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Huge Mechanical Computers Used To Calculate Horse Racing Odds (hackaday.com) 63

szczys writes: The Pari-Mutuel system revolutionized how wagers were made on horse races starting in the late 1800s. It moved away from gambling against the house, and adjusted the odds based on how many people were placing wagers on a particular horse. Calculating and publicly displaying the changing odds was slow and labor intensive until engineers took a crack at the problem. They created Tote Boards; large mechanical computers which connected to each betting window with levers and cables. Each pull of a lever recalculated the odds which were displayed on large mechanical displays for all to see. Tote Boards were built all over the world and used until digital computing displaced them.
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Huge Mechanical Computers Used To Calculate Horse Racing Odds

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  • Does it run analog Linux?

  • My wife tried to explain how that all worked to me once; it didn't work.

    So, I still make my bets on the ponies based on a combination of the name of the horse and who the house has given the shortest odds of winning. Usually I just bet the two horses who are handicapped to win but don't pay very well.

    I can't win any real money, but the house often ends up paying for my betting, which is good enough for me.

    The guys who read all the stats and the like? I question if they do any better than chance.

    • Re:LOL ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @03:04PM (#50865247)

      Well, that means you are playing 3rd derivative performance estimation.
      The track is playing 2nd derivative performance estimation by being a dynamic neutral party in the mass betting of people both less and significantly more informed than anyone running the track.
      The guys who read all the stats and make the big bets are playing 1st derivative performance estimation, taking observed numbers and comparing estimates based on repetition of historical behavior.
      The jockeys and horses are the raw data, and sometimes smelly.

      You won't win big by betting on the likely outcome, but if betting is just part of the fun of watching the races, it'll work out in your favor much more than purely random or directly contrarian betting.

      • What derivative performance estimation are the mobsters who loan the big players money to bet with using?

        It seems like they manage to turn a profit regardless of outcome at the tracks.
      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        The jockeys and horses are the raw data, and sometimes smelly.

        And don't forget the trainers. At least on smaller tracks they can get away with doping up a long shot horse to make it win and pay long odds to those insiders who know which horse in which race is the one to bet on. All it takes is a small sleight of hand when the post race urine test is done.

    • Re:LOL ... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @03:30PM (#50865443)

      Two things.

      First, 'the house' has no stake in the outcome of the race, and never loses money on a race, so you are never playing with house money.

      Second, 'the odds' are not the chances of the horse winning (which would be impossible to calculate), it is the amount of money you get paid if the horse does win. For instance, the amount paid for the 'win' position is determined by taking all of the money bet on the 'win' position (minus the tracks cut), and dividing it among the winning tickets. The odds printed in the program are just a prediction of what the BETTING will look like.

      How do you think they calculate the predicted odds, which you use to make your selections? By studying the stats and the like. The fact that you don't lose much using your method shows that studying the stats DOES lead to a better outcome than chance (if you know what you are looking at, of course).

      • by jfengel ( 409917 )

        As I understand it, random bets should yield about the same outcome. You just get fewer, larger payouts. Either way, the house is taking its piece, and you share the rest with the other players.

        Ideally, the stats that matter are matching your knowledge of the race against everybody else's. If you know that this horse does better than people expect, or you know that some horse is a sentimental favorite but isn't likely to perform well, you can beat the other players and walk away with more than your randomly

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      My office had an OTB move in across the parking lot. I used to take clients there and drink my lunch there. I won a ton of money - I was (and probably still am) well ahead. However, I learned to read the booklet that they have, where you can see who's done what and what their history is for the year. My winning ratio sunk. Prior to that I always bet on the "chariot" racing (sulkies/harness) and always bet on the guy named Banks or Banks Jr or I simply bet on #3 to win/place/show. I once won so much that I h

      • I won a ton of money - I was (and probably still am) well ahead. However, I learned to read the booklet that they have, where you can see who's done what and what their history is for the year. My winning ratio sunk. Prior to that I always bet on the "chariot" racing (sulkies/harness) and always bet on the guy named Banks or Banks Jr or I simply bet on #3 to win/place/show. I once won so much that I had to pay taxes on it. However, as soon as some old guy showed me what that little book was for? I was sunk. I stopped going over and better after a little while - the magic was gone.

        To which I can only reply, https://xkcd.com/552/ [xkcd.com]

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          One of my favorites. The funny part is that I am, technically, a mathematician. (I hold a Ph.D in Applied Mathematics.) I even went so far as to buy a few books and see what I could crunch (keep in mind, I had a bunch of compute power across the parking lot and worked, specifically, with traffic modeling which is chaotic) and then tried to optimize my betting to maximize wins and minimize losses as well as figuring out where it was most likely to to result in a high payout.

          After all that, I did worse. I ima

  • The big Mechanical Sigmas Derby's are dropping like flys.

