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Monday, March 05, 2007

Gambling is a mug's game


Gambling is a mug's game.

Paddy Power didn't announce record profits for the umpteenth year in a row due to the amount of cash he's giving away, you know?

Nevertheless, gambling gets more and more popular every year. Now, I have an unusual perspective on gambling. I once worked as a professional croupier. I used to see all sorts come through the doors of the casino, blinded by the neon lights and the sheer James Bondness of it all.

And this in a sleepy South of England town! Most would leave a few hours later, down a few quid but having in many cases enjoyed themselves. After all, if they'd kept their punting to a certain level, they'd have spent less than they might have otherwise in the pub, and at least they wouldn't be waking with a blinding hangover the next day.

But there was always one or two who couldn't let it lie. A former soap star used to drive up to our casino in order not to be spotted in the plush London clubs. He'd regularly blow most of his not insubstantial wages on a single Saturday night.

He could've and probably should've been down the Ivy or some other West End glamspot, trying to score with vampy wannabes and sipping Cosmopolitans. Instead he was up with us, in the quiet hush of a regional casino, handing over his hard-earned.

The saddest case was a little old lady who'd come in every Friday evening with a plastic bag full of used notes. We used to wildly speculate on where she got the cash, which often topped three grand.

She never left till the early hours, and usually with virtually nothing left. Her game was roulette, and the little ball just didn't seem to favour her one bit.

One day, I was in a distant part of town, hoping to hook up with a guy who was selling some concert tickets. I stopped off in a little corner shop to buy some smokes and there she was, behind the till. Throughout the shop, the shelves were mostly empty.

She looked sheepish, and I couldn't meet her eye. Clearly, she was losing the shop's take on a weekly basis. I bought the smokes, attended the concert and then left the job within a couple of weeks.

I used to play poker long before it was online or popular. My friends, even my acquaintances, won't play me anymore, even though it's very likely they'd take my money these days, as my interest in the game waned in indirect proportion to its popularity. I haven't played much since they started televising it and sticking it online.

But I used to like the game. It's a cold hard mix of luck and skill. And it's beautifully karmic, unlike most gambling.

If you've got a lot of chips in front of you, somewhere across the table, someone you know has lost them. You've got to be able to look them in the eye and accept that, even as you have to look them in the eye and accept it when they've got the chipstack and you're the one on your uppers.

Back in 2000, a pal and me decided to find out could we make a living as professional gamblers. Not at poker, but by punting on sports mainly. We reckoned we knew as much about the games as the odds layers, and had a good eye for a decent bet.

We kept detailed and accurate accounts of all bets for a year exactly. At the end of it all, I was up about six hundred quid, my pal back around four hundred. We'd actually done the bookies out of a grand in cash!

However, when I worked out the hourly rate of income, ie how many hours had I spent reading, researching and thinking about my bets that it had taken to make that six hundred quid, it soon became apparent that gambling would never replace going out and earning a living.

Then a couple of years afterwards, I was in a pub in Rathmines, (South Dublin for the uninitiated), and met a bloke who worked as an odds setter for one of the big bookmaking firms. He told me, in tedious detail, about the form, home life and personal circumstances of even youth team members of Irish football teams.

He had to know that detail in order to set the odds, and he wasn't the only one employed in that capacity. A few times a week, he and his peers would gather and argue the toss over every soccer and GAA game, discussing likelihoods of certain players taking the pitch and so on.

It quickly became apparent that I'd never know as much about the games I had a punt on as the guys laying the odds. In other words, I'd been pretty damn lucky back in 2000.

So it seems to me, having been both sides of the table and lived through it without losing my shirt, that gambling is a mug's game. I'll still go out and stick a few quid on a football game that I'm attending or watching on telly, just to heighten the interest as it were.

But I've long dispensed with ideas of making money out of the passtime. I never frequent card clubs or casinos now, don't play any poker, and crucially I bet buttons rather than serious amounts of money.

I view stories of people suffering from gambling problems with dismay. Medical research shows that gambling is as potent an addiction as cocaine. I consider the development of 'super-casinos' in Britain as short-termist and highly dangerous. I'm very concerned about the proliferation of card clubs and online gambling in Ireland.

But I wouldn't ban it. It's unbannable. Gambling would only go underground, back to the shady criminal class who once oversaw all punting. Instead, I place my few quid on the odd game or event I have an interest in anyway, and permit lady luck to do her best and worst, safe in the knowledge that the rent is never at risk.

If only everyone could obtain the same perspective on gambling, I'd feel a lot better about giving money to and taking money from the bookies.

People sometimes ask me for tips, as if I have any great insight into the wheel of fortune from having spun it professionally for a while. I don't generally offer any, because I don't want to be anyone's enabler.

But just this once, I'll mention a bet I've placed. I think the odds are good, and I think it could come off. But if it doesn't, please don't blame me. And whatever you do, don't chase your losses if it or any other bet you place loses.

