'Uncoupled' Pick 6 and the lure of the big pot
It's true that wealth can't buy true happiness, but that doesn't stop us dreaming of getting our hands on more and more lucre.
Capitalism as we know it might be flawed, but its implicit acknowledgement that acquisitiveness is a basic human instinct, is spot on.
Polite modern-day sensibilities shy away from seeing yearning for money as a good, or even natural, thing. Of course, human nature is complex and also features selflessness and generosity, but we're deluded if we deny our inner Gordon Gekko - the iconic movie character who said: "Greed is good!"
Lotteries throw all this into relief. When the prize grows large, more and more people flock to buy tickets. The chances of winning are virtually zero, but they're mesmerised by the millions dangled in front of them.
Even rational folk like my golf mates (yes, they can make sense if you catch 'em on a good day) are transfixed by Powerball and seriously discuss how they'll handle the fortune coming their way on Friday night. (Steven Wright's one-liner comes to mind: "I bought a million lottery tickets. I won a dollar.")
In racing, the lure of the big pot was amply demonstrated when rules for the jackpot bet were changed a couple of years ago. Scrapping the coupling provision had a dramatic effect. With the jackpot being more difficult to win, payouts soared and pools grew rapidly. A "tired" exotic bet regained its lustre, tote turnovers rose and the whole industry benefited.
(For non-punters: couplings are two or more horses in a race that are trained by a single trainer; bet on one horse and you win no matter which stablemate wins.)
It was only a matter of time before tote betting agency TAB repeated the formula with its biggest money-spinner, the Pick 6.
This week it said that, from September 9, Pick 6 bets in South Africa would not enjoy the insurance of couplings. Some regular punters agreed it was the right move.
For now, the first-timer rule still applies. But it's due to go too, opening the way for overseas totes to co-mingle into our Pick 6 - and further boost pools.
A press release on the matter said scrapping couplings might be a controversial step in some quarters.
This is because of the false favourite phenomenon, where a trainer has a well-performed runner in a race but wins it with an apparently inferior horse at longer odds. With couplings applying, the bettor isn't knocked out by a stable upset.
But, as champion punter Alvin Pillay remarked, "It's time for punters who study form hard to be rewarded when they find the 'wrong one' in a coupling."
Speaking of wrong ones, my dreaming golf chums might even have their heads turned by the massive Pick 6 pools surely heading our way.
TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 2,4,6 x 6 x 5,8,9 x 4,6 x 2,3 x 6 x 2,10 (R72)
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