When I worked for Ladbrokes many years ago, I was running a shop on a council estate with a reputation for extreme night-time violence in one of the rougher neighbourhoods in south-west London. The customers were mixture of colourful characters, high rollers of questionable background, and at least one was a professional hitman. The local pub was a no-go zone where the local police were known to smoke dope. The previous manager of the shop told me to keep a bundle of cash in my shoes when I went to the bank in the morning, “for compensation”. It was your general rough-house.
There was a regular customer there who was a genuine nice guy who seemed to have everything, certainly in comparison to the majority of people in that area – he had a beautiful wife and lovely kid, he was fit and healthy, played a good standard of football (his true passion) and had his own business running a garage.
But he had no idea how to gamble, and he was bitten by the bug so bad that a demon would take him over. He could not separate the act of gambling with the money when he was winning and when he was losing he would deny the existence of money so that he could convince himself that he was not losing – he was going to hell in a handcart.
One day his demon manifested itself in such an extreme form that I had to take drastic action: It was a Saturday morning and he was gambling on the Hackney and Crayford morning BAGs (greyhounds) meetings. And doing quite well. In fact he pretty much cleared out my morning float and then some. Eventually, about 12.30pm, he had hit the bottom of my till and I couldn’t pay him anymore.
Knowing that he played football on Saturday afternoon I offered to keep hold of his slip for safe keeping and pay him out at the end of the day. That way – this being before night and Sunday racing – he would have at least a day of peace with cash not burning a hole in his pocket.
Off he went, perfectly happy to have hit the bookies, but it wasn’t long before the demon was back and begging for succour. That afternoon he rang three friends and begged them to persuade me to cash his money so they could proxy bet for him. He even rang me up himself at half-time from the touchline during his regular Saturday game and begged me to put a bet on for him. I said no.
But, sure enough, he was back in the shop an hour later – still in his football kit – and he spent an hour giving me back as much of his money as he could. I eventually kicked him out of the shop and told him to come back on Monday.
I wish there was a happy end to the story, but there just isn’t. I wish I could tell you that he saw the error of his ways, or he won so big one day that he could retire from gambling and live a happy and fruitful life. I wish.
But no. He left my shop that afternoon, went home, put a suit on and went up West to the casinos in West Kensington and lost the lot – a redistribution of wealth from one bookie to another.
His wife and little kid went without money for the last time and left, his garage went to pot in a pile of gambling debts. The last time I saw him he was trying to blag money of my customers. Last I heard he was living rough..
Throughout his fall – and it happened rapidly in the months after that topsy turvy Saturday – one all-encompassing factor was staring me in the face: this poor man is not gambling he is just unhappy and is using betting to fill a void.
Let me just say now: if you see any symptoms of addiction in your attitude to gambling – lying, self-deceit, cutting your budget of essentials to feed your gambling habit, stealing, mood swings – then betting is not for you.
You need to log on to the Gamble Aware website and follow their advice to getting help. If you become addicted, gambling is the most serious of addictions, it is not to be taken lightly.. get help.
His behaviour was not how people should be reacting in this highly-business orientated environment. He was being overly emotional about the process of investing his money in something for possible reward. Would you, I thought, go into a bank and open a savings account because you like the colour of their sign, or invest in a company because you fancy the company’s head of human resources. Probably not.
His demise led me to believe that not everyone has the wherewithal to deal with what can be a highly intoxicating and addictive hobby. Very few people come out of it with more money in their pockets, that’s for sure. While some don’t mind this: another customer in a different shop used to hate collecting winnings, for him it was a way to keep his brain occupied, not a means to money, others need to win.
If you need to win, you need a good moral code to follow, a bible to refer to when things don’t seem to be going your way.
Follow my six rules of betting and you won’t end up letting gambling run and then ruin your life.
1.Every bet is a losing bet (formerly known as: don’t bet what you can’t afford)
Ah, don’t bet what you can’t afford. What utter glorious nonsense. The first person to ever utter this platitudinous rubbish should be taken out back of the bookies and summarily shot.
What does it mean? Don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose. Surely you can’t afford to lose anything? And if your one betting strategy is to bet what you can afford to lose, then you have thrown the one thing into the transaction that is guaranteed to leave you profitless: placing emotion inside the bet.
By building a complete picture for a bet that involves your own finances it becomes personal, and when a bet becomes personal all manner of complications enter the equation. What that half-baked idiot should have said was: Expect to lose every bet, that way you are detached from the money and you can concentrate properly on the matter in hand.
