If you're a horse racing fan, then you're going to enjoy betting in Nevada's race books.
At most of Nevada's race books the parking is convenient and free (should you choose to valet park, you can toke (tip) the valet a dollar or two at day's end; the program is free; the Daily Racing Form is free (some casinos charge for it; others refund your money if you return it); you don't have to pay an admission fee; there's a television set near your seat or available for the entire betting crowd to see, and in certain circumstances (if you're a big enough bettor) you might not even have to pay for a meal or drink.
The Nevada race books are a perfectly comfortable place to play. You can bet race by race or the entire card, go about your business, come back and see how you've done and collect your winnings. (Let's think positive.)
It's important to know that the rules vary from race book to race book -- so don't be shy in asking questions or requesting a copy of the rules. Casinos stress customer service. Tell a clerk or supervisor you're a beginner and want to bet correctly -- and a good time to do this might be before all the action begins or when things have quieted down.
Even think of making a short list of questions to ask. By the time you're finished asking and learning yourself, you'll be able to guide a friend or family member through the steps like a pro. By the way, some hotels offer seminars and at these events you can ask questions -- sometimes even get a few tips on what to bet on a day's betting card. Don't be afraid to ask if you're a regular Las Vegas visitor -- it can make the experience all that more enjoyable.
There are some important rules to remember when it comes to betting the thoroughbreds or any other form of pari-mutuel wagering in Las Vegas.
It's also important to note that cell phones and two-way radios are not permitted in race books. The casinos do not wish to encourage illegal activity like phone contact between out of state bettors or even syndicates which look for wide fluctuations in odds. As long as you do not have a communications modem, you are usually free to bring in your personal computer to help your handicapping .
Again, when in doubt, ask ahead of time. Some race books actually encourage players to bring their computers, and provide outlets so that bettors can save on batteries. But awareness is important. Do you unplug your computer or leave it where it is when you leave your seat to make a wager? Computers have value and not everyone is honest. So use good judgment. A final note -- download all your handicapping information before you get to the race book. No phone hookups are available in race books and you'll not be allowed to use your cellphone to retrieve that information.
If you'd like to make your own decision on where to play, based on what each race book has to offer in the way of freebies like the Form, programs, food, large or private TV monitors, an excellent resource to have before you get to Las Vegas is titled The Players Guide to Nevada Race Books by Barry Meadow (l999-2000 edition) .
It's an 8xll spiral-bound and sells for $29.95. It lists phone numbers, addresses, tells you which books are parimutuel, which are not (but it's always best to check, because things do change in Las Vegas hotels and faster than any book might be able to update it). It tells what tracks you can bet on at each racebook, and there's an interesting section on tournaments and contests, which for the serious, big-prize oriented player, can be a major source of entertainment and skill-testing.
There are even daily and weekly contests which offer smaller prizes for picking the most winners, compared to the super-size contests where, depending on the number of entries, prizes can range from $l0,000 to $50,000. The book tells you where to write for further information.
Making The Bet
Once you've selected a racebook, the next step is to handicap your winners and place your wagers.
Every racebook has either a LED or printed list of entries behind the ticket windows for all bettable tracks. Each one also prints 8x14 sheets for each track with the entries (and their numbers), the jockey, the morning line and the approximate time that the race will be run. After you've picked your horse or horses, it's important to check these boards for the correct entry number.
To make a wager, take your money to the ticket writer and give him or her precise instructions. "I want to bet $2 to win in the third race at Aqueduct on horse Number 1234." The ticket writer will usually repeat your request, punch your request into a computer and give you a printed ticket in exchange for your $2. Check the ticket immediately. If you leave the window and discover you or the clerk made a mistake, you're pretty much stuck with the ticket.
As with action at the track, you can make almost any kind of wager in the race book -- win, place, show, exacta (the exact order of win and place finish), quinella (any finish of win and place for two horses), daily double (picking the winner of the first and second race on the race card), and at many race books, even the Pick-3, Pick-6 or other exotic offered. Also, even if the track doesn't offer a quinella, most casinos offer a house quinella.
Many race books offer "parties" on special racing days -- the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, the Preakness, and the Breeders' Cup. Frequent players who give the book action often get tickets to these events free. But even if you're not a big bettor or frequent player, you can get into the parties for a small fee.
When you arrive you can expect some food, perhaps a T-shirt, a logo cup or glass. Also, on these days, many race books give away T-shirts and logo items for specific wagers. (But if you want to get one of these, it's important to get to the race book early because they inevitably run out.)
Handicapping horses is an art unto itself -- one that would take hundreds of pages to explain -- and then it's still a matter of interpretation. If you've never handicapped a race, a good book for getting started would be the Complete Idiot's Guide to Betting on Horses.
Not only does it take you though thoroughbred handicapping, but it also covers harness racing. By itself, it won't make you an expert, but will educate you enough to help you get a handle on picking winners.
After that, it's up to Lady Luck to accompany you to the race book and smile on your selections.