The bookies would rather lay ostrich eggs than these bets, so arm yourself with this insider information, and prepare to play them at their own game.
One of the major weapons you have in your arsenal as a punter is freedom of choice. The most obvious is the selection you back: how you come to that final decision is the most important thing in gambling.
If you keep backing losers, you are going to lose regardless of how many fancy staking plans and colourful bets you choose to back your selection in. As you are reading this column, let’s assume you are a sharp cookie and have selected a couple of bookie-ruining bets. You now have to choose how to back your selection. From the moment you approach your bookmaker, be it on-course or in a high-street shop, he will want to influence you on the way you back.
A quick glance around your betting shop will alert you to what they want you to do. Lucky 15s, 31s, Goliaths, 49s, Union Jacks, any two footie matches from each section for a massive payout, Double Result, Forecasts, Irish Lottery, Portman bloody Park… the list goes on. Any bet that the bookmaker is trying to sell you has ‘mug’ stamped all over it – if it’s good for him, it’s bad for you. As for those fixed-odds terminals you always see listless, sickly-looking blokes clamouring around with roll-up cigarettes hanging from their lips… don’t even get me started.
Firstly, don’t be fooled into doing those section bets on the football coupons. There are still massive accumulative odds to be had in picking your own selections, especially if it’s your bag and you are optimistic enough to go for a 14 match run-up bet. Those magic-looking odds are there to entice you to include a bet on a match too hard for the bookmakers’ highly paid experts to call – it’s the going-for-the-pot-of-gold tripwire.
If you really have your eye on that magic figure, instead of the tricky football match you should choose a much better-value shot from any sport you fancy, and let it all ride on that. They are trying to steer you into bets they want you to do, but you are the boss in this game. As far as the bets you place go, you have the bookie by the short and curlies. Don’t be led by slick marketing or, worse still, the flock of muppets that inhabit betting shops.
But back to the horses. Everyone wants the buzz of getting four up in a Yankee or landing an accumulator, and it would be a bit miserable to eliminate the small-stakes, big-win chance by being too holier than thou. But it’s possible to upset your bookie by playing him at his own game. Take him on with your selections in potential fortune-winning, life-changing bets – but customised to your own benefit, not his.
For example, when you amble into your local betting shop all enthusiastic, having sorted out four good things for the day, and hand over your Yankee bet, you are making his day. All right, if you didn’t think you had picked out four winners, you wouldn’t have done that bet – but how chuffed would you be if you only got a double? Unless you had bagged two at big prices, not very.
So why do the doubles? Your Yankee, six doubles, four trebles and an accumulator is 11 bets. If your first selection, heaven forbid, gets beaten, you are down to three doubles and a treble, so a £1 Yankee costing £11 is down to £4-worth of bets in one hit. Then you still only have three doubles, where you need a treble to get all three up anyway; one more goes down, and you’ve got a £1 double for an initial stake of £11. Is it any wonder you get offered double-odds about one winner in a Lucky 15?
To pocket the nice return on a small outlay that you are after, you need to get at least three winners. So why not just do the four trebles and an accumulator and save £6, or use that stake to double your bet – or, to really annoy the bookie, have the trebles and accumulator each way?
Wag the dog
‘Each way’ is a phrase that often sends shivers down the back of the high-street bookmaker. If he had his way, betting each way would never have been an option. Unlike the on-course guy, the off-course guy can’t really decide to bet win only. He would love to, though; back in the days of big, chunky margins being returned from the course, it was great – each way if you liked.
Nowadays, the online exchanges revolution is the biggest case of the tail wagging the dog that the racing game has ever seen. Some of the win book margins returned from greedy and inexperienced on-course bookies – who would be lost if they could not hedge on the exchanges, let alone set the market in the first place – are hardly workable. That then leaves the place book well and truly unbettable… which is where you move in.
The only saving grace for the off-course guy is that his customers are mostly the sort who play those fixed-odds terminals and get excited about Portman Park. So those people are mugs who may get a lucky bet up occasionally, but are not going to win in the long run – ever. I once heard someone ask at an on-course Tote kiosk if they accepted Portman Park bets, and the answer was no. I think the Tote should think about that policy.
The trouble for the high street guy is that he can’t stop the sharp people, like you, from coming in and tucking him up. For those in the know, a cleverly placed each way double on two well-fancied 5/2 shots is a bookmaker’s nightmare. Likewise, each way on the second or third favourite in an eight-runner maiden or novice hurdle when the favourite is odds-on is financial disaster for the bookie.
Many of these horses are nailed on for a place, and still only the price they are to win to actually win. That’s how tight the margins are. So it’s a bet to nothing with a small guaranteed profit if the selection gets beaten by the favourite and stays in front of the five no-hopers, and a nice payout plus the places if it wins. The bookmaker is generally more miffed if it’s placed behind the odds-on winner because he’s had the double bump, paying out over the jolly and then your place, which has cost him and saved your win stake, too.
Back on track
Back on the racecourse, it is a simpler but very telling story. If you walk along the rows of bookmakers when there is a 16-runner handicap, almost to a man they will have the ‘Win Only’ sign up. But then one entry is withdrawn and the ‘Each Way’ taken signs are out of the bag and on the joint almost as quick as an ‘Each Way Compulsory’ sign would be (if they had one).
If each way betting was profitable, you can bet your boots it would be permanently widespread. Even if a bookmaker puts up an ‘Each Way’ sign, he’s probably only doing it to accommodate the mugs. Shrewd, large bets and other bookmakers asking for each way are going to be quite briskly rebuffed.
Most 16-runner handicaps are bet to win only, exchange-led prices. As a result, the place margins are terrible value for the bookmakers. So, as they hate giving away their built-in edge, they won’t let you bet each way. That’s their choice, from a business perspective – and you should treat your bets the same way. If it’s bad for them, it’s good for you – and you should back accordingly. You should only back when you have the edge.
When on-course, you will soon notice if most of the bookmakers are betting win only. If that is the case, you should head straight to the betting shop. If one or two of the on-course guys are betting each way, you can be fairly sure that he’ll be under the odds. If by some chance he isn’t, you can assume he’s new to the game and do your level best to educate him with hard cash. It won’t be long before he has to toe the line or go out of business.
Giving you the edge
Don’t take this as an chance to tuck up the Tote and get stuck in on their place markets, however. They are realistic in the chances of horses being placed. Plus they deduct a scandalous amount of money before a dividend is announced. It is seldom value to bet on the nanny, and is best avoided.
It often happens on-course that a 10/11 shot is seen to be £1.90 for a place on the Tote screens, and that is at the off, only for the return to be £1.10 or less. Don’t get sucked in; if the betting exchanges can update every five seconds, there is no excuse for the Tote not to be able to do it too. Unless, of course, it was in their interest not to… There’s one to ponder as you stand in line to get your money back from a ‘winning’ Tote place bet.
The real lesson here is that you are the boss – if you are being force-fed bets, they are no good for you. You never see the bet of the day advertised as an each way double in two eight-runner novice hurdles with an odds-on shot in each, so they’re the ones to concentrate on. The recent move to limit handicaps to 14 is a stark example.
While they appear hard to solve, 16-runner handicaps are no good for bookmakers, so must be good for you. Pick and choose your bets, and strike when your old adversary is at his most vulnerable.
The worst scenario for the punter would be if on-course bookmakers were all forced to bet each way in every race up to their maximum liabilities. That would spell the end of the golden age of punting that’s being enjoyed at the moment, because margins would have to nearly double overnight if they were to stay in business. Think about it.
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