• The Truth About Progression Betting

    POSTED Jul 11, 2014
    Before the more scholarly handicapping authors like Tom Ainslie, Andrew Beyer and Steve Davidowitz came along in the 1970s and 1980s, most racing literature featured two prevailing qualities:

    1) It was poorly written.
    2) It was gobbledygook, often espousing theories only slightly crazier than those proffered by the Flat Earth Society.

    Take, for example, a recent gem I came across entitled “Picking the Winners with Systology.” Published in 1933, “Picking Winners with Systology” is a compilation of selection and betting methods that, according to the (wisely) unnamed author or authors, “fills and completes the cycle of information which has long been a pressing want of turf players.”

    “Using any one of the eight workable and tested systems contained herein, players may be sure that only misfortune and the failure of horseflesh and blood to do that which could be confidently expected and figured, will result in a loss,” the book claims.

    So, in other words, if you lose, blame the horse.

    Still, although “Picking Winners with Systology” is rife with crazy notions that the more sophisticated players of today could easily spot — how about a parallel speed chart that equates five furlongs in 56 seconds with six furlongs in 1:09? — the book also contains some ideas that aren’t as easily dismissed (although they should be).

    I fear that far too many bettors still believe that progression methods actually work… because, theoretically, they do.

    For instance, the Quadru Methods detailed in “Picking Winners with Systology” combine several fairly simple and straightforward selection approaches — none of which are profitable, by the way — with a well-known progression betting system.

    “Play is based upon the sum necessary to recoup losses and show profits. If the choices in three races have lost, the sum lost, plus profits sought, are added together and the player wagers enough to bring back that total. Thus, if the player had lost $12 on three previous races and wishes to show a profit of $10, he would wager $6, presuming that his choice in the fourth race was quoted at odds of 4 to 1,” the book notes.

    On the subject of odds, the player is warned that he “should never back a horse at less than even money.” (Presumably, this is to keep the amount wagered in check.)

    So, with all this in mind, I decided to run a simple test.

    Using my database of more than 14,000 races run during 2012-13, I first looked at the stats on sole favorites (no entries or ties) that went to post at even odds or greater. I chose race favorites for my test for two reasons: 1) They win more often than most — if not all — one-factor methods on the planet, thereby providing the consistency that progression betting systems need; and 2) They produce an ROI similar to, if not in excess of, what the methods outlined in the book can achieve.


    Number: 10,451
    Winners: 3,303
    Win Rate: 31.6%
    $2 Net Return: $1.66
    ROI: -17.01%

    Now comes the fun part: Using the same horses listed above, I sought to make a profit of $10 per race. If I lost, the $10 was added to the amount wagered, along with another $10 in desired profits. All bets were rounded down to the nearest dollar and, of course, the $2 minimum bet was always observed.

    The overall results were, well, fantastic. As I mentioned previously, in theory, progression betting works. After 10,451 bets, profits stood at $99,808.70 — a sizable chunk of change.

    However, before you rush to cash out your 401(k) and start betting progressively on favorites, take a stab at what the maximum wager amount in this sequence of 10,451 bets was?

    If you guessed $403,080, give yourself a gold star and move to the head of the class.

    And it gets worse.

    After accumulating a little over $39K in profits in 4,265 races, the wheels came off, as 23 straight losses led to a capital deficit of — are you sitting down? — $726,242.65. Add that to the subsequent $403,080 bet to recoup profit and losses and it becomes apparent (at least to those with a calculator) that one would have needed a bankroll in excess of $1.1 million to proceed with this progression.

    What’s more, my test doesn’t even begin to address what a $403K bet would do to the pools at most racetracks in the country. In fact, in a comical twist, the horse that broke the 23-race skid in my test was Gin Shot and he won the 7th race at Mt. Pleasant Meadows, a track that no longer exists.

    There was $456 in the win, place and show pools combined.

    So, the next time you read about a progression betting system guaranteed to show profits, go search for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster instead. It’ll be about as fruitful — not to mention a whole lot less expensive.

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