In December 2007 he sent a letter to Business Review Weekly, an Australian magazine, asking to be considered for its rich list. “I had planned to delay my hope for inclusion until I could make it into the top 10,” he wrote. “However, as of today, it does not appear I will live long enough.” Woods had been diagnosed with cancer. He came back to Happy Valley for treatment; the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital was within sight of the racetrack. He spent his final days beating his friends at a Chinese card game known as chor dai di and died on Jan. 26, 2008, at 62.
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If you’ve ever been tempted by a flutter, you’ll know how bookmakers and casinos stack the odds against you. The clearest example is roulette, where there are 36 red and black numbers plus the green numbers 0 and (in the U.S.) 00. So that’s 38 possibilities in total. When betting on red or black, the odds of choosing correctly are 18/38, and a fair payout for a $1 stake is $2.111. However, the house pays only $2 and keeps the difference. In that way, it guarantees itself a profit.
The earliest races were match races between two or at most three horses, the owners providing the purse, a simple wager. An owner who withdrew commonly forfeited half the purse, later the whole purse, and bets also came under the same “play or pay” rule. Agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be called keepers of the match book. One such keeper at Newmarket in England, John Cheny, began publishing An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run (1729), a consolidation of match books at various racing centres, and this work was continued annually with varying titles, until in 1773 James Weatherby established it as the Racing Calendar, which was continued thereafter by his family.
He went to the Gambler’s Book Club, a Vegas institution, and bought everything he could find on horses. There were lots of “systems” promising incredible results, but to him they seemed flimsy, written by journalists and amateur handicappers. Few contained real math. Benter wanted something more rigorous, so he went to the library at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which kept a special collection on gaming. Buried in stacks of periodicals and manuscripts, he found what he was looking for—an academic paper titled “Searching for Positive Returns at the Track: A Multinomial Logit Model for Handicapping Horse Races.” Benter sat down to read it, and when he was done he read it again.