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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.