Fed Up With the CAWs, Brent Sumja is Now an Ex-Horseplayer

Brent Sumja (center) | Horsephotos


It was back in 2004 that Brent Sumja made a career decision. He was among the leading trainers in Northern California, but wasn't following his true passion. That was playing the horses. So he disbanded his stable and set out to be a professional handicapper. It went well. He played the races regularly and also focused on the handicapping tournaments. In 2014, Sumja won five tournaments in a four-month span from May to September to clinch the title of 2013 Daily Racing Form NHC Tour Champion and the first prize of $75,000 that goes with it. For years, he was confident that he had made the right decision.

But the game he was playing in 2013 is nothing like the game being played today. That, he says, is because of the proliferation of the Computer Assisted Wagering (CAW) players. He's found that he can't compete against them, their algorithms, their ability to bet huge amounts at the very last second and their huge rebates.

In a Tweet posted Sunday, Sumja announced that he was walking away. “They (CAW players) have infiltrated every last pool and after 40+ years I am done feeling and being duped by sketchy practices,” he wrote. “Going to concentrate on other sports I am excited about. They ruined horse racing.”

Ironically, the decision came after he made a winning bet on the 20-cent jackpot Pick Six at Del Mar. The winners paid $5.40, $14, $5.20, $56.80, $6.60 and $4.40 and the bet paid $3,216. Sumja is convinced it should have paid more and that the reason it didn't is because the CAW players swooped in and took home most of the pool.

“It's been a culmination of years of just feeling like something is going on that makes me feel that I am not playing on a level field because of the computer players,” he said. “I don't understand technology, so I don't know how they are doing it. But I do know that when you see late odds changes and they are correct way too often in terms of them winning it seems not possible. It gives me a feeling that I am playing in a game that is stacked against me. You know the old adage, when you feel like you are the sucker at the table it's time to get up. I have read what Jerry Brown wrote in the Thoroughbred Daily News and have followed all the numbers Pat Cummings has been coming up with. It's made me realize I have no edge anymore. If I can't beat the computer players why should I play?”

Sumja said he had been wagering about $500,000 a year and worked with two other horseplayers, one betting $2 million a year, the other $1 million. Both partners have also quit wagering on racing. Sumja's wagering dollars are now devoted to sports betting.

“We're all out, but I don't think the tracks care,” he said.

As is the case with many horseplayers, Sumja got tired of watching the horse he wagered on at 4-1 30 seconds before the race break on top and go down to 8-5. Even when those horses won, it left a bad taste in his mouth and he can't understand why the horses whose odds take a late plunge seem to win far more than their fair share. He is not willing to concede that maybe that's because the CAW players' algorithms are so good that they usually come up with the winner.

“I'm not going with the company line that they are just great handicappers. I don't buy it,” he said.

Sumja wants the tracks to close the pools well before the race starts.

“They have to close the pools off significantly ahead of the first horses going into the gate,” he said. “That would take away the feeling that something isn't quite right. You bet on sports and you take a team at +$350, the game ends and you win you get paid +$350. If you take a team getting four points and if they cover the spread you win. What horse racing is doing would be like them telling you with a football bet we'll let you know what the spread is after the game has started. You might have plus three or plus six. We'll let you know during or after the game. Why would you play that? You wouldn't. Shut the pools down three minutes to post. Shut everything down. Let every player see what odds they are really getting.”

Sumja understands why the tracks willingly accept wagers from CAW players. By some estimates they now account for one-third of all the dollars wagered on U.S. racing or about $4 billion annually. The tracks have made a business decision that it's in their best interests to take their bets. Sumja counters, saying that a lot of players are now doing the same, making a business decision that because of the CAW players it is not in their best interests to continue betting on the sport.

“If that's what racetracks want, to cater to CAW players, that's fine,” he said. “But you have a choice not to play nowadays. There are so many other types of wagering available. I've been making my own football line since I was 15. I love betting on sports. And when I make a sports bet that is paying 7-2 I get 7-2 if it wins and not 6-5. It's a refreshing feeling.

“In his article, Jerry Brown wrote about the myth that horse racing won't make it without the money being bet by CAWS. Horse racing made it for 100 years before anyone ever heard of CAW. I understand games change. If racetracks feel this is what they need to do to maintain their business that's what they're going to do. It also comes to a point where you make your own decisions and when you realize you're in a bad spot you've got to stop playing. That's my position. I'm not playing anymore. Neither are my friends.”

Sumja said that after he posted his tweet he heard from dozens of people who said they also have quit betting on racing and that they were happy that he spoke out. The horse racing industry used to get $500,000 a year in handle from Brent Sumja. Now it gets none. How much longer can this keep happening and how many more Brent Sumjas can it afford to lose before real and lasting harm is done to the sport? These are real problems and so far the sport hasn't been able to offer any serious solutions.

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