If you have any sound selection method and you bet to a bank, you cannot lose. It is then impossible to lose at punting."

No, the speaker isn't a punter. It's bookmaker, Graeme Sampieri, one of the most respected bagmen in Australia, highly educated, sophisticated, socially assured, polished, handsome, groomed, quick with odds and calculations.

He has sat down in Melbourne with three other Victorian bookmakers to talk about wins, losses and punters. The talk spreads out to how they feel after good and bad days and whether a punter truly has a chance to win from the bookie in the long run. Meet the quartet:

ALLEN CLEARY at the head of the table as befits the president of the Victorian Bookmakers' Association. He says bookmaking enabled him to "turn nothing into something". Betting methods fascinate him and he feels they should be used with respect.

GAVIN MARANTELLI, a place bookmaker and percentage man. He wants the truth about every proposition and believes truth is best expressed in percentages. "On-course bookmakers do 90 per cent of the win and place betting, the tote only 10 per cent. Much the larger proportion of on-course tote business is exotic betting-trifectas and such." To Marantelli, punters are targets.

GRAEME SAMPIERI, the new breed of bookmaker, is near the top of the Melboume turnover scale. Sampieri is in a hurry to win a lot and is prepared to take risks to do it. He makes winning look easy, "I love what I do. It's just like a hobby. Betting is a continuous affair, it gets up a buzz."

MIKE FAULKNER, Rails bookmaker, has a gambling streak deep inside. Ran books at school, went into stockbroking for 10 years and left the exchange to become a bookie-wanted extra excitement. Under an easy-going manner has a fierce individuality, wants to do it his way. "I was in partnership with 11 other brokers and we had hassles from time to time. I love this because it's all up to me. If I make a mistake, I live with it and don't have to square off with partners. What I win is mine."

These bookies are saying goodbye to small punters, men and women who liked the flutter with $10 and $20 bets and who now bet TAB.

Graeme: THE little punter can sit at home, do the garden, mow the lawn, phone his bets in, go to the pub, come back listening to his hand radio, hear that the market is offering a good price on soand-so, phone in another bet, have another beer. . .

Alien: On the course, we are obliged to bet win, each-way, or place only. The small punter wants exotic bets, trifectas, quinellas, quadrellas. He thinks he can't get large returns for small outlays but he doesn't think out how many losing bets go to make up the big wins . . . anyway that's what he wants--exotic bets and that's what the TAB offers.

Gavin: The little punter gets no value from going to the course. He has to spend $15 in transport, parking, gate money. On his turnover he's better off to put up with the TAB takeouts of 16 or 17 per cent ... perhaps 19 per cent if he's taking quadrellas.

Mike: The small punter will still come to big meetings to see glamour horses ...

Gavin: But now even some big punters will stay home. We will continue to lose higher and higher level punters until we are left with only those who bet in thousands.

The new punter with his education, computerised information and finance puts bookies on edge.

Graeme: The way it's got over the last few years, so many people are working out their own form, coming up with the horse's probability of winning against price, doing well at the game, it's so competitive that the bookmaker is forced to gamble to do any good.

Gavin: The margin between punter and the bookmaker is so narrow today that a punter with reasonable intelligence and good application to a betting method can turn a slight margin in his favour.

Graeme: If you have any sound selection method and you bet to a bank, you cannot lose. It is then impossible to lose at punting. The money angle is most important, the patience, and the way you invest your money. The new punter only bets when he is getting over value.

But I still want his money. It is turnover. If I see a bet coming that I know is going to win, I'd rather take that bet and then worry about what to do with it than not get the money at all. A lot of that money actually tips the bookmaker. You've got a horse up at 4/1 and along comes a man with a strong link to the horse's stable and he has $500 on something else. Immediately, you revise your thinking ... He is tipping the bookie.

Alien: I bet all that they ask me because I want their business this race and next race and this week and next week and the week after. I don't mind if Don Scott bets with me and wins because the rank and file pickle will lose more than Don will win.

Mike: You mean you don't mind Don Scott winning so long as it's from someone else.

