Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Being The Eye In The Sky

I used to love the show LOU GRANT. It was a spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but it really had nothing in common with it. It wasn't a comedy, nor did it try to be. It took the news element, and the Lou Grant character, and it tackled many issues of the day that others wouldn't touch at that point.
I watched it every week and never got tired of it.

One of those issues was the use of legalized gambling to act as a hidden tax on the masses to pay for things like schools and health care. In those days, it was in its infancy. These days, every state, country and city is on board with milking that cow for every drop they can squeeze out.

One of my favorite episodes, and one I remember clearly, was one where the newspaper was investigating cheating at the racetrack and fixing of races. It was titled GAMBLING, and I have included it below if you wish to watch it. What they describe in that episode goes on all the time, every day, as most of us know. Not that much, maybe 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent, or less, of all races. But still, that is about 5 or 6 races (at least) of all the races that go on around the globe each day.

Of course, I can't possibly figure out what is going on in a place like Hong Kong or Australia or Dubai. But, if you follow just a few tracks, and know a bit about the players already, you can spot what is going on.
In the LOU GRANT episode, this old guy at the track was one of those guys that did just that. He traveled from track to track, and he made it his job to figure out when a scam or score was being run. He had figured out that a horse (now called VESPI) that was about to run and win had been switched in for another horse who was a no talent/no good horse (the actual horse VESPI). In other words, they had disposed of the previous horse, and took this new horse and passed him off as the other one. It would be similar to saying you sent up a pitcher who can't hit, switched in a Rod Carew (one of the greatest pure hitters of all time), and not telling anyone bet on whether he would get a hit off the worst pitcher in the league. The odds you get on the pitcher getting the hit vs. Rod Carew getting a hit would be staggering, and very few would be onto it if you did it right. Its not obvious to anyone but those who really pay attention for such things.

In horse racing, they call such a scam running a "ringer." There are many other ways the scam can be run. Holding back a horse, but not really holding back a horse. Driving or riding a horse into trouble so they can't succeed and you don't look like you did anything wrong other than perform badly. Undertraining a horse so he isn't fit for a while, and then doing the opposite. It goes on and on.
In the episode, the old guy, Mort, describes how it goes. 

"How many times you think something like this happens? Not very often. Horses are honest. The owners, trainers and jockeys....I don't trust."

The LOU GRANT story was based on a real story and situation that happened at Belmont Park in New York in 1977. A horse from Uruguay was substituted for another horse from there when they were both shipped to the U.S., the cheaper, less talented one was then either killed or gotten rid of, and the much superior horse was put in his place and run, but after he was made to look like the bad one first by running him poorly. The connections who pulled it off won a very large bet. Like most cheaters, they got caught because they were idiots who weren't sophisticated enough to pull off such a scam.

Frank Castanza: My George isn't clever enough to hatch a scheme like this. 
Elaine Benes: You got that right.
Frank Castanza: What the hell does that mean?
Elaine Benes: That means whatever the hell you want it to mean.
Frank Castanza: You want a piece of me?
On the TV show, the reporters were investigating gambling and track goings on. However, they weren't on to the scam. The old guy, Mort, tipped off Lou Grant to the scam---after he made the profit. In the meantime, Lou Grant had befriended Mort and when Mort got sick, he asked Lou to make the bet for him, and told him to bet everything he owns on VESPI. Mort made the score on that horse, and he did it by paying attention to the little things that others were missing. The new horse wasn't  VESPI, and Mort detected that. He kept his mouth shut, wasn't part of the scam, but profited because he figured it out and knew what they were doing, and waited for them to try and execute the score. Which they did. Just like George Castanza, these types aren't clever enough to pull off a scheme like this for long and get away with it. They are screw ups and they will find a way to get caught. Which they did in real life and on the LOU GRANT episode. 
At the end of the episode, this is the key exchange, as Lou gives Mort the $35,000 he made betting on the horse that appeared to be VESPI, but was in fact not VESPI.

Lou Grant: You knew the race was fixed. How? Well, what's the scam? I want to know.
Mort: ....I'm no snitch.
Lou Grant: But you knew it. Somebody must have tipped you.
Mort: Lou, nobody tipped me. I figured it out myself. That horse wasn't Vespi.
Lou Grant: What!
Mort: It came to me. Took me a while to figure it out, but you know, last year, I saw that Vespi run..once...he ran dead last..with a funny sort of a gait. But the point is, the Pimlico Vespi...was not the Vespi who ran today. There was a switch. Somebody made a switch.

It would be great if nobody ever cheated at horse racing. Or sports. Or in life, politics or on Wall Street. But that isn't reality. People will always do that. It isn't your job to police or stop them, and even if you wanted to, you likely couldn't. And shouldn't. It isn't your business.
But if they are going to cheat, and you can figure it out, and others can't, then you can profit. That is a big part of figuring out how to make money betting horses--or investing in stocks.
Sure, most can figure out the shadow trainers and who they are fronting for. But, since everyone can do that, the value of the bets you get on those are minimal at best. If everyone knows it, it isn't any good to you. The same can be said for the guys who have the new cheater drug or juice. They are obvious about what they are doing, and everyone is on to them. They win a lot, but they still lose enough and when they win, the masses are all over them. You don't end up making any serious, significant money at the end of the day.
This type of scam happened a couple of years ago at Penn National, and those running it got caught. Before they did, you can be sure plenty of people who weren't involved in the scam, and some that were, made a lot of money betting on horses who were deliberately made to appear different on the program than they were in reality. It is hard to detect it before it is exposed, but it's not impossible. Criminals as a rule are stupid and don't make a huge effort to hide what they are doing, even though they think that they are. That, in reality, is where you can make a great deal of the money you can make betting, in addition to just grinding it out with good overall handicapping and data work.
For those who are "the eye in the sky" and pay attention, the real crafty cheaters present an easy way to make money, and very few can detect them. It takes hard work, quite a bit of smarts, and paying attention to patterns and certain details of what they do, when they do it and how they go about it.
Just like in the episode, if you use your time wisely and figure that out, you get the payoff for that.
Which reminds me of the Alan Parsons song, which wasn't about that persay, but is and was certainly relevant. 

 That's how it goes
'Cause part of me knows what you're thinking...

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don't need to see any more
To know that I can read your mind, I can read your mind

Don't leave false illusions behind
Don't cry 'cause I ain't changing my mind
So find another fool like before
'Cause I ain't gonna live anymore believing
Some of the lies while all of the signs are deceiving

 I have learned, over time, to pay attention to the very little details others miss, and capitalize on them when the situation is right to do so. I viewed that Lou Grant episode before I ever attended a horse race in 1982, but I never forgot it. I spend many years thinking I could beat the races solely on good handicapping, which I can do well, but not enough to actually make the kind of profit I wish to make. Many others do the same, and they get beat by just the type of horse that beat the masses at Belmont, in the Lou Grant episode and at Penn National.
I make it a point these days to be on the right end of that equation, not the wrong end. I wish they didn't cheat, and there was no cheating in this world. But there is, and if I can't stop it, I will at least profit from it while it happens. 
I will conclude with a quote from a very old song that relates to that. 

 I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

Population keeps on breeding
Nation bleeding, still more feeding economy
Life is funny, skies are sunny
Bees make honey, who needs money, No none for me

I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

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