Be careful not to use the imprecise term “dog races.” Greyhounds are a special breed of instinctive racers, and those who follow them closely strongly prefer “greyhound” to the more prosaic “dog.” Greyhounds race on 31 tracks (called “courses”) in 16 states of the US. Many Las Vegas race books offer action on several of the more well-known venues. Some online race books will take action on greyhound racing, though by no means all of them.
In the Vegas race book and online, handicapping and placing bets is performed just as in horse race betting. The main differences are that the greyhound races are often shorter (about 550 yards on an oval track), and less information is available about individual competitors. A greyhound’s owner or kennel will be more influential than the equivalent in horse betting. Age and immediate past history are also important factors, more so than genealogy and other long term considerations. The usual field for greyhounds in the US is 8.
Greyhounds were born to run, and they love it. When the bell sounds, they are out into the course, quickly reaching a top speed around 45 mph, in pursuit of a mechanical hare in front of them. Racers are well-treated and cared for. Retired animals are put up for adoption through a network of animal rescue organizations.
Some Las Vegas race books will place bets on greyhound races at any one of the several tracks around the country that hold them. Betting is almost always limited to pari-mutuel races only. The term "dog races," as it is used in a sports book, refers to greyhound racing for money. Sometimes "dog racing" refers to fundraising activities and exhibition events with other breeds, such as dachshunds, but that is not the sort of dog racing talked about in the race book. In fact, careful aficionados do not use the term "dog" at all, but prefer always to specify "greyhound."
Greyhounds run for enjoyment, and they run by instinct. They can reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Racing operators strongly defend greyhound racing from criticism that it may be cruel to the dogs. Active racers are extremely well cared for and fed, and they are in their element in the race environment. This is in part what makes greyhound racing exciting and enjoyable for the fans as well. Dogs unsuitable for racing are now regularly adopted through the many animal rescue organizations throughout the country.
Greyhound racing is legal in 16 states. Active racing is ongoing at 31 tracks in the United States. Greyhound racing traces its origins back to Roman times and before when racing and hunting were not separated. Hunting and racing continued during the middle ages and into the modern era, especially with the support and participation of the English aristocracy, who engaged in "coursing," a precursor to greyhound racing, in which the dogs chase an animal.
Greyhound racing was introduced in the United States in 1907 on a small circular track in Utah. The problem of rigging a reliable mechanical lure vexed the sport until finally in 1919, modern Greyhound racing found its public in a track in East St. Louis and then in Florida, where Greyhound racing has prospered. One key to success was racing at night, when working people could take time off from work to go to the races. In 1932 pari-mutuel betting was legalized in Florida, and then Massachusetts and other states followed suit, creating a more secure and reliable context for greyhound racing, insulated from underworld influence. Racing revenues peaked in 1992, but has been in decline ever since. Although there are 46 tracks in 15 states, many are not in active operation.
A greyhound race track is often called a "course" after the historical tradition of "coursing" greyhounds. It is oval shaped, usually about 550 yards around. The surface is soft under foot, and smooth and flat. A "fast" course is one that is not too dry or too wet, and offers optimal competing conditions.
The "lure" is an effigy of a hare, mechanically suspended in front of the dogs. It circles around the course in front of them to give them something to chase after. After crossing the finish line (or "wire"), the mechanical hare disappears around "the escape turn," signaling to the competitors that their chase has ended. The greyhounds use muzzles, in part for discipline, and also to help out in the case of a photo finish.
Sprint races are mainly 550 yards or so, but can be shorter or longer. A route race is about 660 yards. Rarely is a race longer than that, but they can be marathons (770 yards) or a super (990 yards). In the United States a full field of dogs is eight. In the United Kingdom it is usual to have just 6 dogs in a race.
A Night at the Races
Many tracks operate "matinees" or day races from time to time, but the strong tradition for greyhound racing since its earliest days is to run at night. On any given evening a race card may have as many as nine or ten races. Each race will have six to eight dogs, all of a specific "grade." The grading system is A through E, with A being the best. Some tracks have a double-A class for especially strong racers. There is also a "J" category for junior or young dogs and an "M" category for maiden racers. A "T" denotes mixed grades, and "S" denotes a stakes race.
