The Learning Curve

There might be a thousand of these stories out there, even a million. These are just two of them.

Down at the club, I went through the door to the outside smoking area (yes, thank you, I know) and plonked my formguide down on the table. A young woman nearby sipped her bourbon-something or other and asked: “What have you got there?”

They often do that. People reading anything other than a daily newspaper are a curiosity in the TAB area. (It also promotes other inquiries. “Got any tips, mate?” I used to advise these folk to work hard and be kind to their mother, but they get stroppy when I do that. Now I sort it out by telling them it will cost $10 a race. They then disappear quickly, muttering to themselves. I don’t see why I should spend several hours doing the form and then give it all away in 10 seconds to some lazy fast buck merchant).

Anyway, I explained to the lady what the formguide is and how I got it. She then says: “So, you’re a gambler”.

This is not a revolutionary thought since we are in a 40,000 member poker machine palace. But I respond: “No, I am a punter”.

“But you’re going to bet on a race, aren’t you?”

“Yes”.

“Well then, you’re a gambler”.

I gave up. She really did not want to know the difference.

The next day, a Tuesday, a friend was in the club. I knew his habits well and we sat down to watch some twilight races on SKY.

He knows almost nothing about dogs but he is a pretty intelligent bloke and has just retired after a long career in the accounting area of a big firm. While his wife is playing around with the pokies, he passes the time by having small Exacta bets on whatever is in front of him. He just works on the numbers and the movements in the market (always providing Tabcorp does not keep switching off the screen that shows the prices).

Out of the blue he then comes up with a query. “Why don’t they do something about those races`?” He is looking at the start of a 431m race at Ipswich, probably the worst example of greyhound racing in the country. Its bend start is murder.

He now ignores those races completely and looks elsewhere for a bit of fun. That’s understandable. He doesn’t know dogs but he knows what he likes.

So there we have one non-thinker and one thinker representing the public. Both ignorant but in different ways. One assesses the possibilities, one doesn’t.

The first one tells me that the world, and the racing world in particular, has not done a good job of educating young people about racing, punting, gambling, odds, whatever. It’s all very well to mount big campaigns to help out problem gamblers but perhaps it’s too late by the time they are adults.

It’s not my field, but I notice that many kids leaving high school these days have barely studied mathematics at all, and certainly not the finer points. Indeed, I know of one high school where the teacher used to take his senior kids to the races once a year so they could compare bookie and tote odds and draw their own conclusions. Statistical analysis was part of their curriculum. Sadly, pressure from wowsers eventually forced him to can the program.

So kids go out into the big world knowing much less than they might about betting – good or bad – or even how they will be ripped off by poker machines, or by Mystery bets which involve a much bigger deduction. It doesn’t stop them having a fling, though.

In the second case, it is a constant wonder that a novice is readily able to identify a crook track yet the people responsible for operating it don’t see a problem. How do you explain that?

It’s not as though they are not aware of contrary views. I have gone into print many times about this one and so have half a dozen of Queensland’s top trainers, who were quoted in detail in the papers a year ago. But nothing happens. They just do not care enough.

Maybe, as a famous club manager once told me: “They’ll be alright if they nick out in front”. Well, that hardly covers it, does it?.

Does anybody know the answer?

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