Race tellers recall wild customer tales

Sep 3, 2002 10:43 AM

Horse racing bettors, thank goodness, are a different breed.

"So many characters over the years have come in here," said Bill, a ticket writer at Palace Station. "Sometimes you really want to laugh, but you can’t really."

While it’s always a grab bag working with the public, sports book ticket writers cater to an elite, if not quirky, group of patrons.

"You always hear race bettors say they never get even, but they love to try," Bill said. "It’s always about the chase. The house, of course, enjoys winning. But seeing the players cash winning bets is fun for us."

Of course, not all bettors know exactly how much money is at the end of the journey.

"I had a guy who hit five of six in a pick-6," Bill said. "He was a good customer of ours, who needed the No. 2 horse to win in the last race at Hollywood Park. I asked him how much he thought it would pay and he told me $35,000.

"Well, all the results come in on the ticker tape so for a payoff that big I wanted to quickly see how much money, in fact, this guy would be getting for hitting five. It turned out he wasn’t even close. He won $188,000. You should have seen the look on his face."

Patty, another racing ticket writer, recalled a customer who had his wager wrapped up in a sock.

"The sock was white and brand new, but I still wasn’t about to touch it," she said. The money was in the right sock, Patty recalled. "It was $217 in singles, chips and change. He made the bet on a horse to place and he won. I think he used the sock as a dare. You get ”˜em all in this business!"

Superstitions are very common in betting circles, but some boggle the mind.

"There are people who will not bet if their favorite seat is taken," Bill said in his Irish brogue. "Some people go crazy if there’s smoking in the room. Some prefer that we don’t sell booze. Others like it quiet. I have seen fights break out over track sheets that didn’t appear in the same position on the board each day.

"There are people who take it personally if the television screens are switched in the room. Some people use the same door to enter the building. Of course, they have their favorite writers. And ones they would never use."

Also, there’s always the question asked that only Yogi Berra could love.

"Too often you hear, "What time does the 12 o’clock race go at Saratoga," Bill said. "It’s crazy, but I’m sad that I don’t hear it as much as I used to."

Racing is in a general decline across the country, particularly due to America’s youth finding other interests.

"The younger generation just isn’t here," Bill said. "I don’t know what the future is for racing, but I am concerned. Young people these days go to Del Mar just to listen to rock and roll and drink beer.

"The great stories are lessening, and that’s a bad thing," Bill said. "What a grand crowd we once had each day."