The race program will provide the numbers and names of the respective entrants, post position, blanket color, data from the greyhound's Bertillion Card (a list of 56 descriptors for each registered racer, including color of coat, gender, weight, etc.), date of whelping, breed lines of sire and dam, best time for the season, highest and lowest grades for the season, purse earnings, and sometimes a "power rating" (more is better). Past performance data include record of starts, "calls" or quarter times, finishing times and places, and chart writer's comments. The career record will provide 5 numbers: total starts, then finishes in first, second, third and fourth places respectively.
Race books offering greyhound racing information will have copies of the race program available for bettors.
Bets available will be to win, place or show. A bet "across the board" means to bet the same greyhound to win, place and show. There will be a quiniela (two greyhounds to finish first and second, in either order), perfecta (first two finishers in exact order), trifecta (first three finishers in exact order), Daily Double (winners of two races in a row), quiniela double (two-race quiniela), twin trifecta (two-race trifecta), pick 6 (winners in six consecutive races), and even others. Like horse tracks, the "take out" for a greyhound track (shared with the government in most cases) is anywhere from 18% to 25%.
Before each race, a handler, called a "Leadout" parades the racers before the fans in the paddock area, where the animals are weighed and inspected. Each registered greyhound has a unique tattoo in one ear. The leadout then places the greyhounds into the starting box. This gives wagerers one last chance at handicapping before post time. When the starting box doors open, the greyhound is officially a "starter" in the race.
Betting at the Book
Pari-mutuel betting on races in the United States (and sometimes also in Ireland, the United Kingdom or Australia) can be offered in a Las Vegas race book, which will provide simulcast broadcasts of the races. The mechanics of betting function much like horserace betting, in that the wagerer needs to provide the money for the bet at the window, announce the amount, the track, the greyhound and the finish. Of the exotic wagers offered by tracks (mentioned above), casinos usually do not offer those with little or no margin for them. This includes the Daily Double, Superfecta, TwinTrifecta, and the Pefecta/Exacta. Some race books will accept advance wagers, that is, bets placed well in advance of a specific race.
Choosing the Right Bet. Coming out ahead in greyhound racing requires mastery of the terms offered on all the bets terms as well as skill at handicapping. The first of these involves understanding the "track odds," that is, where the public is putting its money, and where the best bets are. The second is all about assessing what the physical expectation or "true odds" really are.
In Las Vegas, bets placed on the greyhounds is not co-mingled with the track's pari-mutuel pool (unlike horse racing), so it is possible to bet on show or place without causing the payoff odds to change adversely. This is an immensely beneficial situation for the bettor from the race book. Greyhound racing pools at a given track can be fairly small, so that a fairly modest bet at a track can easily shift the pari-mutuel odds from a long shot (like 5:1) to a chalk favorite (at 1:5 for example). This can frustrate the bettor trying to identify and bet on the overlays. From a race book in Las Vegas, the overlay can be bet on without shifting the track odds adversely.
The downside of this benefit is that the casino is taking the risk for the "handle" rather than the track. To avoid too much risk, the casino will enforce "maximum payoff limits." A common example is no more than 300:1 for a trifecta, which might be only one-fifth of a track payoff. The other limitation in Las Vegas race books is the requirement for "supervisor approval" of any wager over a certain amount, like $20. This is to prevent "sharps," who really understand greyhound racing, from making too much money at the expense of the casino. Bets of $50 or more are unlikely to be accepted. This is not an issue with horse race betting, as the wagers are paid out of the pari-mutuel pool. If it becomes important to make bets over the rather modest limits of the race book, try placing bets with a different teller or going to multiple race books.
Even so, show and place betting often provides too narrow a margin of profit to make it worth the risk to enter, and "plunging" by betting strongly to show will not be permitted by the book. A conservative player may wager on certain animals to win in one or two races out of a card of 15, where the handicapping is really clear, and possibly can come out ahead. Unfortunately, prior performance is not as good a predictor of the next performance in greyhound racing as it is in horse racing. Prior performance data is less readily available and more disperse, as there are more potential racers to keep track of. Favorites win only slightly more than 25% of the time. Even if a great handicapper could improve that performance to win 33% of the time, it would still be difficult to stay ahead by playing only the win pool.
