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Poltroons at Twenty Paces
Monday, April 21, 2014 - by Bob Carson

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Editor's Note: The USTA website is pleased to present freelance writer Bob Carson and his popular "Outside the Box" features. This monthly series is a menu of outlandish proposals presented with a wink -- but the purpose behind them is serious. The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Bob Carson

They get on our nerves. They may be delusional. They may be mathematically challenged. They may be truth impaired. They may misconstrue anecdotal events as factual theory.

They are the people who insist they play the lottery each week and, “Do pretty well overall.” Or make weekly pilgrimages to slot machines and, “Almost always win.” On planet Earth, statements such as these are, to say the least, suspect.

Harness horse handicappers who are students of the game have a sporting chance. Granted, the high takeout hurts harness racing, a factor we should rectify with all haste. Gamblers who randomly pick numbers on horse races will find us a poor wager. But according to my well fabricated research, a smart handicapper will beat a mindless bettor in the long run.

Autumn Ryan graphic

Let’s prove it. Let’s slap our foes in the face with a glove and challenge them to a series of duels. Settling disputes using duels in America dates back to 1621 at Plymouth Rock. In 1806, future President Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel at sunrise who accused him of cheating on a horse race. Old Hickory must have had thin skin because he participated in over a dozen duels and carried a bullet lodged in his chest with him into the White House.

The Challenge

“The first rule of dueling was that a challenge between gentlemen could not generally be refused without the loss of face and honor. If a gentleman invited a man to duel and he refused, he might place a notice in the paper denouncing the man as a poltroon for refusing to give satisfaction.”

Lottery players and slot machinists, you have to accept our challenge, you don’t want to be a poltroon (a word so odious that it does not even show up on my computer spell check or thesaurus).

The Contest

“Codes duello (the Book of Rules) regulated dueling and helped prevent things from getting out of hand. They ensured that non-violent means of reaching agreement be exhausted and that harm be reduced, by limiting the terms of engagement. They ensured that the proceedings had a number of witnesses to provide testimony if legal authorities became involved.”

Drawing pistols at sunrise to settle sporting disputes has always been a rather clandestine, dangerous affair where the rules and weapons often varied. In addition to Andrew Jackson’s horse wager controversy, in 1803 two Frenchmen argued over a game of billiards. They decided to settle the affair with a duel of thrown billiard balls. This was not as benign as it sounds; one of the combatants was struck in the forehead on the first volley and died instantly. In 1808 a pair of hot air balloonists took to the sky for a duel, also with deadly results. Let’s make our rivalry a little less stressful.

Our duels will be relatively straightforward. Participants will be given a bankroll of $2,000 for a documented challenge over the course of an evening. The participants must gamble all of the money in round number one, which will last 60 minutes. In round two, again 60 minutes, the players may reinvest the money won from the first round (if any remains).

The action will be shown on a split screen with feeds coming from the casino floor, the racetrack and the gas station checkout line. Running totals will be clearly displayed and action will be called by a team of expert commentators. At the end of the two hour duel, the winner will be the contestant with the largest bankroll. The broadcast will have all the bells, whistles and drama of every fake reality show littering the entertainment landscape.

*Note: Should this concept get to the program creation department desk of any fake reality show executive running short of Duck Callers or Hillbilly Hand Fishermen, remember who proposed “Dueling Demons of The Gambling Netherworld.”

The Duelists

Let’s meet the players and their seconds.

“Seconds were chosen to ensure that the duel was carried out under honorable conditions, on a proper field of honor and with equal weapons. The seconds sought a peaceful resolution to the matter at hand in hopes of preventing bloodshed.”

Harness racing will put forth Bob (Pandy) Pandolfo. Astute readers will be familiar with his wagering adventures on this site. His well reasoned wagers inspired this treatise. His second will be Carl (Cadillac) Fishburne, a 56-year-old plumbing contractor who frequents the Meadowlands every Saturday and is, “Killing them this year, especially the trotting “C” class.”

*Note: I was going to use Tim Second, another professional handicapper who lists helpful selections on this site but, a second Second looked like a typo, so Tim will be third.

Representing the Skylark Indian Casino & Resort will be Lester (The Machine) Wilcox. Lester, a 69-year-old retired car salesman, plays the “Wheel of Misfortune” five dollar machine closest to the fire escape door on the second floor. His second will be his second wife Rita Mae. Rita is one of the leading experts in the world on the “Cash-a Piller” slot machine. She is working out her theory that people who use light blue plastic cups to hold tokens will find winnings dramatically increased.

Daniel (Sir Nachos) Foster will wade into the fray for the state lottery commission. Daniel was dubbed Sir Nachos by Jose Gomez who clerks at the Pick-N-Go convenience store because every Thursday after payday, Daniel purchases a six pack of Miller’s, a large bag of nachos, a small tub of cheese dip and $25 worth of lottery tickets. Daniel’s second will be any human being with money, poor math skills and gigantic dreams.

The Resolution

“The majority of duels were fought by lawyers and politicians. Every perceived slight or insult had to be answered swiftly and strongly to save face and one’s position on the ladder to respect and success. Politicians of the day slung bullets in addition to mud. Political showmanship of the day involved timing a duel right before an election and splashing the results in the papers.”

Our purpose, like the majority of duelists of yore, is publicity. Results should be promoted far and wide; cyberspace, local newspapers, gas stations (unless Pandy has a very bad evening and loses, in which case we can forget the whole episode).

Let us assume the results will look something like colorful charts and graphics. People love charts, graphs and visuals; they offer the opportunity to absorb complex concepts without long words, semi colons, diphthongs, satire or punctuation. For a growing number of Americans, graphics are considered heavy reading.

Entertainment Value

Bob Pandolfo will turn a modest profit using guile, study and intelligence. He will engage. He will enjoy the thrills and exhilaration of watching his picks perform on the racetrack. He will participate in a vibrant sport.

The entertainment value of purchasing, then gazing at a losing lottery ticket is comparable to watching a bowl of alphabet soup cool to room temperature. A slot machine offers entertainment value comparable to watching a Laundromat dryer spin while listening to a roomful of xylophones tune up.

Once again, we will provide visual evidence that harness racing is a superior choice for entertainment.


“Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain "satisfaction."

Alas, we know full well that few minds will be changed. Our duels will be more cathartic than constructive. Fish rarely fly. Sports gamblers, lottery players and slot machine players are different cats. All the charts in China will have minimal effect on the type of gamblers who seldom allow facts or logic to challenge preconceived misconceptions.

Still, a series of duels of this ilk would give us…satisfaction.

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