wins, he collects his money and bets no more that day.

If the favorite loses the first race, he bets on the favorite for the second race, staking enough money both to recoup his $ 2 loss and to win his goal of $ 10; i.e., if the second race’s favorite goes off at 3 to 2, he would bet $ 8 in order to make a $ 12 profit.  And so on.  If none of the favorites at one day’s meeting won its race, he would presumably aim at a $ 20 gain the following day.

This system stops being workable when the capital required to recoup losses and make a profit becomes impossibly large –which happens after a lengthy losing streak.  But in Western Australia such a streak is a rare occurrence.  There are a limited number of race horses in that part of the world; many of the same horses run in every day’s races, and some horses may run two or three times in the same day.  So the choice of favorite is usually more soundly based than in most other countries where many of the horses running in a race may be unknown in terms of their past form-or may be untried, with no past form.  At least one favorite is likely to win in a day on a Western Australian track.

Methods of baccarat cheating (i.e., of fixing races ) figure much more largely than systems in the lore of the race track.  Some of the well-known fixing methods of past years have today been made almost impossible by new strict rules, developed and enforced by powerful authorities (like Britain’s Jockey Club or America’s State Racing Commissions).  For instance, substitution of a bad horse for a good one (or vice versa ) has virtually been stopped on most tracks by such rules as the American one that demands the tattooing of a registration number on the inside lip of every horse.

Doping or drugging a horse to make it into a winner is another method of fixing that has been inhibited in recent years.  The track officials today invariably make saliva and urine tests on every winner.  Of course, doping a good horse to make it lose is less easy to detect, since tests can’t be run on every horse in every race.  But an experienced veterinarian will usually be suspicious when a normally fast horse comes in last-and he can order a test if he wishes.  Punishment for convicted dopers is stiff; jail or fines, plus being ruled off the tracks for life.

Probably the closest thing to a sure method of fixing a race is by bribing the jockey to “pull” his horse or otherwise discreetly to lose the race.  A skilled professional gambling jockey would know a million subtle ways to discourage his horse (whether he ever uses them or not)- ways that go unnoticed by his fellows riders, by the crowd, and even by the “film patrol” (movie cameras placed at intervals around American tracks that keep a film record of the entire race).

So far, I have merely tried to sketch the broad outline of the racing world’s important features-but an outline that should be enough to make even a novice bettor feel at home on most race tracks anywhere.  For the rest of this chapter.  I will turn away from horses and take brief looks at some of the other most popular forms of racing.  Foremost among these is greyhound racing.

Greyhounds have a wide and numerous following in America, Britain, and many European nations.  There are eight states of the U.S.A. (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, and South Dakota) that allow greyhound racing, and in 1962 about 10,000,000 gamblers spent nearly $ 500,000,000 on legal pari-mutuel betting.  American greyhound racing was first begun in the 1920s in Florida, which is still the greyhound Mecca of North America; that state alone accounts for about one third of the betting total of greyhound racing in all eight states.

Britain was once the home of the world’s most avid greyhound backers: In 1946 the British spent the equivalent of $ 1,200,000,000 on the dogs.  But the rising popularity of the football pools and bingo attracted a lot of gambling money away from the dogs, and today the greyhound tracks draw only about $ 375,000,000 annually in bets.

Several European countries list greyhound racing among their gambling interest (for instance, Belgium, France, and Holland); but in these places it is of minor importance compared to such gambles as numbers games, football pools, and horse racing.  In Spain, however, greyhound racing has an enthusiastic following; it has been estimated that the equivalent of almost $ 1,700,000 is spent annually at the greyhound racing tracks.

The lip tattoo that is compulsory identification for all horses racing in North America.  Tattooing is a foolproof method of foiling the “ringer” illegal racket, in which a good horse is substituted for a poor one resembling it, allowing gamblers to collect at long odds.