An early mechanical tote board. Source:  Hackaday

An early mechanical tote board. Source: Hackaday

We were already a month or so into our first round of pen-and-paper play-testing (I am nice with the Google Sheets, BTW) when I came across this piece over at Hackaday about the history of mechanical parimutuel odds computation for horse racing. 

So here's something you might not know right out the gate — while in games like Blackjack you're betting against the house, in the betting around horse racing and most other sports - betting controlled by bookmaking in general - the odds line fluctuates based on the ratio of bets for the given outcomes.

You're betting against the other gamblers, and the odds line you're offered changes in real time, or as close to it as the system allows.

There are a number of advantages to this, the parimutuel system, both for the gamblers and for the house:

  1. The odds line is established by the 'wisdom of the crowds', rather than some secret sauce number-crunching done in smoky backrooms by guys named Jerry.
  2. The house always gets a consistent rake (delectably known as the 'vigorish', aka the 'under-juice', 'cut', 'take', or 'vig'), and the relationship of the house and the gambler is no longer adversarial.
  3. Sharp gamblers are now looking for places where everyone else is wrong, kind of like the stock market (the flip side of point 1, above).

The article focuses mostly on the massive, beautiful computers this dude George Julius (nickname 'Orange' - that's not in Wikipedia you heard it here) made to tally up and display the odds lines. He called them Totalisators, hence tote boards, and it's rad to read because you can just smell the 19th century horse shit and bad moonshine. 

But over here, we're more interested in the art and science of bookmaking. Why? Because, for now, Horse Majeure is going to work a bit more like a book. So more on that soon.

Also - welcome.