How many times have you heard stories of accountants who can’t control their own finances or doctors who don’t look after their health. More than once, I bet. When it is your job, it is a business transaction: no emotion, no mistakes. When it is your finances, health, etc, emotion is in the game, and the decision-making process becomes a lot more complicated.Take emotion out of your gambling (never bet on your favourite team, for example, it clouds your judgment. Why do you think bookies were very quick to put betting booths in football stadiums, they are huge cash cows) and you are on your way.
2. No such thing as a perfect system
There are hundreds of them on the internet, and the world and his wife will tell you that they never lose because they have a system, but the perfect system just does not exist.
The bookies have something called the 110 per cent market, in which regardless of the result they pick up a profit of ten per cent. Of course, ten per cent is their minimum goal and in my six years as a betting shop manager and supervisor at Ladbrokes I never worked in a shop, or group of shops that didn’t make at least the company’s minimum profit margin of 20 per cent gross. It’s usually closer to 30 per cent.
While some people may think that they have a system that can beat the bookies, they don’t: the bookies are very sensitive to changes in their market percentage and will change prices accordingly. They constantly monitor each others prices to be aware of people looking to bet across a market. Some systems claim that by searching hundreds of bookies they can find as low as a 92 per cent market, where a punter, by putting a percentage on each possible result at different bookies, can make an eight per cent minimum profit.
In the unlikely event that this occurs, you have to be pretty quick before the anomaly is closed, and shell out large amounts of money to make it profitworthy. Plus, the risk is that the loop closes while you are placing bets across the firms – and you end up sitting on a losing bet.
3. No substitute for knowledge
If you don’t know what you’re betting on, then you have no chance of winning. There are those firms that say they are profitable on the football (soccer, if you like) but have absolutely no idea what they are betting on. It’s all in the statistics. One website had the gall to suggest that if you crunch the numbers, work out all the variables, then there is no luck involved. Rot. Football fans know that it is not about 22 players, two teams. It is about weather, refs, fans, the pitch, how confident the star striker is feeling, whether the keeper had an argument with his wife the night before. Sure, there is no harm in punching in all the figures, but like everything in life there is no substitute for knowledge. Knowing.
4. Percentage accuracy is a load of old shoe shine
My favourite is the number of tipster sites that claim to have “70 per cent accuracy” or above as if it was the holy grail of football betting. One of my favourite ones is a football prediction website that miraculously predicted last season Chelsea had a 68 per cent chance of beating Reading at home (lucky 1-0 win) or Liverpool had only a 25 per cent chance of beating Portsmouth at home (they won 4-1).
If you really want to spend your money on that kind of dross, then good luck to you. You’re far better picking up a good football book that gets to the heart of what football is about:
I would suggest Brilliant Orange by David Winner (Bloomsbury), which is an excellent essay in the philosophy of the game in general but, in particular, the Dutch total football regime.
Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson is an excellent insight into the day-to-day life of a journeyman footballer. It laughs in the face of anyone who says that there is no space for randomness in predicting football games.
And Defending the Honour of Kiev by Andy Dougan if you need to understand football’s importance in European society.
And if reading is not your thing, get The History of Football: The Beautiful Game box set for a comprehensive guide to the game.
5. No substitute for experience
It took me watching literally hundreds and hundreds of live games and interviewing dozens and dozens of footballers, managers, pundits and fans as a football reporter to get an idea about the game.
It took me six years as a betting shop manager, two years as a professional gambler (a long time ago, and it all went up in smoke through lack of experience), and almost seven years as a football tipster to get a hook on this gambling malarkey.
Don’t let anyone tell you it is easy: to be a successful gambler one has to maintain a constant vigil over oneself, a constant vigil over prices, keep up-to-date with the news, and pour over stats and analysis from as many sources as possible.
It is possible to win without proper investigation: in football you generally have a 1 in 3 chance of success – it’s like tossing a coin with the chances of it landing on its end about a 3/1 chance.
6. The most vulnerable punter is a winning one
When you’re up, you feel unbeatable, you are on top of the world, nothing can stop you. Your pockets are full, next month’s rent is paid, what could possibly go wrong.
Stop. Think about this: how could your judgment be anything other than impaired with all these wonderful things going through your head. Poker players understand this: they actual play the game in a different way when they have lots of chips. More confident, more aggressive.
Now, once you’ve thought about all that. Stop. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the winning feeling. Got over it? Good. Now you can get back to it.
Think of it as footballers the world over do when they score first. Jogging back to the halfway line, elated and on top of the world, it takes someone to remind you of your job. “0-0”. “It’s still 0-0.”