Mike, the ex-stockbroker, is sceptical of much of the talk about systems and methods. More a seat-of-the-pants man, he reminds the others that they can go to the track thinking they've got the day's form summed up and then:

"There'll be a squall of rain, or the north wind blows and the leaders can't win because it's in their faces," and a dozen other things that can upset the best calculations. On one point they are together: all are scornful of thoughtless, impatient, impulsive, clumsy punters. They don't think much of those who feel they've got to be on top by the last race (there never will be a last race), and those who pick the first four winners and splash their money on the next four races and go home broke. Bookies respect hard opponents. Which raises a question of basic bookie attitude.

Q: When you are up on the stand, punters scan your board and then begin to lay bets, do you feel you are the gun or the target-is it you forcing the issues or are they forcing you?

Alien: I want to dictate the terms to the punter. It is my show, my business and I am running it. The bookmaker has to hold the reins. I want to dictate.

Mike: (Still flying by the seat of his pants): Some races, I think I'll let the punters make up their minds.

Graeme I want to win all the time, every race.

Gavin: I always feel as if I'm holding the gun. So long as I can sort out difficult races, races that concern me, then I've still got the advantage over the punter. Over the long term I'll beat him. Sure, he'll beat me race to race but the more he bets with me, the more often, the more money, the more regularly, the more I shall finish with. Always the punters are the target for me.

At a mention of tactics they all speak at once and start shouting.

Gavin: I would rather bet one man an even $ 10,000 against a horse than bet the same amount in $ 100 bets. It's one man's opinion and he's as likely to be wrong as I am, but when 100 hold that opinion they've probably got something on me.

Alien: On a race yesterday I made it 6/4 then 5/4 and they were still taking it, so I thought, "I'll go on with this." I was dictating the odds and they were taking them. I wrote two columns on it. It ran second. I was right, as it happened, but I could just as easily have been wrong.

Graeme: It's no good going to the races with two 3/1 chances and lay $30,000 to $10,000 on the two of them and know in your own mind that both can get beaten, then let another bloke get $20,000 to $2,000 on something else. Two get beaten and yet you win nothing on the race. Men you can see on paper that you can win big money, you've got to let yourself win it, so you get the lot and there's no giving it away.

Mike: To win big you have to take big risks. I work out a set of prices. Say I've got something at 3/1 and others are offering 4/1. I don't care if I never lay it. But if it shortens to 2/1 and I'm still on 3/1 and they come and challenge me, say, all right, we'll go on with this.

Punters like to think they worry their bookies. Heaven knows that bookies worry them enough, why shouldn't the bag boys suffer too? They do. These four bookies have different ways of coping with the stress of standing up and betting.

Mike: I find it exciting to be at the races. Can't let the concentration fail for a moment. There's always some professional ready to pick you off. I don't feel anything in the way of fatigue all the time I'm on the stand. I don't bother about eating ... well, I do if I'm losing . . . otherwise I get through the day without food.

Graeme: I get depressed if I haven't performed well. Usually I knock over a couple of bottles of wine and try to forget. If I've gone and lost a considerable sum of money, I don't really have to worry about it till I wake up on Monday morning. Then I have to do the settling. That's when it hits hard.

Alien: It's an art you've got to teach yourself. My day at the races is over Saturday night and I completely forget racing. Sunday I go to a football match, take the children here, take them there. It is Sunday night before I think about what happened on Saturday. I am my only critic. I pick up the sheets from the day and analyse my performance. I give myself a plus or a minus ... a score out of 10. 1 spot mistakes and tell myself not to make them again. That is the difference in getting to the top and staying there.

Gavin: You're a mechanical bookmaker. So am I but I am unhappy when I lose. Stress does get to me. If I have had a losing day and am not happy with my performance, I never attempt to study form for the next meeting until the last possible moment. If I've had a good meeting and feel I've handled myself well-perhaps won, as a bonus-then I can go home and, while still elated, start working on form for a meeting three days ahead.

Graeme: I don't go to the course with any fixed way to work. Big punters can still manipulate me and that annoys me because I know I shouldn't take certain bets . . . Anyway, I don't like being handled, but when I'm getting their money I think it is fantastic!


By Harry Robinson