Our hopeless government is trying to contain the rampant betting industry which is clearly out of control. The measures they have announced are about what you’d expect from a bunch of time servers with pockets lavishly lined by lobbyists from the business they are supposed to be regulating.

It’s not just the Conservatives. It was Labour under Blair and Brown who allowed the bookies a free hand to do whatever they liked; open season on the vulnerable public. And my god have they taken advantage of that. The number of suicides caused by problem gambling is beyond tragic.

I’m not against gambling or betting per se. I am strongly against the relentless advertising, marketing, promotion and propaganda spewed out by the betting companies.

Back in 1966 I went into a bookmakers in Ebury Street, Westminster, to make a bet. ‘Good morning,’ I said, ‘I’d like to place ten shillings on Arkle, please.’

The bookie peered through his guichet. ‘Zis the first time you’ve been inna bookies, sonny?’

‘Er, yes.’

‘Well zen, listen to me. You gimme your ten bob to put on Arkle. Arkle is one of 24 horses running in this race. Anything could happen. He could fall over. The jockey could fall off. He might be feeling under the weather. There are 23 other horses in the race, all dying to beat him. But if all goes well, and Arkle beats all the other 23 horses and wins the race, you know what will happen?’

‘I’ll win my bet?’ I ventured.

‘Yur,’ growled the bookie. ‘And I’ll give you yer ten bob back, and yer winnings of — one shilling. That’s twelve pence. But if Arkle sneezes, or the jockey gets distracted, or someone else is faster, and ‘e doesn’t win the race, then I keep yer arf a nicker. All of it. Happy wiv that?’

I cleared my throat. ‘Errm … I think I’d rather have my money back, please.’

‘That’s right, sonny,’ he grinned, and slipped the note back over the counter.

I haven’t been into a bookies since. None of these modern betting conglomerates would have offered that sort of advice. They’d simply have taken my money.

My father was an Army padre for much of his working life. He had to deal with squaddies, who weren’t always the brightest of the bunch. And he said that of all the problems facing those young lads — drink, sex, drugs, gambling etc. — by far the most pernicious and hardest to eradicate was gambling. It destroyed so many lives.

But as long as the gambling kings keep our elected representatives wined and dined and royally entertained, nothing will change, and more lives will be ruined.

Not what I want.

Oh, and Arkle won the race by thirty lengths.

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