FREAK Shots: I’m Just Here for the Horses and Gin

I spent my Thanksgiving at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Racetrack in a gaudy hat, betting on horses. A U.S.A. Today photographer snapped this photo of me:

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Sean Gardner/U.S.A. Today

By the time I left the track, I had spent $20 on bets, made back $33 in winnings, bought lunch for $5, and had a gin and tonic for $4. (The cigar in the photo was brought from home.)

In the end, I made a profit of $4. Not great. (Levitt puts me to shame.)

But despite my meager winnings, I enjoyed my betting experience thoroughly; I’m even thinking about going back next weekend.

According to David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, most people (myself included) gamble not so much for money, but to experience a sense of risk that’s often lacking in modern society, reports an article in The Columbian.

But lately, bettors are focusing on the cash over the thrill, Edward McClelland writes in Slate, and attendance at racetracks is down. Bettors are foregoing the track for phone-betting hubs, says McClelland, because phone betting presents better economics:

Since [phone hubs] don’t have to maintain a grandstand or feed horses, they can kick money back to their customers. …

The bigger the bettor, the bigger the rebate [at phone hubs]. The average racetrack’s house take is 20 percent. You’re subject to that bite whether you bet at the track or over the phone. The difference is that the highest-rolling players — who have the clout to negotiate rates — are refunded 10 percent of their wagers by the phone hubs. That cuts their disadvantage in half. Suppose you’ve been betting $5 million a year at the track and only breaking even. If you bet that same amount of money through a hub, you’ll get a $500,000 rebate. Suddenly, instead of spinning your wheels, you’re a professional horseplayer earning a fabulous six-figure income.

My $5-per-race bets don’t qualify for the rebate; but as a New Orleans resident, the track may benefit me in a different way: the revenue from its newly installed slot machines is predicted to help boost the local economy.


Lovin the cigar. Cubans?


When the first casino was built here in CT, a lot of objections where thrown out, based on how gambling was going to bankrupt people. To that end, the tribe committed money to gambling-addiction programs, as did the next casino to be built. And at both places they sometimes hire people to hand out brochures about gambling addiction and how to get help for it.

I've been to the casinos many times and so have most of the people I know. I never bet much money -- no more than $50, and most of the time much less than that -- and don't know anyone else who bets very much, either. My admittedly-anecdotal experience, therefore, is that people are gambling in very small amounts, similar to what you did at the track.

I wonder if there are any real statistics on how severe the problem of gambling addiction is, now that we have casino gambling. I'm sure some good statistical analysis could be done, comparing three different distinct data sets: The pre-casino era; the time during which there was only 1 casino; and present time, in which there are 2.

(Of course, CT has had a lottery system since the 1970s, and it has become increasingly comprehensive over the decades it was instituted. So at least some increase in gambling addiction might be attributed to the increased lottery offerings though the same period. This might throw off an analysis.)



If you'd like to really experience horse betting at it's finest, I'd recommend making a trip up to the Horse Capital of the World: Lexington, KY. Keeneland Racetrack in Lexingon is topnotch with the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville not far behind.


The Fair Grounds are even more fun the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May when the Jazz Festival takes over the city!


A day at the track is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment around.

Last year, my wife, her parents, her sister, her brother-in-law and I were on vacation in Hong Kong and spent New Year's Day at the track in Happy Valle, where the minimum bet was 10 HKD (about $1.30). Stayed for eight races (about 3-4 hours), placed 48 bets (one bet per person per race), had a contest to see who could pick the most winners (my brother-in-law won with two winners in six races), drank cheap Qingdao beer, and had a blast. Overall made a slight profit on our betting (bet 480 HKD, won 555 HKD), so with food & drink, our cost for four hours of entertainment ended up being about $1 per person.

We go to the track here in Seattle every now and then with friends and have just as good a time.


Maybe it's the lighting, maybe it's the effects of the Gin, maybe it's the hat, but you look a little bit like Amy Winehouse...


Indeed, the $4 profit is just your accounting profit. But, the economic profit is probably less, maybe even negative. Because the explicit costs are being disregarded in this case. The implicit costs include the time you took out of your day to be at the track, when you could have been somewhere else. Also, the cost to get to the track...transportation to and from.
However, like you said, if you enjoyed the track, then there is nothing wrong with only making $4 at betting (at least you didn't leave empty handed).


I personally enjoy betting, it does give me an emotion of thrill, of risk, of excitement... yeah, until i lose... haha. The pleasure points of a poker game for example come when you play well and win, yet most players lose when they bet, thats usually how it is. So just because one enjoys the thrill of betting, I don't believe a rational person will risk a lot of money for that type of pleasure. Starting small is where the addiction begins, soon, you'll be drowning in dept from losing after betting your home!

Johnny Disaster

How is it that one picture can make economics so much more interesting to me?


Flat out: That pic is hott!

Michael From China

someone like history, someone like music,someone like sprots,someone like business,someone like money,someone like the way to make money ,someone like the way to motivate people to do things,someone like economics……


You always win your first time at the track. That is how the Powers that Be rope you in to going back.

Oh yeah, you'll be back...

David Denham

The cigar is sexy -- until one kisses the girl. Then it becomes a function of desire versus distaste.
The outcome? Variable.


Oh, that reminds me.

Now that Hilary's the SecState, we gotta get Bill a desk job.

Joe Olivier

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
But not this time.


I was actually thinking she looked more like Fran Drescher than Amy Winehouse (and the comparison is more favorable).

King Pigeon

I thought it was a photo of Asia Argento for a moment.


This is the coolest thing I have found on the internet in a long time.

Mathias Bartl

Dude you ae hot!

Liz lessner

What are we waiting for? we could be smoking cigars and wearing old timey sexpot hats down in Atlatic City!!!