Thus, the best strategy is to bet into the exotic (or semi-exotic) pools that link bets either across starters or across races or both. However, the critical objective is to predict those places where there is the most "fan money," i.e., where a lot of money has been wagered for the wrong reasons or by inept people. This will improve the payoff odds for someone with reasonable handicapping skills, creating an overlay in the same sense as in horse race betting.
Most serious greyhound race experts commit considerable capital to betting on the multiple race entrants and multiple race combinations like the perfecta or exacta and the trifecta. They do get it right often enough to stay ahead of the game.
A seasoned greyhound bettor in a Las Vegas book often has the choice of where to place his or her action. Again, the objective is to find the track at which the fans are less likely to identify the potential winners and hence drive down the payoffs. When the track odds do not offer enough pay for any decent bet, the money-making option is not to bet at all.
How does a bettor come to understand which bets make the most money at which tracks? The answer is using 20-20 hindsight. By keeping good records of wagers and of the outcomes, it may be possible to identify which combinations (or straight bets on occasion) make the most sense at which race tracks. Other than handicapping specific greyhounds, the two main components of this decision are (1) the total amount of money bet in the different pools and (2) the distribution of that money across winners and losers.
Greyhounds do not run the same way every time. Thus, there is a much larger stochastic element in greyhound handicapping than in charting horses. If a handicapper can beat the pari-mutuel favorite 20% or more of the time, he or she is really way ahead of the game. Recall that the favorite only wins 25% to 30% of the races. True, this is a downside in that the variability of outcomes is so great. But the upside should more than make up for it: A surprise finisher can pay off handsomely. Handicapping involves trying to pick the surprise finishers, but within a disciplined and analytical approach that will ensure that the occasional win will cover the losses on other bets, with something left over to spare.
Races are run by "grade." Each course and each grade is really a separate world for handicapping, and comparisons across those boundaries are seldom reliable. For example, greyhounds do not usually travel between tracks, so that cross-track comparisons are not necessary. But, if a dog has indeed traveled to another track in the same season (a "shipper"), it is usually because it failed to win at the lowest grade at the former track, and may not have what it takes to win at all, unless the competition at the new track is just not as stiff.
Some grades will have "tighter" distributions (lower standard deviations) than other grades. One's understanding of the animals and the races may make him or her better at handicapping certain grades than others.
The factors in handicapping are much the same as in horse racing, including the prior performance data, the health of the animal and its breeding. Of the many factors (16 to 18 on which information can be had), the most important, obviously, is speed, though there are many different opinions about how important it is and how it is measured. Speed is like "edge" in gambling - it does not guarantee a win, but it makes it more likely to win than someone with a smaller edge. It is sometimes called "ART" or average race time or "speed rating." The past performance lines (or PPL) have race times. Different handicappers use these times differently, mindful that race performances by greyhounds are less consistent than for thoroughbred horses.
Fast times for non-winning greyhounds may be explained by a pace set by the fast winner. Slow times may be caused by weather or track conditions, so mechanically taking times off the PPL's is probably not a good idea. The "meet best" data can be helpful as establishing an upper limit for a specific animal, but it can be fairly out of date. The recent competitive data are the most reliable.
Speed ratings or power ratings are usually not particularly reliable or helpful, and really explain more why the "fan money" goes where it does. If the objective is to outsmart the public, it is best not to rely too heavily on someone else's index data, touts or tips.
Successful handicappers work on predicting how a race will be run and then go back and compare the outcome to the prognostication. With at least 25 or 30 races in a sample, it may be possible to determine where a person is being relatively more successful in handicapping, and where perhaps too much or too little influence is given to some handicapping factor. It is useful to handicap all of the greyhounds in a race and then compile the number of wins-places-shows for each of the eight picks. A score of 30% or more on the first pick will out perform the public. Doing this sort of analysis for each of the grades of interest makes it possible to focus on the kind of race that can lead to a positive cash flow. It also helps to identify the combination bets (like the trifecta) that hold the most promise.
