The losers who picked six winners

Ian Davies on the lessons that punters can learn from the Warwick Jackpot row
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The Independent Online
There is a romantic myth floating around in racing that, when it comes to betting, punters are a communal army battling together against the common enemy, the bookmaker. Anyone who wants to cling to this view must exit their bookmakers and nip next door to W H Smith for the latest Mills & Boon. Fact: In this game, it is punters versus punters and bookmakers versus bookmakers.

The bookmakers know this. For every pounds 100 they take in bets, about pounds 70 is returned to the punters. The bookmakers compete with each other to attract business. And the punters vie among themselves for the largest slice of that pounds 70.

The professional gambler knows this. When he charges to the on-course boards bookmaker to get the 5-2 about a horse which is shortening to 2- 1 elsewhere, it is other punters, not bookmakers, that get knocked out of the way.

It is no different with pool betting. And nothing illustrates that bookmakers are competing with each other - and that punters are at each other's throats - better than the row this week between the Tote and William Hill over the Tote Jackpot at Warwick on Tuesday.

The Jackpot, after mounting excitement following a number of days when no one picked all six winners and the money in the pool was carried over to the next day, eventually paid out a dismal pounds 5,664 to a pounds 1 stake. A starting-price accumulator with a bookmaker would have netted pounds 8,682.

William Hill, in particular, are determined that these figures should not pass unnoticed. John Brown, the firm's managing director, has attacked the Tote, particularly over the difference between the advertised total pool (pounds 879,499) and actual amount paid out after the Tote's 29 per cent deduction. Brown said: "They [the Tote] mislead people. They put out in the paper there was pounds 850,000-odd in the pool to be won, but there never was, it was only pounds 600,000 to be won."

Rob Harnett, the Tote's publicity director, responded: "We are not going to allow them to pour cold water on something that has been good for racing and the betting industry. As the amount grew over the past week, it generated genuine excitement outside, as well as in, racing, and that can only be good for the sport and the betting industry."

The truth is that the idea that the bigger the carry-over the better a wager a Jackpot becomes is wrong. Six-horse accumulators are not, in themselves, a shrewd form of betting - they are the antithesis of the professional gambler's preferred investment - the on-course, therefore tax-free, win single.

Accumulators on six races of the Tote's choice become attractive only if there is an excellent chance of the eventual payout being far greater than its starting-price equivalent.

That does not happen simply because the Jackpot pool has swelled in size. It occurs when the amount of "dead money" in the pool - the carry-over - is bigger in proportion to the amount of live money going into the pool that day.

For example, at Windsor on 16 June, there was a carry-over of pounds 10,437.61, but only an extra pounds 3,298.95 entered the pool that day. If the card had not looked so difficult that day, it would have been an excellent occasion on which to have a go.

Conversely, the next day at Ascot, the dead money carryover of pounds 13,736.56 was swamped by an additional pounds 32,548.32 in live money going into the pool. The pool was bigger, but the value had gone and the shrewd punter should have departed hot on its heels.

The Tote Jackpot is often the best proposition in its early stages, when a carry-over of around pounds 10,000 is insufficient to catch the public imagination and only doubles in size. Even then, if the card the Tote selects is tricky, bearing in mind the Tote's 29 per cent take out, it can be a dodgy bet and is best left to the mugs.

And mugs are what the successful punter has to regard other punters as being.

If punters collectively beat the bookmakers they would go out of business and the game would be over. That is not going to happen. Whatever the punter's angle, be it a new source of information, form-book study or using time figures, the bookmakers adjust their odds accordingly and the games goes on. Forever.

Remember: bookmakers pay out pounds 70 for every pounds 100 they take in. The trick is to make sure you get more than your fair share of that pounds 70. Much more.

n Today's Jackpot is at Newmarket.

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