If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ahead of the Bookies

I am possibly the only person in the UK who has gambled and has made money on it, to the extent that I am ahead of the bookmakers, and always will be. Here's how I did it:

I was about 13 years old, and hanging about at a friend's house one afternoon, doing nothing in particular. Probably smoking (his parents didn't mind) and eating those chocolate eclair things you got from the sweetshop. Another friend called round, accompanied by his 18-year-old brother. They said they were - gasp - going to the bookies and did we want to put a bet on?. This was such a wonderfully grown-up thing to be doing (it went along with other adult skills like going to the pub or carrying a cigarette in the corner of your mouth while doing something else) that we jumped at the chance, while appearing completely nonchalant.

"Yeah, might do."

Friend's friend's brother got out the newspaper and showed us the list of runners. Towards the bottom was a horse (at least I assume it was a horse, not being very au fait with the details) called Midnight Marauder. The name had a certain ring to it, and I gave him a shilling to put on the beast on my behalf. Odds were 14 to 1, not that I understood what that meant.

The best thing for me would have been for it to have come last, but it didn't. It romped home ahead of the field, and the 'big boy' gave me fourteen shillings and - to my astonishment - my original stake back. It felt like a million dollars.

I went home and told my Dad. This was a mistake, as I should have remembered that he was from the clean-living, temperance end of working-class culture and despised gambling in all its forms. But he didn't tell me off. In what was a remarkably far-sighted response, he merely said "well, that means if you never gamble again, you will always be ahead of the bookies, and there's not many in England can say that".

I didn't, and I am, and I can.

I don't have the moral objection to it that he did, although I haven't seen families ruined and put out on the street as a result of it as he had done, and maybe I would feel differently if I had. No, my objection is purely practical - gambling is pointless, because you will always lose in the long run.

The secret is not doing it in the long run.

(There's a huge fuss going on at the moment about teaching children about gambling. If that teaching involves explaining how it all works, and that it is a zero-sum game, with the money flowing from the punter to those who own the game (bookies or, come to that, city traders) and never the other way round, then I am all for it.)


  1. Casinos are such nice places. Warm, with soft carpets, staffed with people in smart uniforms.

    I wonder how they pay for it all?

  2. Richard, I'm down on gambling - maybe $100 in my entire life. But, I knew full well I was going to lose my cash on the way in. I thought, wouldn't it be great if I came away from the tables with a few extra bucks? But, really, it was more about going out with something to do, and in a place where we could look totally cool smoking our cigars. Yeah, I'm cool like that. I don't endorse the no gambling thing, but there are people out there who have addictive personalities, and there should be help for them, if gambling is also legal.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  3. Well done Richard, common sense exceeds avarice.

    The National Lottery is simply a Tax on Stupidity.

  4. A relation was a bookie, many years ago in the few days before the race my grandmother asked him to put a bet on the Grand National for her, as like you she had never gambled.

    His reply was, here are your winnings, dont ever do it again. This from a man who never saw a winter unless it was from the deck of a cruise ship in the Caribbean!

  5. Richard:

    I am not an addicted gambler, but I have delved a bit here and there with small stakes. The last time we went to Las Vegas I didn't bet a penny, and when we go to the buffet at the local casino I only walk past all the machines. Haven't plunked any $$ yet, but I don't think I am ahead

    Riding the Wet Coast

  6. No intention to criticise anyone! It's just that it's not for me. I have a slightly addictive-type personality (it took me many attempts to give up smoking) and one reason is I don't want to risk starting something I might not be able to stop.

    I think the right approach is to set out with a sum of money and assume you are going to lose it - a kind of payment for a fun evening. When it's gone, it's gone. This was what my Mum did. She was a demon penny-pusher artist (that game where you drop a coin through a slot onto a moving shelf, in the hope that it will dislodge several others into the collection tray) and on holiday would disappear for hours at a time. She would change a pound into 2p pieces and lose them all, but she regarded it as a pound well spent, and who am I to disagree? It's where you keep going back for more, in the hope that your luck will turn, that is the danger.

    I confess to doing the Lottery, a quid a week. I don't regard it as gambling, however. That pound is my entry fee to dreamland, without which I could not allow myself to dream of the day when I can give up work and do what the hell I like.

  7. When I was a teenager I had a nice little win on the gee gees, I borrowed my Mum's bike to go to the bookies to collect. As I pedalled off down the road my Father called after me; "You'll never see a bookie on a pushbike". That has always caused me to think twice about gambling (not necessarily abstain unfortunately).

    BTW, I have just noticed this blog - it's now in my "favourites".

  8. Welcome to the blog, Andy. I've often heard it said (by experienced gamblers) that to lose your first bet is the best thing that could happen to you. I think your Dad was right!


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