Commentary

Minority Interest

Updated: June 22, 2009, 4:57 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

This one is about women and gambling.

Were it not for women, there would be almost 70 percent fewer slot machines dotting the earth and crossing through bank balances. The estimate that almost three-fourths of slot machine players are women comes from a friend who works for an Indian casino. I asked around when last I was among the slot machines, and the women surveyed said that they preferred this gamble to others because it was fast, fun, and a full-blown diversion from the rigors of everyday tedium. The women slot machine regulars with whom I am familiar consider themselves to be better players than men. This would seem to say that the women have more discipline, as basic slot strategy would seem to involve quitting when you're a decent amount ahead, or quitting every time you're a fair amount behind.

If you fight the house slot odds a lot, you probably need to believe in something strategic, situations whereby flukes of randomness are considered to be trends; otherwise you could get to feeling stupid.

Women players also enjoy blackjack, with an estimate of that male-female breakdown at the casinos around here being something like 2-1, men. Poker success over the long run would seem to have more to do with guts than glam; dice appears to be male-dominated, roulette, 50-50.

Wagering on horse races? Ninety percent to ten percent, male? Even more pronounced?

In the average horse race simulcast venue, on some Thursday night when there isn't a special occasion on hand, when the beer is flat and the food is fried or deep fried, few women horseplayers are to be seen.

A woman seated alone might produce the following survey guesses at my betting parlor:

  • The male she arrived with is in the restroom - 70 percent.
  • She is in the horse racing business - 11 percent.
  • Female she came with is in the restroom - 6 percent.
  • Problem gambler - 5 percent.
  • Cop - 4 percent.
  • Simply loves regularly wagering on horses - 4 percent.

    Why is horse race handicapping such a male-dominated endeavor?

    At a combination casino-horse race simulcast facility last weekend, I asked three women to take a break from some quarter slot machines and spend a few minutes looking at horse races. One woman was ahead $50 and wouldn't quit spinning until she won or lost $20 more. She won it inside five minutes. She knew something of horse racing, chiefly the Triple Crown races and an occasional Breeder's Cup Day party. Another of the women didn't know much about horse racing beyond the Kentucky Derby. The third woman had never bet on a horse.

    There's no such thing as Horse Racing for Stooges.

    So I bought Racing Forms all around and gave the slot players a fast but complete rundown of the fundamentals.

    It took about 45 minutes to handicap a race.

    Each sport has its own shorthand; but to somebody unfamiliar with the horse racing game, the past performances can make a high school junior's text-messaging seem rather self-explanatory.

    One slot regular made a decent point: Why spend so much time handicapping the race when the odds on the tote board did that work for you? Her thought was that it was obvious the 6-5 favorite was off a win or two; or had raced well against superior competition. And that the 50-1 shot probably couldn't beat any of the four of us around the track. Also, the expert handicappers, the pickers, had handicapped the race as well. It stood to reason that the bettors and the pickers knew more than three slot players; but that they didn't know enough to be doing something more honorable at the time. So why didn't we use the knowledge and inadequacies that were on public display, and combine the second and third public betting choices with the third and fourth consensus expert picks, and box them in an Exacta.

    We lost $24 apiece.

    Our horses ran second, third, out, out.

    Not bad.

    They thanked me for the crash course and passed on doing another race, and left.

    Maybe the difference in men and women as it relates to horse race handicapping is that women are used to having been right more often.

    Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.