I’ve struggled to blog recently – mostly because I’ve been a bit busier with life. I have drafted a few articles since I last wrote, but they were abandoned because the topics were heavy and I couldn’t seem to strike the right tone.
So, to regain momentum, and because it’s early April and I live in Liverpool, I thought I’d write about the Grand National. Locally, the weekend is so notorious that only the hardiest of alcoholics dare venture into the Mersey melee. They are the battle-hardened alco-warriors that survived St Patrick’s Day and still want more.
In this blog I’m going to tell you about one of my biggest and, perversely, funnest gambling losses, courtesy of the Grand National. But first, some background and a muddled point about underage gambling…
The Grand National was the first thing I ever knowingly bet on. Granddad Dix put together a £1 family sweepstake which I believe took place at my cousin Alan’s wedding reception. The details are blurry enough that I couldn’t have been more than seven.
I remember my horse falling early and the race seeming to take about four hours. Ten minutes is a long time when you’re little.
Only a few years later my memories are much clearer. I recall Esha Ness “winning” the false start Grand National in 1993, and my mum winning on Party Politics the year before (her bet that is, she wasn’t the jockey). The bomb scare Grand National of 1997 seems positively recent, but it was the year before I fluked an adequate batch of GCSEs.
The point is, as the UK’s biggest horse race, the Grand National is a cultural institution, deeply woven into our national psyche. The domestic TV audience is about 10M (with as many as 500M watching worldwide) and we will bet over £100M with official, licensed UK bookmakers.
It is probably a big contributing factor to why we are the most advanced, and socially normalised, gambling market in the world.
Now I know I have called out gambling companies for targeting underage gamblers in the past, but when it comes to the Grand National, I don’t mind the limited participation of minors. To my mind, it’s the same as the French letting their children drink wine with meals from a young age.
The Grand National is the one day of the year where some responsible family gambling should be tolerated, if not encouraged. It’s better to educate the next generation ahead of time than to turn them loose unprepared at eighteen to get drunk, pregnant and bankrupt (all possible in Liverpool on National day).
To be mega-clear, I’m not saying that PaddyPower should get dispensation to take bets from kids on one day a year. Greedy arsehole bookmakers shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the education of our children. I’m *reluctantly* saying a friendly pocket money sweepstake can provide a positive long term lesson if done right.
Speaking of greedy arsehole gambling operators, let’s get back to the main point of this blog. The time I lost a load of money being a dubious unlicensed foreign bookie.
At some point during my career wilderness years, I worked in a sports pub in a country that had prohibitive attitude towards gambling. As there was a lot of demand among the staff and trusted customers, I decided I would take bets myself.
Knowing there would be an extortionate edge built into the high street bookmaker prices, I simply quoted their odds at the time it was requested. As I write, this year’s market has a margin of around 35% (about triple the normal level), so it should have been a sound strategy.
Unfortunately for me, and somewhat inexplicably, just about everyone wanted to bet on Rule the World. He was 50-1 on the morning of the race and steadily came in to 25-1 in the build-up to the race. With an hour to go, I knew I was overexposed and seriously considered laying off some of the action.
But looking down my spreadsheet of bets, I knew that was the only horse that I could lose on. Any other winner and I would make a nice profit. Given the treacherous hurdles around Aintree, I decided I was probably safe and I’d let it ride.
As the race unfolded, I was completely unperturbed. Rule the World had been way back in the pack and seemed to offer no threat whatsoever. He’d been mentioned so infrequently by the commentators that I thought he must’ve been an early faller.
But then, as if from nowhere, he came romping through. The picture above was taken (without my knowledge) about a furlong out, when it became clear that everyone in the pub was going to be a winner, and I would be a big fat loser.
My total losses were over €1000. It took me four days to get enough money out of the local ATMs to pay off my patient punters.
It may sound strange, but even though it stung a bit, I never lost a moment’s sleep over the whole thing. All the winners were my friends, and they had a great day. One couple both got on early at 50-1 and had enough winnings to go on their first proper holiday in years. I found it hard to be unhappy under the circumstances.
Did I learn my lesson and stop doing it? No, I carried on. Every other time I made money, although I don’t think I did it enough times to cover my initial losses. On one occasion Tyson Fury won in the only round that nobody bet on, so I scooped the whole lot (a few hundred Euros).
Anyway, it goes to show that the house doesn’t always win. Sometimes they’re too stupid and greedy to balance their books.