Déjà vu for fun and profit: betting on recycled horse races By Martin Owens, Attorney At Law, Special to CDC Gaming Reports September 22, 2020 at 4:09 am “The racetrack is the only place where the windows clean the people.” Joe E. Lucas Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Clancy and Shaughnessy went to the movies one weekend. It was an action thriller, and at a crucial point it looks like the hero is about to be ambushed by the villains. So Shaughnessy says, “bet you $10 that the bad guys lose the fight.” Clancy takes him up on it, and sure enough, in the next scene, the hero outwits the villains and saves the day. Clancy reaches into his pocket to give Shaughnessy the $10, but Shaughnessy says, “no, it wouldn’t be fair. I’ve seen this movie before.” But Clancy persists, saying, “so did I, but I couldn’t believe they’d make the same mistake twice!” Martin Owens is a California attorney based in Sacramento, specializing in Internet and interactive gaming law since 1998. Full disclosure: the author’s father was a professional thoroughbred trainer of 60 years standing. Dad would have been incredulous that anyone would participate in betting when the race results were already known. Bad enough, there used to be a whole subspecies of con game called “past posting” based on getting the suckers to bet on a race that had already been run (a beautiful example of one of these “wire room” scams was portrayed in the Robert Redford movie, “The Sting”.) But to knowingly bet on a race that had already been run? Had to be either cosmic stupidity or insanity amounting to divine revelation. Yet today, a gaming format called Historical Horse Racing, a.k.a. Instant Racing, is alive and doing brisk business, taking bets in seven states – Virginia, Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oregon, and even Kentucky, America’s horseracing capital. And it generates a respectable return. Kentucky alone saw over $2 billion change hands in fiscal 2019, coronavirus or no, and the total national market this year looks to be about $8 billion. Not bad for races that have already run! But isn’t this a standing temptation for somebody with a good memory or good database skills to make a killing? Well, actually, no. They modified it a little bit. Mix and Match There are two basic mechanisms for betting on the race of the past. The first is similar to Daily Fantasy Sports. The customers choose historically accurate avatars of horses and championship jockeys, and may use to handicapping information and other aides provided by the site. This approach is typified by Scientific Games’ product, “Legends”, which draws from a library of about 9000 notable horses and riders, stretching back to about 50 years ago. The second more closely resembles the traditional parimutuel betting system that has been used by U.S. racetracks since about 1910. It draws on the database of the Daily Racing Form. If the DRF is not the Bible of US horse racing, it is certainly the Rosetta Stone. 60,000 entire races are recorded there, with detailed information on the track conditions, running time to each to marker pole from start to finish. This is exemplified by “Instant Racing” put out by to Parimax Holdings and the Stronach Group. Here, players predict the order of finish of a race chosen at random (Here, too, handicapping apps and routines are available to automatically make the pick for you, if desired). “Exotics”, or multi race bets, are available, very similar to the real world trifectas, quinellas and so forth Both formats present a virtual (computer generated) animation for the customer to see. This was probably the easiest part of the project. Virtual horse racing programs and displays to have been available for years now. Full Circle So, what next? We have racetracks that don’t need people anymore – just look at the Triple Crown this year. We have races that don’t need any live horses or jockeys , for now we have computer generated reconstructions of other, older races, or even completely digital races created on the spot by whichever program. Handicapping, too, is now just another app. Even betting itself can now be put on autopilot. Could it be that one day soon we may find ourselves – all of us, horses and players and jockeys and trainers and yes, wicked lawyers too – on the outside looking in, as we watch a fully self-sustaining cycle, computers talking to other computers? No grandstand or track is actually needed. No horses or jockeys. Only the players (and we find they are having their choices made for them on request). It reminds you of those old B movies where people wake up to find civilization has been wiped away by some disaster, and the survivors walk amazed through cities suddenly empty. Perhaps in the future all gambling will be online, piped into homes and businesses and smart phones, and gambling venues, apart from obvious survivors such as Vegas or Churchill Downs, will slowly fade away? The problem is not that we don’t know the answer (we don’t). It’s that we aren’t even asking the question.