When you went to the track as a youngster, you could expect to see about nine to ten races. Full card simulcasting was not yet in play, and every once in a while you were given a treat with a marquee race from a track far away. No, it wasn’t from Dubai, Hong Kong, or Australia. They were old dusty screens, with a limited view of the ancient TV’s that could have been in your aunt’s living room. But it was exciting. Once you got to know the lay of the land and the everyday players, you could find the “hidden” action. There was always a bevy of bookies on hand, and if you were a little short on cash they would be glad to get your action on the cuff.
Making a wager
Most tracks give you more than plenty of action. They offer a live schedule, and a full simulcast menu. But when that wasn’t enough, you could always head out to the fifth row in the Carroll seating area and get a bet down. There are rows of well-lit seats and each has an individual screen. There are about 10 seats in a row, and in the middle was a gent who was more than glad to get your action. Older men who did not want to make the walk to the windows would sit and shout down the row. “Gulfstream, $3 to win and place #9. Santa Anita, $1 exacta box 1-3-4.” You would toss down the money, and you were as good as gold. He would take in the wagers, and would pay as soon as the race was over. His area was filled with cigars, racing programs, and sheets of paper. His phone would ring constantly as he took sports wagers as well. – As the track would struggle on a daily basis, his business was booming. Once I asked him to make some wagers using his loyalty card. Since he was there everyday, it would show strong activity. This is where he would dump off the bigger wagers or ones with big price runners. He would just run it to the windows and receive points, and would still service his players. – A couple of days last year I grabbed a seat with the guys, and they would call me “kid” as I was about 30 years younger. I had a blast making last minute wagers, and at the end of the day I came out even. If the track paid a little closer attention, they would have found a sweet chunk of wagering action that was right beneath their nose. Hey, who am I to tattle on the boys??
Pin the tail on the pony
There was a bevy of action that could not be found on the wagering menu. Some of my favorites were “Race Track Roulette.” You would look at the card, and select a horse. You would add the numbers of the winning horses, and at the end of the ten race card. Here is an example of how it worked:
* You select a runner from each race and add up the winning numbers. Now comes the good part. You could “tease” the number a point or so, and this could help you get closer. The odds would lower with the number of points used. Here is a glimpse of some payoffs with added points.
*If you wanted to add one point. It could be used up or down. If you chose 78 for the card, you could have 77, and 79 as well. This would pay (15-1) with a $10 top wager.
* Two points paid (10-1), three points paid (5-1), and four points paid (2-1). – This was just another fun bet to play. The players had fun, a few beers, and spent the day doing what they loved.
In the Money
Another gem that allowed you to make a four, five, or six race wager. All you had to do was select a runner who ran 1st – 2nd, or 3rd in each race, and pick the winner in the last race selected. The bookie had the right to select which races could be used and odds didn’t matter. The payoff was as follows:
*The four race ITM = paid (10-1), a five race ITM was a whopping (20-1), and six race ITM was (30-1) . The minimum bet was a buck, and the max was $10. – I struck gold one night when I hit a $10 six race ITM on Aqueduct, and stopped back later that night to nail another six race bet.
Long ago there was the local book who would take your bets. No ADW’s, off-track shops, and computers were 15-20 years away. You would make a bet, and look for the results in the racing section of the local newspaper. Yes, you heard it correctly. The local newspaper had a “racing section” that offered full charts of the in-state track, and results from around the nation from marquee tracks. If you made a wager on Santa Anita, you would have to wait two or three days until the results hit the form. There was no internet, result line, or picking up the phone and dialing the track. They didn’t have telephones except in the main office, and they would guard the information with their lives.
Times were simple, and you thought the action was non-stop. I was introduced by my father to the local bookmaker. They were two old men who used to take my dad’s and grandpa’s action. One would take the calls, and the other would meet at a local bar to square up. – I had a $20 per week limit, and all I had to do was stay out of trouble and make passing grades in school. This was pretty easy, and the old man knew what I wanted to do. He kept me in line not by grounding me like Ward Cleaver. He would hit me the hardest, and my $20 allowance would be taken away. I can still remember my first bet with the book. I had $2 to win and place on Lt. Bert. When I was on my way out the door for school, my dad laid the paper on the kitchen table folded open to the results. He paid $20 to win… Times were simpler, and you wouldn’t think of allowing your kid to take part of anything of the sort. But he knew what I loved, and this was his way of letting me follow my passions. – I am 48-years-old, and have worked at four race tracks. My part time work in the parking lot at 18, Race Book Manager, Player Development Manager, Director of Marketing, ADW Coordinator, and presently I am calling the races and making the morning line at Belterra Park. Things have a way of coming full circle.
The other day I was approached by an older gent who knew me as a younger man. “Ed, do you still love working at the track? It must be hard working weekends and holidays.” – “We’re not chopping wood or carrying drywall all day. We’re at the track. Hell, I would pay them to be here.” – Thanks, dad. Funny thing, I still get that tingling butterfly feeling in my gut as my car pulls into the parking lot. I haven’t made a million dollars, drive a new sports car, or taken lavish trips to the Bahamas. But, how many people get that feeling of wild anticipation when they pull in the lot for work ? I bet right about now you’re thinking about what you do for a living. But as the saying goes, “find a job you love, and you’ll never go to work again.”