The SDLP are being priced at 2/1 to retain their 18 seats in the Stormont Assembly elections this week. I think those are generous odds. I've put some pin money where my mouth is. We'll know on Thursday if I'm up or down. But either way, it's just a bit of fun.

After Thursday, when the results are all in and the parties sit down to decide whether to go into power sharing again or not, that's when the serious business begins. And if ever there was some future event I'd love to influence, it's that one, not any bet I've ever made.

If you have a gambling problem or if you thing you might do, please click here.

kick it on kick.ie

7 comments:

Dario Sanchez said...

While I won't call myself a gambling addict, JC, I have a very addictive personality.

Last year myself and Jim and the family went to Malta as a kind of a knees-up after the Leaving, and unfortunately the hotel we stayed in had a casino. I spent over €300 on blackjack. I wouldn't mind so much, but I had hit a huge hot streak and was on about €100 profit, but i didn't back out and lost it all.

Gambling is addictive as hell, but it's also a serious rush. I played Texas Hold'Em here the other night and it reminded me of it.

A total mug's game, yeah, but quite enjoyable all the same.

The Voice of Treason said...

A bookie's shop has four windows for paying in and one window for paying out. That's all you need to know about gambling.

Bock the Robber said...

Great posting, Skinner.

Nothing to add to that, smart-arse or otherwise.

Irishbar said...

Well written mate - Its possible to beat the bookies consistently but you really need to know your stuff abd choose areas where the bookie has the least info

John Mc said...

Great post. I get to vegas about once or twice a year, and I love blackjack. But I have always made a deal with myself, I will spend $xxx . But it's the cost of fun, and I will lost it. I know the basic rules and odds of blackjack, (couldn't be arsed counting, to much effort when you are supposed to be enjoying yourself), and if you stick by it you can enjoy yourself for many hours and lose, but not too much. That said I can totally see how people get addicted to it.

Me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Geoff said...

After listening to Alan Brazil and Mike Parry make the Cheltenham Festival sound like some kind of nirvana for the last 10 years, I thought I would take myself along and experience the magic for myself.

To say the reality was something I will not be repeating, is something of an understatement!

But here are some of the words Alan Brazil had repeated over the years that had so intrigued me.

Alan Brazil: “The Irish are over!”
They certainly were, however they were mostly pissed out of the brains and those that could still speak, were shabby loud and foul mouthed, what IS the attraction Alan?

Alan Brazil: That’s my “Banker Bet”
After watching lots and lots of people putting money in the bookies bag, I saw very few of them taking any back out! So I am still none the wiser as to what Alan is referring to!

Alan Brazil: “I’ve lumped on at 12’s This seemed to impress and surprise that other big mouth Derik Thompson when Alan said it.
It just seemed to me, that if your bet is placed months in advance of the race with a off course bookie what is the point in attending the fucking race Alan?

Anyway my experience of Cheltenham is as follows:
my mate and I entered the Tattersall’s stand at about midday having taken three hours to get there by train and buss from London.
This area seemed to be inhabited by the same sad faces you see coming out of your local bookie on Saturday lunchtime, all with that same look of loss and desperation.

Then there were those who clearly saw themselves as a cut above the proles all these seemed to be owners of Club, Members or owners badges.

In order to make sure you are not inadvertently mistaken for one of the proles it seems it is obligatory that you dress yourself from head to foot in some tasteless ghastly green checked tweed creation to be worn with brown brogues, regardless of your sex, in fact in many cases the only clue to sex was the head gear. Wide brimmed moleskin fedoras for the male and fur for the female.

Those who do not opt for this ludicrous get up tend to go for either the “Twickers” rugger look or the gee gee fan look in one of Barbour’s finest worn with brogues, cords or moleskin trousers of course.

The actual racing experience for those who do not cough up for a trackside restaurant hospitality option seems to operate exclusively around bars, these are without exception crowded expensive and designed to keep you inside drinking, In fact you are not allowed take your drinks outside!

It goes like this, people down their pint rushing out to “lump on” their horse of choice. They rush back to slam down another over priced pint and convince anyone daft enough to listen exactly why their horse will win!

They then rush out to shout at the horse carrying their lump, this seems to be followed exclusively by head shaking and stamping in despair whilst making their excuse as to why another dead cert let them down.

Then the whole desperate cycle starts all over again! After 20 minutes of watching this I had had enough and decided to get a sandwich another very disappointing and very expensive experience!

So I tried watching some racing down by the rails, this was the only good bit of the day the Horses are beautiful animals who genuinely seem to enjoy running along.

But even this wonderful spectacle was spoiled by the howls of greed from those around me, their faces twisted in avarice.

It was clear to me there are only one group of winners in horse racing the bookies and perhaps a few rich owners who seal deals worth millions over the luncheon table in the hospitality lounges.

If that is what turns Brazil on great for him but for me it was my first and last taste of the Gee Gees.