Waging Bets on Digital Thoroughbreds

How video game AI could work in tandem with horse race betting

Compared to other genres, horse racing video games just aren’t as popular as titles like Street Fighter or the Madden NFL series. It has its fair share of the market, to be sure; but in a billion-dollar industry like the video game business, selling a few hundred thousand copies just doesn’t cut it.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any quality horse racing games. In fact, despite having only two prominent publishers – Tecmo and Koei; which later on merged to become Tecmo Koei, interestingly – most of the games released have been very entertaining.

A big part of this appeal comes by way of how closely these titles’ gameplay mechanics stick to the real thing. This, of course, includes the betting aspect of the sport, which has always been an integral part of the whole horse racing experience. Given the level of realism of current generation of video games, it’s to be expected that horse racing titles should only follow suit. As authentic as the breeding and racing portions of games like Champion Jockey feel, a lot of gamers derive their fun from casting their bets on their favored horses as well.

The advent of online betting just presents more interesting possibilities vis-à-vis video game integration. Betfair has comprehensive coverage of the online wagering aspects of the Cheltenham Festival annual races. A joint effort with the aforementioned Tecmo Koei to organize pre-race fantasy matches using the game company’s latest titles will no doubt generate a lot of additional hype before the real races begin. Using up-to-date stats algorithms to simulate the performance tendencies of the real-life horses and their jockeys, this digital recreation preview could allow betting aficionados to hone their intuition and give them further analytical insight for the actual races.

Something close to this has in fact already been done. In a move straight out of the last Rocky movie, online gaming company Horse Racing Simulation LLC released a video that had recently retired American racehorse Zenyatta go up against some of the very best thoroughbreds in history, including the likes of 1948 Triple Crown champ Citation and Great Depression-era icon of hope Seabiscuit.

Using the company’s proprietary advanced AI, the simulation sought to answer the question of which horse would come out on top with all of them at their peak. Expectedly, Zenyatta’s propensity to hold back and gather energy for a final speed burst ultimately led to him winning the match.

Race analysts can argue all they want with the result, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the way each digital horse race stayed true to how they actually did in real life. For all we know, a repeat match with a different set of variables such as weather conditions and whatnot might wield different a result.

And that in itself is the fun that horse race betting represents. It’s a game of numbers and probability factors; something which a fairly advanced computer AI is all too familiar with. Transitioning this level of AI sophistication into full-fledged pre-race virtual betting sessions seems like a no-brainer. Only time will tell, though, if something like this eventually does come to fruition.

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