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Titanic

January 8, 2011
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I know that (almost) nobody but me continues to care about the death of the OTBs and the decline of horse racing. But it’s (at least partially) my blog, so fuck off.

A couple of things of interest on the subject. I just finished reading a biography of famed bettor Titanic Thompson, by Kevin Cook. Titanic Thompson was a gambler, a killer, and an unrepentant cheater. His goal was to win your money, often by guile and skill, but if necessary by rigging the game and playing you for a chump. He just wanted your money. Not a degenerate in some senses — he didn’t drink at all — but he serially married teenage girls and killed five (and possibly more) men. The book was very interesting, and covered a lot of the history of 20th Century American gambling history, from Arnold Rothstein (Titanic played in the card game that led to Rothstein’s death) to the great poker players Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson (Titanic was outclassed at the poker table, and the real players knew he was cheating — according to the book, eventually they just humored him and let him win some pots and beat him the next).

Titanic’s biggest plays were proposition bets, which were basically schoolyard-style dares. Like “I’ll bet you I can guess how many watermelons are in that truck.” Of course, Titanic had already pre-arranged with the truck driver so he knew the answer. There went the sucker’s money.

But apropos of the subject at hand, horse racing, what was Titanic’s view of that? This is a guy who knew all the angles, and if he was betting on something where he didn’t have the advantage, he’d just fix the game. But horse racing was different. Horse racing is notoriously hard to beat, because even if you have all the angles and are smarter, or work harder, than the next guy, the difficulty of handicapping and sheer luck — coupled with the usurious takeout — generally conspire to take out even the hardiest horse bettor.

This is what happened to Titanic. He won at everything else, then lost it at the track. After years of frustration, he finally decided to take matters into his own hands. In a horse race in Mexico, Titanic threatened to kill all of the jockeys racing against his horse if they won the race. When Titanic’s horse broke down in the stretch, apparently there was the bizarre sight of six other jockeys frantically attempting to pull up their horses before the finish line. He couldn’t win at the track even with the fix fully in.

I thought of Titanic Thompson being broken at the track when I saw this video (thanks to ANIMAL for pointing it out) at New York Lives. I can’t tell exactly whether the video maker is poking fun at these guys or not, but it would be a shame if he were. Their comments about OTB may make little sense to many, but they are sincere, and they reminded me of Titanic Thompson and the continual draw of the track, even though he, of all people, knew it was a sucker’s game.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. jco permalink
    January 8, 2011 8:52 pm

    When all the U.S. tracks shut down, how will the Princes of Dubai wager their oil money? Where will they buy their $2MM foals?

    • jco permalink
      January 8, 2011 8:58 pm

      And more to the point, how will that toothless guy lose the rest of his dough?

  2. Fat Al permalink*
    January 9, 2011 10:42 am

    It’s all about the logic of illogic.

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