If you've had a winning flutter on the horses during the Spring Racing Carnival and your thoughts turn to having an easier life as a professional punter, think again.
Research at Victoria University by Dr Georgia Whiting has revealed professional punters are an elite group of highly-disciplined and well-educated punters, but their life is far from easy: they work up to 80 hours a week and travel widely to attend events on Victoria's crowded racing schedule.
Dr Whiting said: "This is an occupation without a safety net or benefits. Unlike the majority of regular punters who dream of a big win based on little effort, the professionals I studied work extremely long hours to have the very best chances of winning."
She studied the secret subculture of the very small number of full-time horseracing punters in Victoria whose livelihood relies exclusively on Australia's $10 billion racing industry for her PhD in Sociology.
A Woodend resident and horseracing enthusiast for more than 20 years, Dr Whiting said it was difficult to get information for her study as professional punters are very secretive about their identity and business.
Her research showed that professional horserace punters who "do the form" using traditional strategies such as walking the track, watching race trials and observing track work are increasingly rare, even though they have a betting edge over tech-savvy punters.
While most of the study participants embraced some modern technology to calculate betting variables, they depended more on their life-long association with racing and strategies of the past. These included walking the track on race mornings and between races, information swapping within tightly held networks, studying race tapes, observing track work and trials, and scrutinising horses in the mounting yard.
Dr Whiting also observed information was exchanged among jockeys, trainers and occasionally, select off-course punters, although her study subjects are "acutely aware of the dangers of insider trading and manage their information networks as closely as possible," she said.
The pro gamblers in Dr Whiting's study typically preferred fixed odds and bet-win-place combinations over exotic bets (trifectas and quadrellas) and rarely bet in distance or jumps races.
"They bet very selectively and believe that patience, fewer bets, good contacts, and an in-depth understanding of all the factors are the mainstays of winning over the long term," she said.
But her research showed they are gradually being replaced by 'invisible', off-course punters who regularly bet through internet and telephone agencies, with some using sophisticated computer programs to calculate bets. However, it is unknown how many of these gave up their day-jobs to gamble full-time.
Dr Whiting said: "Off-course punters cannot access these methods to the same degree as the professionals I studied, and that extra information can give them a greater edge when betting."
For more than two years, she conducted interviews and shadowed several members of Victoria's career gamblers for her study 'Identity and Practice among Australian Horseracing Punters'.
Ann Marie Angebrandt, Media Officer,
Marketing & Communications Department, Victoria University
Ph: (03)9919 5487; mobile: 0403 556 001