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Baillieu Library

February 17th, 2010 0 comments

I don’t always go to the races. Sometimes, you can catch me in a library. Today I’m back at my old stamping ground, the University of Melbourne, searching the literature in the Baillieu Library. In the olden days this was a real pleasure. Flicking through the card catalogue, breathing in the smell of musty old journals in the catacombs, and then robotically Xeroxing a stack of interesting papers. These days it’s all computer searches, huge online databases, and ejournals, with not even the faint whiff of a musty electron. And no photocopying – I just email the results to myself or bung it all on a geek stick. I come here maybe once or twice a year, when the students are on holidays. I mainly search the horse behaviour literature, but I also wander off into gambling psychology, equine exercise physiology, efficient market economics and other horse racing trivia.

I’m thinking about the long-awaited sequel: Watching More Racehorses, as I scroll through interminable lists of references. Or how about: A Punter’s Progress. Or: Son of Watching Racehorses. Maybe: Watching Racehorses Rides Again, but that is probably a bit too Hopalong Cassidy, or was it Destry?. My reverie is suddenly interrupted. I might have been scooped! Nicholas Rose and Susan Blackmore tested a psychic who claimed to be able predict the winners of horse races. That would put me out of business! Unfortunately they didn’t take him to the track but tested him at home and in the lab on a computer horse race and with toy money. In the end they did 210 tests and he predicted the winner 21 times. Did I tell you there were 10 runners in each race? So his performance was exactly what you would expect by chance. And the interesting thing is that when he was interviewed later he was convinced that the results confirmed his psychic powers! I can relate to that.

Another title grabs my attention: “The influence of religiosity on gambling participation”. Now my religiosity is extremely low and my gambling participation is, well, quite high, so I was intrigued. But in the end it was a let down. The authors concluded that there was a significant difference in the frequency of religious participation between gamblers and non-gamblers. And the more types of games played (casino, horses, lottery, bingo) the lower was the frequency of participation. Well it just seems common sense to me really – you simply have no time left for God.

And finally, there was this one: “Do bookmakers possess superior skills to bettors in predicting outcomes?” Let’s jump straight to the conclusion: “Employing a conditional logistic regression model on horse racing data from the UK we find that, in high liquidity betting markets, betting exchange odds have more predictive value than the corresponding bookmaker odds”.

More power to the punter!

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