How do bookies survive these days, when the off-course tote offers such fierce competition, and when many punters are clued-up with accurate 'true' markets and are successfully seeking overlay plays?

Survival comes through betting tighter figures, and by many of the bagmen becoming what are known as 'gambling opinion bookies' in that they are risktakers, and are prepared to adventurously 'lay' those horses they have assessed as being no-chance prospects.

The tightening, in recent years, of bookmakers' markets means they are offering less and less value. At small meetings throughout the country bookies are more or less forced to frame markets at very high percentage markups, because they know that only one or two horses are likely to be bet heavily, and they will not be able to take enough money on the other runners to balance their books.

A recent example is the Prime Minister's Cup at the Cold Coast. Most of the bookies operating at the meeting framed their first market at around 160 to 170 per cent! At the finish, the total percentage was approximately 134 per cent, which is about the average nowadays for markets on local races at the Cold Coast meetings.

Today, each-way bookies reckon they lose, on average, at least 5 per cent on the place component of their betting. This is because informed and zealous professional punters have been aggressively betting in the evens to 7/2 mark on an each-way basis, putting the bookies virtually in flight.

The betting revolution of the 80s fuelled firstly by Don Scott and his revelations in his books Winning and Winning More, and subsequently helped along by P.P.M. and others-alas tore a lot of the value from the betting markets. As punters became more proficient, so the bookies became more defensive. The result has been that it's harder than ever to obtain 'value' or 'overs' and this has led many professionals, and keen amateurs, switching to the tote's exotic forms of betting.

Scott himself has roundly advocated such a change, something he did himself several years ago (read Winning In The 90s for the very latest update on Scott's thinking). His lead has been followed by many, many punters, but there are still those around who fight their pitched battles with the bookies each raceday.

The ranks of what are known as the 'figures' bookmakers are dwindling all the time. These are the bookies who attempt to make a balanced book by laying all horses to take out the same amount. They seek a small profit margin-that is, they hold more than they have to pay out.

Now, though, because of the increased knowledge of punters, and the lack of what is commonly known as 'mug money', the bookies have had to become punters. These are the gambling 'opinion' bookies who study form and weights extremely closely, and even employ teams of form experts to do it for them. Like punters, they frame their own set of true prices but these are not the prices they will actually bet.

By using their own true prices, the bookies can 'gamble' by laying those horses they think are under their true odds, and protect those horses they believe are over the odds. In other words, they are playing the 'overs punters' at their own game. These bookies will also play the tote, backing horses they consider are paying 'overs'. So you can see that bookmaking in the last decade has changed dramatically in a bid to cope with a changing world.

As for the punter, he has the choice of tote or bookie on-course, but only tote offcourse. If bookies were ever to disappear, the tote hold would be enormous, but missing would be the longtime 'creators' of the early market, the bagmen! Instead, the tote market would be totally formed by the mass of tote punters, raising the prospect of yet another 'generation' of overlay attractions for the more astute punters.

Right now, though, the punter still has the choice, and is likely to have for some years yet. There is still life in the bookmaking beast, and even by the turn of the century, nine years away, bookmaking, I believe, should still be alive and kicking, even if there are far fewer bagmen around.

Punters can bet many ways to beat the odds with bookies. The best-known is to back two or more horses in a race so that whichever wins you come out with a profit. (Example: you fancy three horses at 3/1, 4/1 and 10/1, so you back them 25, 20 and 9, an outlay of 54 for a potential return, no matter which wins, of 100 and a profit of 46).

Mat you have to know, especially if you are a one-horse a race punter, is that if your strike rate is low then you must achieve high odds in order to win. Study the following set of figures. They show the prices you need to achieve with bookies according to your selection strike rate if you want to show a reasonable profit. (The figures range from a 15 per cent strike rate through to 40 per cent; few punters can afford to do worse than 15 and very few will achieve more than 40).

4/1 NB NB BB B B
5/1 NB B B B BB
7/1 B BBBB B
NB= No Bet,  B=Bet

What this graph tells you is that if you pick only 15 winners from each 100 selections you should not be accepting anything less than 7/1 if you want to show a profit. At that price your 15 winners would return you 120 units for each 100 outlaid, a profit of 20 units, or 20 per cent.

If you're a 15 per cent strike punter then bear these simple facts in mind when you march up to the bookie to accept 6/4!

Click here to read Part 1.

By Richard Hartley Jnr