Next door there would be a pub. That’s where any winnings might be taken hostage.
Back then, men were men. True, I was a child. But I would watch on from just outside or, cheekily, from just inside the front door.
Men smoked endlessly. The only thing they put in their hair was Brylcreem. If you’d suggested to that generation that they use face creams or moisturiser, they’d have given you a smack.
You walked into a bookmakers shop through a sea of fog. At a time when passive smoking was unheard of, you might win on a horse, but you’d lose a few years off your life.
You’d hear punters moaning about jockeys. Or saying the race was fixed. That much hasn’t changed.
Bookies were like working men’s clubs without the music. Friendships were made. Mates met up at the bookies to moan about the wife, the children, politicians and to exchange tales of woe. Recount their latest near miss and how: “if only the horse had jumped the last, I’d be rich.”
But when I last went into a bookies I found the atmosphere to be more sterile than most UK hospitals.
There may be loads of them on the High Street, but nothing in their shop window entices me in. And, when I have gone over the threshold, nothing detains me.
It’s not the fault of the staff. I take my hat off to them. I couldn’t do that job for any sum, let alone the wages they are paid.
It’s good that bookies shops now have basic facilities, like a toilet. In years past you had to nip out to the pub between the races. And you can get a coffee, albeit usually one of those turgid varieties that come out of a machine.
It’s three years since I walked into a bookmakers shop. I found the experience as enjoyable as I do on course catering.
The moaning men put me off. Why so now? After all, I used to laugh at the whining punters.
It is because the new generation of complainers sit there telling each other that every jockey is a crook. That the sport is as bent as anything Yuri Geller ever handled.
They are not, and it isn’t.
Yes, some jockeys earn more through losing a race than they ever could from winning it. Most jockeys struggle to make ends meet. They share cars for long journeys to racecourses to save on fuel costs. The majority of jockeys get a riding fee and little else. Unless, of course, they take a bung. A few do. But I’m surprised, and relieved, that more don’t.
You’ll get dubious characters in any profession, even tipping! But racing is not institutionally corrupt.
I am a purist. I hanker for the days when you bet on horses to win. Not to lose. The moment you could bet on a horse to lose, a player to score an own goal, a footballer to get a yellow card; that’s when sport lost any semblance of purity.
Inevitably, when so much money can be made through betting on a negative outcome, you will encourage dodgy characters to do dodgy things.
But if the men who occupy bookies shops today think every race is fixed, why are they there in the first place? Why bet on something you don’t believe in?
And, of course, the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals put me off. If I wanted to go to a casino I would do so. If I wanted to listen to a constant soundtrack of bells, whistles, sirens, flash, bangs and wallops; I would go to a fairground.
I cannot tell you how much I loathe FOBT’s. How ugly they are. The space they take up. The noises they make and, forgive me, but the look of many of the people losing their money to them.
I so want to get hold of these people with more money than brain cells, shake them, and tell them how to make money from a bookie. I dare not do so for fear of suffering the wrath of a young man already angry at his losses.
What are they doing? There’s a drain outside they could pour their money down.
I found this interview with the independent bookie Geoff Banks to be enlightening. Even an old sage such as I can learn about how an industry works today. Geoff points out that bookmaker shops are now casinos in all but name.
Without the invasion of FOBT’s, there would be far fewer shops on the High Street. Indeed, I wonder if they’d be any left.
Ladbrokes are the latest to announce bad results to the city. They are not the first to say they will be shedding jobs and closing shops. They will not be the last.
The Ladbrokes website is unbelievably unimaginative. It’s like something a 12 year old has designed in his bedroom. Actually, that’s an insult to most 12 year olds.
Coral also have a ‘clunky’ website though, in fairness, they do offer some decent odds on football. But they too need to get with the times. Try caring more about what the customer wants. The one who likes to bet on real events.
Ladbrokes offer terrible odds. In what is now a fiercely competitive, cut throat industry, Ladbrokes has been left behind. They belong to a past century. To an age when bookies shops, not the newsagents, were the nicotine capital of the High Street.
I go to those buildings and marvel at how young the workforce is. They are full of young people who know what to do with computers. Most of them couldn’t spot value in the betting market if their lives depended on it. But they don’t need to. That is not their job specification.
The bookies often employ one or two senior figures. People of my age group (mid 50’s) or older. They are usually in charge of deciding the odds. Pricing the markets for the multitude of events you can bet on these days. People who have been around the block a few times and know betting markets.
