Each time you make a bet at the horse races, it's as though you're tipping around 20 percent.
That can be like tipping a waiter 20 percent to bring you bugs in your soup.
At the horse races, the house lifts anywhere from 17 to 25 percent off the tops of all bets, of all wagering pools, say 20 percent, on average.
There's no "house edge" of 17 or 20 percent. It's more like a house rule.
The house cut goes for making the game, for providing the site, the pari-mutuel system of watering where the losers pay the winners, the purses, the computers, the salaries. The expenses involved in running a race track are considerable. It's not like track management takes our tip money and goes water skiing. But it's not like we're treated with the respect and regality of a big tipper.
Generally speaking, in the human world, tips go for average service.
But at the horse races, our tips can go for rotten rides, sloven training, malfunctioning machines, cross-eyed stewards, glass in the parking lot.
For such a stiff rake, a string quartet should play in the corner. There should be a complimentary neck massage. At the casinos, they tip on wins. At the track, as each wagering pool is reduced prior to the bell, we tip first and then get served up a race.
Even with such a particularly inhospitable house call of more than 20 percent removed, a horse race has always offered the potential for a great bet because of the pari-mutuel watering system wherein the dummies pay the smart people minus the housekeeping fee.
But something terrible has happened to the average winnable horse race: it's paying less.
Time was, the dummies had one handy place to lose their inheritances, trust funds, inflated salaries and swindled monies, and that was the horse race track. Before Indian casinos and poker fever, I used to win fistfuls of dollars at the local live summer horse race meet, cash enough from punk lawyers galore to require a guard escort to my car; as the competition was drunk and rowdy and inexperienced and below average in horse sense.
This is not to say that the average gambler is smarter, not even close.
It is to say that with the stiff house charge at horse racing, and with the proliferation of cards and casinos and internet poker, and the slick way casino pit bosses know how to treat suckers, the dummies have moved from the track to slots and hold 'em.
At this very instant, the smart ones are fleecing the dumb ones at poker, same as it used to happen at the horse races.
The same clowns who used to bet the 4-5 favorite in $3,500 claiming races are now going all-in with treys. The illusion with games like cards and horses, in which the losers pay the winners, is that anybody can get lucky. That's true every so often. But horses and poker are creative endeavors that over the long run reward the few with a developed or natural talent.
Poker is faster, sexier, easier than horse racing; memorize the odds and some tells, and you can hang around the dimming celebrities a while.
Many horse race tracks get a cut from the money the dummies cram into slot machines.
But the former horse race track saps turned poker fools are a sad sight to see.
Many nights at my simulcast or live racing site, it's smart on smart.
Payoffs frequently make too much sense. Long shots are a vanishing breed at the live meet this summer.
So one of the chief questions facing horse racing today has to do with how we get the idiots off the card tables and back to the track.
Hug somebody dumb, it could pay off. Always remember, at the horse races, unlike at the poker table, nobody knows just how dumb you really are.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.