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.)