There were redundancies in Gibraltar last year. They got little news coverage. I feel for those people. They were persuaded to leave the UK, enticed by the promise of blue skies and Spanish like temperatures.
Nobody told them they would be sat in the office all day long, staring at a computer. They may as well have worked in Warrington or languished in Leeds!
And if they wanted to nip over to sample life in Spain? Well, their day off would be spent in a queue at the border as the nasty Guardia Civil turned the screw on Britain on behalf of an envious and bankrupt Spanish government.
Their new bosses in Gibraltar didn’t tell them that they would not be able to afford to buy a drink in one of the trendy but expensive nightclubs. Not on their meagre wages.
And, anyway, if they worked in customer services (on a salary of around £16.000 per annum) they were effectively on call 24/7. The bookies would give them a laptop to take home and they must be ready to work at any time.
You wouldn’t have the time or the money to buy a flight home to see your loved ones. That’s if your shift pattern permitted some time off.
You see, it’s not only those playing the FOBT’s who are funding the big bookies. Their own exploited employees are also helping to save the companies from going out of business.
To work as a customer services operator for a bookie in Gibraltar is less satisfying than a night out at Wolverhampton races.
You must be ready to answer online complaints from someone who thinks they have been short changed 50p on their returns. Or someone asking why their each way bet on a horse that finished third (in a race of only 7 runners) has not been paid out! Or some pissed punter who has fallen out of the kebab shop and wants to tell a bookie they are crooks!The manner in which disgruntled punters express their angst at a bookie may have changed. But they still do it.
The tales I have been told by customer service employees in Gibraltar leave me open mouthed.
A tough job, but someone has to do it.
Or do they?
I am beginning to wonder about the future of the online betting industry. So very popular these past 15 years or more, but what does the future hold for online punters like me?
Let me know what you think by leaving a message at the foot of this post.
Bookies may be releasing annual results that give the impression they are down to their last pound. I don’t believe it.
The bad ones (that’s you Ladbrokes) have only themselves to blame for recent losses. They haven’t moved with the times.
You see, in the old days, the man or woman behind the counter of the High Street shop knew what their regulars wanted.
But now, when you’re dealing with a faceless person located in Gibraltar or Dublin; they have no idea, and often no care, for your needs. No, not all of them, I know. A couple of online bookies do have a good customer relations set up.
But if the majority of big online bookies had their way, they would have no personal contact with punters. They are a nuisance, only good for giving them money. Too often their attitude towards the clients comes from the Ryanair manual on customer relations.
The big bookies are like the big banks. Once upon a time you could go into you High Street bank and have a meeting with the manager. He would know you by name, recall the name of your wife and children and probably know your account details.There are some excellent people working in bookies shops today. But, let’s be honest, they are in the minority. Most move on to work at Poundland or Wetherspoons. I don’t blame them. The money is better and they are less likely to get knifed or shot.
Working in a bookies shop used to be a sociable job. You would have a laugh with Harry or Bert and console them on their unlucky loser.
Today, if you work in a bookies, your very life is under threat.
Bookies have become meaner with their odds. I’ve been at this game of punting every week since 1998. During the recent times of recession I have seen bookies offer ludicrously short odds on prices. There is no doubt in my mind that they have been cutting their cloth. Not just in jobs, or via corporate cut backs.
The bookies have been slashing odds these past couple of years. I see evidence of it daily.
The companies are, like many of their customers, bemoaning recent losses. They have had to go to the city and report profits are down.
But, make no mistake, they are still coining it in.
After all, too many punters are stupid. You’ll often find them a bookies. Their addiction these days is not smoking.
No. They are addicted to pressing more buttons than I’ve pressed flesh.
The High Streets of Britain have altered dramatically in the last ten years alone. Bookies now outnumber charity shops.
I’m all for legislation restricting how many machines there are in any one shop. I’d vote for doing away with FOBT’s altogether. They have no rightful place in betting shops.
But I wouldn’t place a bet on them, or the shops themselves, vanishing. Not in my lifetime.
Footnote – the profitable punter writes…
Want to make the bookies poorer? Then be a patient punter. Wait for value in the betting market. Ask yourself, is the price potentially in your favour, and not the bookies. Might they have cocked up with the early price? They do you know.
Better still – come join the home of profitable punting. VG TIPS.