Tips, tipsters, and how the devil made you do it

One of my favorite experiences growing up in the gritty Sta. Cruz area of Manila was watching the Dividendazo tipsters at work. Sitting on the sidewalk, next to a light post, near the corner of Avenida Rizal and Tayuman, this wizened old man had a stack of horseracing programmes by his side and a long-ish line of customers waiting to be served.

DividendazoThe, old man would take a program from the stack and scribble marks on it with red ink, and then hand the annotated program to a waiting customer. The man was a tipster – someone who used his knowledge of each horse and jockey’s capabilities to predict which horse was going to win a particular race.

I remember sitting to one side, watching the tipster plying his trade, and wondering whether anyone ever came back and gave him a share of their winnings in case his tips paid off.

One day, I finally got the courage to sit next to him and actually ask him that. His answer surprised me.

“No,” he said. “They don’t come back. No one remembers the tipster, except those who have had a long history of dealing with him. But then, the winners come back not so much to thank the tipster for the tip, but because they’ve come to consider him as something of a luck charm. You know how superstitious horse racers are.”

“Superstitious, yes,” I agreed, starting to feel outrage on his behalf. “But, ungrateful?”

With an indulgent chuckle, the tipster laid some education on me.

On Tips and Tipsters

“A tip is nothing more than a suggestion. I know it, they know it. What makes a tip from a tipster more persuasive is the tipster himself. Is he known for making good suggestions? Is he notorious for leading people astray? Is he a newcomer? Or has he been around San Lazaro (the race track) for a long time? These factors all play around in the heads of people looking for tips, but in the end, the tip is just a suggestion. And whether they accept the suggestion or not is ultimately up to them. So, when they make the choice to use the tip or not, that decision is theirs; they own it. Not the tipster.”

I reflected on that and it made sense. The way we make decisions is that we accept ideas from everywhere – whether actively or passively – process it in our own minds until we come up with our own opinion. Sometimes, we just end up parroting what we we’ve heard, and we might bet exactly how the tipster told we should.

Other times, we mix and match ideas from various sources and end up with something like a mosaic and so we bet on some of the horses suggested by the tips, but still place money on our sentimental favorites. And once in awhile, we discard everything we’ve been told and come up with an original thought, betting on that one dark horse no one particularly likes.

In the end, the tips – and the tipster – are just like any of the dozens of other inputs into the bettor’s decision making matrix. Sure, for some people, its the tips that (ehem) tip the balance in favor of one horse or the other, but ultimately, it isn’t the Dividendazo that’s putting down the money for the bet.

I chewed on that for awhile, and eventually asked the old man another question: “If they don’t thank you, do they blame you?”

The devil made me do it

“The funny thing is that when their decision turns out to be the wrong one, the horse racers never willingly take the blame. The devil always made them do it. Or, in case they took the tipster’s suggestion, the tipster made them do it. It doesn’t matter. Tipsters and the devil share some similarities, after all. Like the devil, the tipster represents the innocent’s dalliance with what he considers to be the dark side. And like the tipster, the devil doesn’t tell you what to do – he simply suggests what you could do and leaves the decision up to you. And besides, if things go south, you can always blame the devil. Or the tipster.”

Leaving the metaphysics aside, that sounded like an unsurprising yes.

But then again, like Bono said, having someone to blame always makes disappointment much easier to take. Unfortunately, it’s really just self-delusion. More than likely, dilettantism and laziness are the actual culprits.

Dilettantes and Sloths

Dilettantism refers to the characteristics of dilettantes; and a dilettante is defined as a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, especially in a desultory or superficial way. Many of those who dabble in horse races, do so simply because it bring shallow enjoyment. The thrill of watching a horse break away from the rest, the joy of victory – these are the things that attract people to horse races.

When you approach horse races that way, you’re predisposed to going for the quick fix, which means you want to always take the quickest path to victory. So, you wanna pick a winner. And what easier way to do that, than putting your money on the sentimental favorite? And how do you find out who the favorites are? Ask your tipster.

But dilettantes aren’t the only ones who do that. Plain old sloth will do the trick just as well. I’m sure we all know someone like that. People who rely on someone else’s assurances or predictions of doom without taking the effort to find out for themselves what the chances of either are.

False Prophets

Maraming ganyan, boy,” the tipster told me, as he packed up the remaining programmes. “There are a lot of dilettantes out there, and even more lazy people. So much so that legitimate tipsters like me are having a heck of a time.”

“False prophets?” I jokingly asked, riffing on his earlier devil metaphor.

“No doubt,” he called over his shoulder as he walked away.

Yeah. No doubt.









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