Powell: An explanation behind late odds changes

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

February 26th, 2018


Late odds changes continue to confuse and confound horseplayers but some of the things you are reading about it are way over the top, and flat-out wrong.

There are big players in the pools and they are called "whales." Some whales, not all, use computer software to handicap and make their bets. Because of the volume of the whales' play, they are given rebates by advance deposit wagering companies to stimulate more betting. Full disclosure; I have one of them, RGS, as a client.

Most racetracks and every horsemen group that I know of welcome their business. Some racetracks do not. All of the major racetracks accept wagers from whales.

Every big player that I know favors lower, not higher, takeout. Yet, you read the opposite. Somehow, the line between takeout and rebates is blurred so the false impression is given that the rebated player benefits from lower takeout even though the takeout is the same for every player.

This lack of understanding draws a connection that because the rebated whale gets a higher rebate on the high takeout wagers, they favor high takeout. Wrong! Low takeout benefits every player with more liquidity in the pools. High takeout makes it tough on everyone; whales included.

America dreams of being like Hong Kong. Yet, what is conveniently left out of what you read is that Hong Kong allows computer betting along with rebates. When they banned them a decade ago, handle dropped. When they were allowed again, handle rose. So we want the Hong Kong results but not the methods as if they can be divorced.

But, we see races where the horses enter into the gate and then the odds drop, or go up, during the race. The answer is pretty simple but a lack of understanding and curiosity about tote technology clouds the issue.

On Election Night, we do not know who the President is when the polls close. It takes times for all the precincts to check and report their results. It is certainly not in real time; nor can it ever be.

In horse racing, the tote system does not operate in real time but in batch mode. Real time would compute every bet as it is made and the displayed odds would be accurate. With today's technology, the tote system sends out a request for wagers about every 30 seconds. The wagers arrive in a batch and because of the lapse, the last batch, with their changes on the odds, is not displayed until after the race has begun.

By the way, this has been going on way before computer betting began. The difference now is that there are more ways of betting at the last second and you can see the odds change on the television screen as the race is being run.

So here I was at Saratoga Raceway on Sunday afternoon. Live racing was going on and I sit in the grandstand so I can watch it as well as the simulcasting from across the country. So, I decided to track the win pools in the first nine harness races and see what the pool was with the second-to-last batch and the final pool.

Race 1 $2,986 $4,984 40% bet in the last batch
Race 2 $1,933 $4,807 59% bet in the last batch
Race 3 $1,633 $6,284 74% bet in the last batch
Race 4 $3,754 $6,094 38% bet in the last batch
Race 5 $4,236 $5,649 25% bet in the last batch
Race 6 $2,010 $4,926 59% bet in the last batch
Race 7 $3,719 $6,711 45% bet in the last batch
Race 8 $2,412 $6,339 62% bet in the last batch
Race 9 $2,439 $4,110 41% bet in the last batch

So, the final call for wagers saw about half the betting come in during that last, 30-second increment. That doesn't mean that the person bet at the last second. They could have bet with 30 seconds to post and they would have been in the final batch which gets transmitted and displayed as the race is underway.

The above chart illustrates that around half the betting takes place in the entire time between the race before until about 30 seconds to go in the next race and the other half is bet in the last 30 seconds. Thus, the odds that you see are more of a trend than an indication of what the final odds will be.

A better illustration is the wagering in the win pool as the race nears. The MTP that follows is the one that the drivers use to warm their horses up so that they know when they need to assemble and line up behind the moving starting gate. 0 MTP on the tote board has already passed.

Here is what was bet in the win pool for Race 8 in the last two minutes:

Until 2 MTP   $1,335
1 MTP $412 $1,747
Gate Moving $235 $1,982
Near Start $430 $2,412
Final $3,927 $6,339


In order to maximize wagering, the tracks keep betting pools open as long as possible until they decide to close wagering. Wrong again, since only the stewards can close betting and the pools are open to everyone until they are not. You can use a self-service machine, a wagering app, get on line at the last minute or have computer software make your bets but everyone can bet at the last minute. And they do.

So, how does that affect you or I? If the nattering nabobs of negativity win, betting will drop dramatically making the game even tougher to play. I think we should truly strive to be to be like Hong Kong and the way to do it is to stop demonizing big players and enable access to everyone that passes muster. Every computer player that bets into American pools has to undergo extensive and expensive background checks no matter where they live. And all their wagers can be tracked since they each operate under a separate wagering code.

Why don't we make the tote secure enough and modern enough to encourage players to run simulations and see what the results would have been had they been in the pool? Maybe some millennial can build a better mousetrap and take on the whales or become a whale. As a speaker once said at a simulcasting conference that I attended, "the problem is that you don't have enough whales and need to have more of them."

No matter the size of the track and the betting pools, the betting pattern is similar to what I saw on Sunday at Saratoga Raceway which has pools that are not really big enough for whales. The money comes in late resulting in late odds shifts and it could have been Sunday or 30 years ago and little would have been different.