I have never been a bookmaker, never held a licence but I have lived much of my life involved with the business, I am passionate about ‘the game’. My Mum wasn’t over the moon that soon after leaving the Army I was living above a pub and working on racecourses with a bookmaker, I’m not sure what she disapproved of most. Bookmakers have never been ‘popular,’ after all their sole purpose in business is to win your money with the odds in their favour.
To the outsider it might be quite surprising that bookmakers have so many customers. But not really, the lure of ‘easy’ money for some, the love of horse racing and just being proved right is enough to ensure that one way or another there always will be people wishing to bet. The longevity of the bookmaking industry is testament to how hard it is for punters to beat the odds long-term.
Therein lays the resentment, a punter would rather call the bookmaker and racing crooked than question their own judgement. One thing that has rarely been brought into question amongst bookmakers is their own integrity. A bookmaker’s word was their bond. Back in the halcyon days of the betting ring millions of pounds of bets were struck with a nod or the flick of a twist card. Punters names were just put in books as ‘stick’ or ‘hat’ and everyone got paid. Honesty and integrity among bookmakers was fundamental, without that trust they were nothing.
Disputes between bookmakers were very rare and settled by their peers. The time there were more problems with bookmakers ‘owing’ came about when the doors were flung open to anyone to get involved with the onset buying and selling pitches. People from different business backgrounds, that were used to contracts and lawyers didn’t have that ‘word is my bond’ ethos running through their veins and soon came and went.
It appears the same thing is happening again on a bigger scale. City bankers and accountants, neither profession traditionally known for not pulling a stroke, coming into the ‘game’. The bottom line their only concern. Now it seems, realising as many new bookmakers did in 1999 that bookmaking isn’t as easy as anticipated, are bailing out and knocking as they go, shattering the whole ethos and mainstay of the bookmaking industry, integrity and trust.
What has happened recently with a national bookmaking firm just deciding to shut up shop and declare all bets struck prior to making that decision, void, is an absolute disgrace. It goes against anything that any bookmaker has stood for. The firm in question aren’t even skint, they’ve just decided to pull up stumps. You can’t do that.
The rest of the bookmaking industry needs to get a grip of this situation because if they don’t it’s the beginning of the end. If the firm in question get away with their proposal to void bets not stand them, if punters can’t trust the bookies to honour bets stuck, it’s over, the game really will be gone.
What is happening all over the industry, and we’ve not even touched on restricting accounts to pennies, is totally and utterly heart-breaking. Real bookmakers are being ousted by cuckoos in the nest and with them the honesty and integrity of the profession. That’s very dangerous for the industry, because it’s all that bookmakers have, their only selling-point, ripped from the roots.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring