I have learned more about Singapore from its taxi drivers than the rest of the islands inhabitants. This morning I struck up a conversation on gambling in Singapore on the ride to work. The driver’s experiences confirmed a long time suspicion of mine.
For four years ending just recently my driver was a runner for a Malaysian syndicate. The syndicate used dozens of runners to place bets on horses at the local track. The runners were betting massive amounts of money at the strict direction by the syndicate bosses. The bosses knew with incredible accuracy which horse was going to win the race.
On any given week this guy would shuttle as much as $2M SGD (about $1.4M USD) back and forth between the bosses and the bookies. He carried 30 mobile phones in his car and would place dozens of bets to different bookies across the city in the minutes before post time. The boss would give him a call three minutes before post and he would have 120 seconds to place his bets with as many bookies as possible. Using many runners and having each use many bookies masked the incredible scale of money the Malaysian racket was gambling.
He never knew how, but the bosses usually knew which horse was going to win. My driver guessed that the syndicate had bought out all the jockeys or at least most of them. He said that it only took a few to collaborate in a such a way as to guarantee one could win. The outcomes were so certain that eventually the irresistible draw of easy money led my driver to start adding bets with his own money. So he started betting, started winning, and started having fun. Booze, vacations, women; he said he lived like a playboy.
Of course no organized criminals will tolerate sharing their money. And successfully betting on horses deprives other winners of a bigger prize. Winning in a parimutuel system dilutes the prize by depressing the odds. So the syndicates have to be smart and weed out the runners that are dipping into the till.
After about three years my driver knew that his good time was going to end. And end it did, slowly and with financial pain. The syndicate started feeding him bad numbers and taking very long to pay out their occasional losses. But the losses hurt my driver more than the syndicate (who were obviously winning with their other runners) and eventually he went broke. A hard lesson, for sure.
Many years ago a friend of mine whose father was a jockey told me that all horse racing was rigged. His father had told him that on most races the jockeys would agree before the race who they would let win. I guess I never was quite sure if I believed my friend. Until now, at least.