Once it seems comfortable to handicap races, it will be important to make hypothetical wagers on another 25 or 30 races, both to confirm the lessons from the previous exercise, and to see how much capital is required to earn how much in profits. If the profit is negative, more adjustments are necessary.
It is often said that the best wager is a trifecta in which a strong runner is chosen for the win, and then all the other reasonably competitive greyhounds are bet to place or show. A "wheel" bet is to bet on a single greyhound to win and then on all the rest of the field to place or show. This is a $42 bet at the $1 level (21 combinations of 2 greyhounds out of a set of 7, times 2 because of the order). If just two entrants can be ruled out altogether, the cost of the wager is reduced to $20. This is called a partial wheel. Ruling out winners is almost as important as picking them, as the reduced cost of the bet without a cost in probability of success will greatly increase the wagerer's edge.
Ruling out "shows" is much harder than at first it appears. Past performances that show slow breakers may indicate a "no show" runner if the competition has past performance data showing faster or earlier breaks. Overall power numbers and speeds can be useful for handicapping unless the differences are not significant enough to bet on, literally. Shifts in grade can also be telling. First determine whether the race in question is a "high" or "low" race for its grade. If a greyhound is moving up in grade, say from C to B, and this is a "high" B race, odds are the contestant new to the B grade will not show. Greyhounds over 4½ to 5 may have trouble competing with faster, younger racers if the track is fast. A sloppy track may favor experience over speed.
Starting box position may affect how a race is run. The inside and far outside positions are thought better than the middle, where there can be a lot of traffic. They are sometimes referred to as "cold boxes." Unless the greyhound is a strong closer and the rest of the field has some faders, the "cold boxes" could be the kiss of death for any animal that is not a good breaker.
In greyhound racing, as in all gambling, a couple of basic principles need to govern the financial aspects of wagering. The first is that the "bankroll" needs to be large enough to allow for the wagers you need to make in the time you spend with the races, but not so large as to cause a problem if it is lost. A good measure for the vacationer in Las Vegas is to set aside as much money as would be normal to spend on some other activity, like eating a fancy meal or going for an evening on the town. This can then be bumped up a little, but still within the comfort zone.
A second principle is the "maximum bet." It is essential to sort out in advance how much will be wagered on any specific proposition. For combination bets or exotics, this may be a fairly large percentage of the total bankroll, but one should never risk so much that a loss would threaten being able to continue to play on. Careful handicapping can not only improve the performance of the bets in terms of the outcomes, but it can reduce the amount of the wagers by ruling out no-show racers.
The third principle is, of course, never to place a bet when the edge is negative. Unless you do not care whether you come out ahead, it does matter whether the wager placed has a positive expectation. With race betting this is sometimes difficult to assess. However, the threshold decision whether to bet at all can be a money saver. If there is no handicapping, or if it is inconclusive, or if the information is insufficient to reach a comfortable and confident conclusion about the prospects of a given race, it is better not to place a bet. Placing a well-researched and analyzed bet can be an investment; wagering in ignorance or blindness is throwing money away.
Moreover, wagers to "show" almost invariably pay less than the risk involved, meaning that they will break the richest person in the world if he or she makes enough bets. Even the other straight bets are tough to turn into a profit. The best chances reside with the combination bets, like the trifecta (or the perfecta if the race book will take the bet), where the risk can be diversified among a number of different greyhounds. Though the cost of the bet rises, as well as the percentage bite it takes out of the bankroll, the chances of success (that is, the expectations) go up by more than the cost.
The greatest temptation for the recreational gambler is to make a small, whimsical bet out of laziness or caprice. It is not a sin to do so, but it will cause the bottom line to move the wrong direction. By analyzing what works best for you, and by concentrating on those races or subjects, the "return on investment" - the profit from wagering - has a chance to turn positive.
Finally, it is always good to remember that the "adversary" in greyhound racing is not "lady luck" or even "the track" but rather the others who are betting on the races. A successful money management strategy must always have as a starting point the idea that following the money bet by "fans" will cost you, and the goal is to sort out where the smart money should go.