    I herd not to long ago 2 where taken out back and shot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bet against the house and you LOSE- this is one of the simplest facts of statistics. Idiots think this means all gambling is a mug's game. No, you gamble when you are betting against the OPINIONS of people, because people are predictable and non-scientific.

    Professional gamblers play the horses, and known which forms of races to avoid. They look for mug punters shifting the odds in favourable STATISTICAL directions. No one bet guarantees a return- the betting strategy must be long term. The best races are hi

  • replaced by digital (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chilenexus ( 2660641 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @03:01PM (#50865225)
    Mechanical doesn't mean they're not digital, it just means they're not electronic. Without doing a lot of research into these specific machines, it would be a whole lot easier to build them using a digital calculations rather than analog.
    • Garbage. Antikythera mechanism, admiralty fire control table, a slide rule.

      A gear, cam or rod can move by less than the thickness of a red cunt hair. Mechanical is inherently analog unless you really go out of your way to make it digital.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

        A gear, cam or rod can move by less than the thickness of a red cunt hair.

        For the record, "a red cunt hair" is an official unit of measurement in the British Imperial System. There is literally a red cunt hair embedded in platinum at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London.

        • The official Red Cunt Hair (RCH) is widely believed to have belonged originally to Elizabeth I. Both Robert Dudley and Francis Drake are reported to have provided it to the officials Elizabeth put in charge of regularizing the system of weights and measures. However, all involved were motivated by the dictum, "Loose lips lose heads", and so the provenance is uncertain.
          • The official Red Cunt Hair (RCH) is widely believed to have belonged originally to Elizabeth I. Both Robert Dudley and Francis Drake are reported to have provided it to the officials Elizabeth put in charge of regularizing the system of weights and measures. However, all involved were motivated by the dictum, "Loose lips lose heads", and so the provenance is uncertain.

            That's the original standard of the RCH. In the early 1950s, there was a UK-wide search for the reference red cunt hair. After three years

      • by aix tom ( 902140 )

        Basically the same way electronics is inherently analog unless you really go out of your way to make it digital.

  • I realize this article is about computing odds 'officially', but the book "The Valachi Papers" about mafia member Joe Valachi (Valachi didn't use the word 'mafia' himself; about that name he said that's "what you people call us."), has some insider scoop where Valachi talks about horse racing. He even owned some race horses himself. (Something most of his colleagues didn't BTW. He got into it by chance because some guy overheard his wife talking about a horse at a race track, and told her that, against c

  • Please make an effort to avoid linking to paywalled articles. It is very inconvenient.

    Thank you

  • Don't bother. There's no more information than there is in the summary. There aren't even any photos or diagrams of one of these machines.
    • by free779 ( 1529 )
      Agh, never mind. The second link is the article, the first is just a reference to EB. Why? Doesn't the article contain enough information?
  • Sulkies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:21PM (#50865855) Journal

    My grandpa taught me how to bet the harness races at Sportsman's Park. He had this arcane formula that involved eliminating the horses in the outside three stalls, the horses' last results and the names of the drivers. I'm not going to share the details here, because this is paramutual betting and I need you all to lose.

    But let me tell you, grandpa always had dough. He used to say betting the harness races was for supplementing his Social Security and railroad pension. When he died, my mom gave me all his clothes, because grandpa was a flash dresser and we were about the same size. Of course, the styles were about 30 years out of date, but that worked for me thanks to nostalgia.

    Anyway, the upshot is that one day, a few months after he died, I decided to try on one of his suits. I found a big roll of bills in the inside jacket pocket. Maybe 8-900 bucks. Then I looked in one of his cashmere overcoats: another grand or so. By the time all was said and done, I must have found $30,000 salted away in grandpa's clothes. Now this is a guy who was a Sicilian immigrant who went through the third grade and came to this country at age 12 to be a shepherd in Colorado. He worked for the Rock Island Railroad for like 45 years, but all that went into the house and the family. Everybody thought gramps was placing $2 bets at the track, but it turns out old boy was rolling deep.

    I miss my grandpa and how he'd take me out to the racetrack when I was a kid and explain everything to me as if I understood it..

    • harness races gate is lot of BS in the way it works.

    • Sportsmans? In Cicero? Cool! I grew up just the other side of Cicero Ave on the Chicago side. My aunt and uncle used to race harness horses, and I'd go there every once in a while. They never won, but was still fun.

      The clothes are a great story... you know about Storycorps right?

      • Sportsmans? In Cicero? Cool! I grew up just the other side of Cicero Ave on the Chicago side. My aunt and uncle used to race harness horses, and I'd go there every once in a while. They never won, but was still fun.

        Same place all right. I grew up around Taylor and Racine in the heart of Little Italy before UIC moved in.

        I had a lot of friends from Cicero. Most of them are either in jail, in politics or dead. Some are all three, now that I think about it.

        I know Storycorps. I like to hear the stories on WBE

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