Tact at the track: Tales of the Betting Window [Kentucky Derby]

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Any serious discussion of racetrack etiquette has to begin with the single thing that affects every betting patron: What the person in front of you is doing at the window/self-service terminal.

This should be a simple conversation, but I suspect global warming, cancer and the U.S. dependence on foreign oil will all be solved or resolved before we find an answer to the betting-window crisis. What are people doing up there in front besides wasting incredible amounts of time?   

First, we have the serious handicapper/bettor who thinks it’s OK to monopolize the window for extended periods of time because he (I’ve never seen a woman do this) is a serious player with serious bets and firmly believes everyone else’s wagers are too trivial to matter. Memo to Mr. Betting Tycoon: You may bet bigger than most of us, but 20 $5 bettors still equal a single $100 bettor. Worst of all, most of these guys watch odds like a day-trader watches stocks and thus wait until the last possible minute to hold up the works. 

I once watched a man reach the window with 10 minutes to post and stay there until the entire field had loaded in the starting gate. He walked away magnanimously — a king finally relinquishing the window to the peasants.  Amid the jeers and insults, I privately wished the schmuck a fistful of losing tickets.  

But window dominance is not just the disease of deep-pocketed players. In fact, novices and amateurs are sometimes the most egregious offenders.

Big-event days like Breeders’ Cup, Oaks and Derby are the worst for obvious reasons. With these folks, the biggest problem of all is their general understanding of the betting window. Blame the mint juleps or the fanfare,  but these men and women (in this case,  women outdo men) apparently think it’s proper to consult with the mutuel clerk as if they were discussing their annual portfolio review with Charles Schwab. The mutuel clerks, of course, are haggard, grumpy and overworked,  and I admire them for not reaching out and choking these blissfully unaware customers.

Uninitiated in the nuances of betting, the novice can hog more window time than anyone simply by asking unnecessary questions. Unnecessary because all racing programs include a section explicitly outlining the different kinds of bets and what to say, in what order, at the window. I’ve overheard some great conversations from these types of bettors, such as, “Excuse me, my friends did this one bet last year where you take two horses and combine them with other horses.  They made a bunch of money.  Can you tell me how to do that one?”   

Lastly, no conversation about window hogging would be complete without a quick mention of self-service-machine abuse. Even though there isn’t an actual teller, there’s still a line, my friends. In general, these individuals don’t have a clue how to calculate the cost of an exotic bet or how to place a bet, so they stand around aimlessly trial-punching numbers — careless experimentation while the line fumes.   

Best piece of advice I can give to avoid being a window glutton: Plan ahead. In most cases, spending more than a minute in the window is rude — and a sign of incompetence. If you are placing wagers on multiple races or have multiple bets,  get to the window early and get out as soon as possible. 

 

Illustration by Cat Scott

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