Starting work for an on-course bookmaker was a dream job for me. Partly because I used to spend Friday and Saturdays losing money in the local betting shop. It was literally win, win, I got my pony wages and didn’t lose any readies I had in the bookies.
After a while it sometimes became a little tug of war with my conscience. I used to make a point of getting to know punters, most of them were very likeable people. You knew their names, the type of bets they had and put them down to ‘Pal’, ‘Farmer’ or their name in the book. They used to like the personal touch, the fact you didn’t give them a ticket made them feel special, so they bet with you.
There were times when the boss wanted to get a favourite in the book. You knew that certain tracks had punters that always backed short-priced favourites. If you saw one looking around when the jolly was 10/11 everywhere, you could call him over and offer him evens. You knew he’d have a monkey or a grand on it and that over time he’d virtually no chance of winning so tried to get all his business. Nothing worse than laying him four winning favourites in a row then seeing him go into someone else when he had a press up on a loser.
Some of these punters would come and go, ‘go’ being after they’d had a bad run. It wasn’t your place to ask them where they got their funds but I did often hope that they just turned it in because they weren’t winning and hadn’t been left in real financial trouble. Similarly I’d often say ‘that’s beat’ when someone would come in for £100 or so on a short one, the last part of it scraped together with a scruffy fiver and some shrapnel, Sod’s law and all that, they never win when they are desperately trying to ‘get out’.
I was lucky I always worked with experienced on-course bookmakers who were never going to go skint. It wasn’t the same for everyone. Sympathy for the punters was severely tempered by the turnover of on-course bookies, even in the pre-Betfair ‘Good old days’. There were always long-standing layers that had ‘run out of readies’ way before the last. They’d come around cap in hand to their brethren who may or may not have been willing to be bail them out. The biggest carnage was when ‘buying and selling’ came in. Some firms that bought in for their slice of the untold riches on-course bookmaking pie only lasted weeks. I can still see in my mind’s eye a clerk digging deep into his pockets to try and pull up enough cash to pay their last punter, ever.
Bookmakers never lose? I could give you a list of firms to tell that to.
Fast forward to now, I’m working for Star Sports recording #BettingPeople interviews and writing blogs like this. I have nothing to do with the bookmaking side of it, that is apart writing about it. It’s a very different climate to when I last worked regularly on course back in 2008. Bookmaking is being attacked on all fronts, quite often portrayed as Fagin type characters in the sporting industry. I’ve questioned myself a lot recently, am I not part of an industry that’s just generating money from other people losing, therefore misery? Should I not resign and get a job as a hospital porter or work in a charity shop? I’m probably considered a bit long in the tooth to re-train to become a Doctor or Counsellor but could still end my working life, ‘doing some good’.
I then questioned that I too was being brain-washed by the relentless campaign against the bookmaking industry. That doesn’t deflect from people like my recent #BettingPeople interviewees Andy Margett and Brian Chappell who are 100% genuine and both help people who have found themselves in difficulties with gambling. https://www.starsportsbet.co.uk/betting-people/
I started thinking about the leisure industry. Nobody needs to eat cream cakes, in fact some people actively tell people they shouldn’t. Our boss Ben could survive on a basic diet, he doesn’t have to go to upmarket restaurants, in fact nobody even needs to go to a café, the essentials are all available home brand for a fraction of the price in supermarkets. Why buy that nice suit, you can buy a year’s supply of jeans and jumpers for the money you just spent on that. Nobody needs to go to the pub to have a beer, you can buy it cheaper elsewhere and drink it at home, in fact you don’t even need to drink beer, coke, tea, anything else at all, water is all you need. While we are at it, you don’t even need to go on holiday, just take a week off, have a lie-in and go for a walk in the park every day, even better, don’t take holidays at all, just ask if you can pocket the wages and work through.
Why do people do any of those things? To enhance their lives, for pleasure, because it makes them feel good, a new suit, a million-pound feeling for a couple of hundred. That’s why.
That’s why the majority of people bet, for pleasure, for excitement, for a buzz, or how about this, for fun, now there’s a concept. It’s a leisure activity, the same as that pointless pint, surplus suit or needless Nandos. People play the lottery every week not really expecting to win, but are happy to pay for the chance of a life-changer. It’s the same with a Saturday Yankee and Football eight-fold. If they get invited to hospitality it’s not mercenary it’s customer service pure and simple, loyal customers made to feel special on a day out they’ll thoroughly enjoy.
Hyperbole aside, bookmakers are pure and simply part of the adult leisure industry not ogres. A part where participants don’t begrudge their spend any more than those that support pubs or restaurants with their disposable income. Regardless of the hype and hysteria, that is the reality of an industry that supports thousands of jobs and drop millions into the coffers of the treasury, horse racing and sport sponsorship.
It is an industry under threat though; the loudest voices are the most persistent. If they even got me thinking, it’s time for bookmaking industry PR to get to work regaining some balance.
Nobody in the betting industry should be made to feel guilty for working in it.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring