Bookmakers or Babysitters?

Bookmakers or Babysitters

I might come across a bit harsh here but playing Devil’s Advocate, how much responsibility should grown adults take for their own bad decisions?

I remember when I first discovered the delights of the betting shop. There were no machines to play but the dogs at Hackney started at 11am on a Saturday and the last race was probably a bumper somewhere in rural Ireland. If you made it past the dogs and through the day you were probably looking for divine help by the 5.55 before the shop shut. Unless your Yankee that you placed when hope romped around free at 10.55am came up or you were bailed out by your 14 home wins on the football you probably went home a lot poorer than you went in, often potless looking for a sub from your mate. After a while you learned by your mistakes, either deciding to leave a score at home so you could still go out on Saturday night regardless and/or hopefully got more selective and savvy at punting.

There were some that didn’t take it quite so well or ever learn, after having a few successful bets on short-priced favourites and fortified by a few beers the hard case builder still in his work clothes would start getting a bit cavalier with his wage packet. A shock defeat after a bigger than he should have had bet on an odds-on shot was followed by a chase of losses in which he inevitably came second. A fit of violent rage aimed at the cowering counter staff would follow. In the meantime anyone with any sense and money made a hasty exit before request of a loan with menaces and little chance of repayment was made before going home and trying to justify his light wages to the wife.

There was often a standing dish story in Sunday papers in the 1970s and 80s where a group of gutted people would be stood posing for a photograph holding a Littlewoods coupon. The hapless syndicate devastated that their trusted pools collector had trousered their stake rather than submit their winning coupon, he thought they were a million to cop, they were but still did, or rather didn’t because the collector chose to steal from them.

These days people that still play the pools have it on themselves rather than trusting someone else to do it. Hackney dogs are no more and people take their anger out on machines rather than hapless counter staff, one development I’m sure those hapless staff are thankful for.

There have been several videos posted on social media in recent months of people attacking machines in betting shops after we assume they lost their money in them. The videos often attract a lot of comments quite a lot in sympathy with the assailant and not the bookmaker whose expensive machine is being vandalised. You’d have to assume that the person attacking it left home that morning, successful enough in life negotiate all the hurdles that maintaining a home entails. Then they made their way to the betting shop, making the correct decision when it was safe to cross the roads on his route to enable him to get there. Nobody took responsibility for him so far in his day so why should the bookmaker be responsible for his choice to take a chance with his money to play that machine in a shop he could have chosen to walk past?

People will say it’s because they, the punters, are addicts and that the machines are addictive. That maybe be true to a certain extent aren’t they just one of many things in life that can become addictive to some people.  Yes it would it be fair to say that the vast majority of people will lose money playing gambling machines, as they would the horses or dogs, but of that vast majority their lives aren’t ruined.

From time to time we get stories of a punter that has lost a nice few quid betting with a bookmaker then it turns out that he’s embezzled (stolen) the money. It’s the bookmaker that’s the bad guy for taking the bet, the person that’s done it is suddenly a victim not the perpetrator of a crime. It’s legal to bet in this country and legal to bet in many ways. The person that has stolen the money to bet is a winner enough in life to hold down a job, financially responsible enough to for a bank to grant him an account and given him a card to access funds from that account to use on-line and intelligent and sly enough to think he might get away with is. After winning in so many ways, why when he makes the conscious decision to commit a crime is it all down to the bookmaker not checking thoroughly enough it was his money? If asked wouldn’t he have said it was anyway even though he’d nicked it, because he’s not trustworthy.

Of course in the old days he would probably have managed to obtain a credit account, won a bit and drawn, got in too deep and knocked, but that was always socially acceptable as gambling debts were not recoverable by law so OK in the eyes of society. An antiquated loophole that allows the dishonourable to steal from bookmakers with impunity despite the bookmakers being the ones running a lawful business.

Yes many people make a conscious choice to gamble then lose but the vast majority aren’t ‘vulnerable’ they just lost their money betting. Yes I’m sure we all agree that there are genuinely vulnerable people in society that should and must be protected but where does the line get drawn?

Should it be the duty of staff in a bakery to deny a rotund customer their request of a box of donuts? I’m sure all bar staff are trained to refuse to sell drinks to already drunk customers but should bartenders in chain pubs that serve breakfast tut and tap their watches when a customer wants a pint of lager with his bacon sarnie at 10am ‘and suggest ‘Bit early?’ Maybe tobacconists should do lung capacity tests on smokers before selling them 20 gaspers of they sound a bit wheezy? All cars be governed to 70 MPH because it’s illegal to go any faster?

I imagine the answer to all the questions in the paragraph above would be a majority no, so why is it different in bookmaking?

What would be the reaction by the law and video watchers on social media to a larger person lobbing a brick through the window of a cake shop because they ate too many pastries, a drunk smashing up a pub because they’d developed a drinking problem, the local newsagent getting trashed because a smoker got bronchitis or an irate driver ploughing their car into their local Ford dealer because they got caught doing 80?

Exactly? Or have I got this horribly wrong?

Simon Nott


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