Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My next career move: Professional gambler

Back in 1969(ish), my mom decided to invest in real estate.

Her much-older sister, who was of a generation that strongly believed in investing in Tangible Things, bought a summer house upstate. It was once part of a batch of cottages owned by a local hotel, which got sold off piecemeal as the 20th century progressed. Soon after her sister bought her house, the one ten feet away came up for sale. Family lore (I haven't cross-checked against property deeds or anything) has it that my mom bought the house for $6,000, and its furnishings for another $3,000. Thus did my family acquire a 700-square-foot house named Covehurst, more popularly known as "the decrepit shack in the Adirondacks."

(That sounds unfairly derogatory except to those who have actually seen the place. It was built around 100 years ago and, until recently, left untouched. Functional plumbing was an exciting and rare occurrence.)

Since we had a "summer house," my family trekked up to Brant Lake every summer. And promptly began casting about for entertainments. Our 30-year-old vintage Monopoly set, Lake George tourist traps, and outlet shopping will only take you so far on a family vacation. You eventually need new distractions.

Like gambling.

At some point, my family realized that Saratoga Springs was less than an hour away. My mom and dad had always enjoyed horse racing -- my dad has stories of the Triple Crown race he watched Secretariat run live, and win by 31 lengths. So we began making annual day trips to the Saratoga races. I'm pretty sure my sister and I started betting on horses before either of us had our first beer, which has to be a fairly novel and backward way of doing things these days.

This weekend, my family converged upstate, and I spent Friday watching the last seven races of the day at this year's Saratoga meet. I don't know enough about horses to handicap with any kind of "effective" gambling system, and I suspect that if I did, I wouldn't be successful any more often than I am now. If gambling were a science, lots more people would be rich. So I look over the stats, but I'm still susceptible to a catchy name.

Like "Economic Tsunami."

In the middle of an epic recession, is there any way I'm not betting on the horse named Economic Tsunami?

I picked another horse that looked good and laid down an exacta box and an across-the-board bet on Economic Tsunami.

Who came second! I can't recall exactly what I was holding, but I hit the exacta and a few other bets, and my $10 wager paid me back around $100.

That was the first of three exactas I hit, my new daily record. Since I only place $2 bets, I'll never win crazy money, but I walked in with a stake of $120 and left with $296.40 (advantage of a statistician spouse: you always end up knowing exactly what you won or lost), which was definitely my best day at the track to date.

And I owe it all to Economic Tsunami.