Horse racing's sure thing

This is the story of how I used a recent afternoon to personally thank the people who have taken it upon themselves to finance a lot of horse racing as we know it today.

Updated: January 28, 2005, 3:12 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

This is the story of how I used a recent afternoon to personally thank the people who have taken it upon themselves to finance a lot of horse racing as we know it today and ensure that its future is richer than its past as far as money is concerned.

In this story, the people who help others by helping themselves are some of the Indian tribes whose sovereign rights include having a license to print slot machines and wind them up and put them on their land.

Through sheer brilliance, numerous horse race tracks around the country have muscled into the slot machine game and have on the grounds rows and rows of the one-eyed bandits, one-eyed because there are buttons instead of handles that start the dreams spinning. I live in Tulsa, Okla., where a loosening of the Bible belt has occurred. Indian tribes run the slot machines. And the Indians and horse race tracks have recently cut a deal to share the profits from the electronic gaming devices. Why the Indians would do such a thing is beyond me. Perhaps there really is such a thing as having enough money. Maybe it is a good neighbor policy.

Maybe it's just good business, spread the slot profits around if they'll let you deal blackjack and poker. Whatever the reason for some horse racing plants to get slot machine profit: Purses can almost double overnight. Plugs can run for a purse that is worth more than their entire bloodline. A non-winner of two with one foot on the dude ranch can race for twenty grand.

Attendance can be down.

Handle can be about the same.

Purses and profits soar to record levels!

There are about 3,000 slot machines in the Cherokee Casino in Tulsa. A gigantic Vegas-type sign out front says that $1 million is paid out each day. Information concerning the amount of Indian bread kept each day was not publicized. On the evening when I went to thank all the nice people for boosting horse racing to the next level, I found one machine that was not being played, that's o-n-e. It had ducks on it. I sat down and lost $20 in what seemed like 20 seconds and got up seeming to have just come from fighting a grass fire in Yellowstone.

At 6 p.m. on a Friday in this casino, a gambling and smoking frenzy was in progress.

There is a stipulation in the law here that permits smoking in an Indian gambling facility. Given the kick nicotine gives to the brain, somebody with a Camel non-filter undoubtedly bets faster than a non-smoker seated at the next slot machine, gasping for breath and breathing into a bag of French fries. Smokers have undoubtedly felt like second-class citizens when they have been driven to the alleys behind offices and restaurants for their refreshing cigarette. Revenge is theirs in our Indian casinos. I have never seen so many elderly people blowing smoke. Or maybe they only look that old, maybe it's the years of sucking on tar that's deepened the wrinkles.

Third-hand smoke could be a hazard -- anybody coming into close proximity with your jacket before you wash it could start wheezing.

Playing a $1 electronic gaming machine at a reasonable speed, it is possible to go through about $500 in one hour if you don't have a winner.

On behalf of horse players everywhere, I thanked a woman playing a $5 machine fast as she could.

She asked that I be quiet and not interrupt her concentration, then she rubbed a religious figurine beside the slot machine.

Regular casino players seem to think that the slot machines are programmed individually. But I have heard it said by people on the job that the take-in and payout programs include all the slots in a particular monetary category, which is to say that a single machine could run hot or cold for a long time. With electronic circuitry involved, "system" players seem to favor staying with generous machines.

The night I was there, timing seemed to have had something to do with collecting. Three four times during the evening, a lot of bells started ringing and paying off almost at once.

Getting back to the horse races: After an evening at an Indian casino, a six-furlong race with a three-way photo for the win can seem tranquil and relaxing.

Being a horse player in this day and age is like being a stockholder in a casino, but without any risk.

Thank you for supporting the horse racing industry, slot machine players. And always remember that if you get up from that machine, somebody will sit down and hit for twenty five grand on the very next spin.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com

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