Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why gambling is a mug's game

Many, many, many years ago, stepmother Dixon decided it would be a good idea to put her stepson off gambling.

Her plan was a simple one. Give said stepson (yours truly) a fiver and tell him to pick a horse in the Grand National.

The chosen horse would naturally lose, young Dixon would be put off the gee-gees for life, and the Dixon millions would be safe for posterity.

Young Dixon decided to play along: first, he would choose the horse with the number of legs most closely approaching three; second, the dubious nag would be paired with a jockey with a career trajectory only slightly less promising than that of a seaside donkey minder.

As two concessions to hope, he would pay the extra 50p tax in advance (it was that long ago) and he would split his fiver each way.

Now an each-way bet, for readers unfamiliar with the ways of the turf, is similar to the offside rule in football. Those who don’t understand it spend hours having it explained to them by those who do, and neither party is happy with the outcome of the discussion.

But the general idea is if your horse comes in second, third or (sometimes) fourth, you still get a bit of your money back. But if the odds are less than four (or five) to one, you don’t get enough money back to recoup your original stake.

To add to your confusion, you also have to bear in mind the two basic rules of horse racing. The first of these is always to bet on the grey. Remembering always that greys aren’t grey, they’re white, with a bit of silvery-black thrown in. The second rule? Never bet on the grey.

And if you think that’s complicated, try working out a fourfold accumulator with a combination tricast on the side.

Anyway, the neophyte punter picked up the each-way concept pretty quickly, dashed off to the bookies and laid his money down.

Later that afternoon, the Dixons gathered round the flickering screen of their steam-powered black-and-white TV and waited for the off, secure in the knowledge that the horse would lose and that the heir to the Dixon fortunes would never henceforth be tempted to throw his supposed inheritance into the path of those thundering hooves.

The jockey was recovering from testicular cancer. His name was Bob Champion. The horse had the same great-great-great-grandfather on both sides of his pedigree, and was recovering from a serious leg injury. His name was Aldaniti.

Together, they won the 1981 Grand National at odds of ten to one.

Which meant a return on the original investment of something like £35, including the stake: not too shabby for a complete beginner.

There was a mighty throng at the bookies when we went back in to collect the winnings, and a sense of anticipation in the air.
Later that evening it was the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, and in those halcyon days the UK had at least an outside chance of winning.

The bookies were offering ten to one – we just laughed. But a few hours later, Bucks Fizz ripped their skirts off and won with Making Your Mind Up. And that’s why gambling really is a mug’s game.

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