Tuesday 9 April 2024

All Is Fair in Love, War & Gambling

I wonder if you remember Ron Pollard?

Sadly, he passed away in 2015, aged 89. If his name sounds familiar then you may remember reading his quotes in newspapers, often related to gambling, because his role as an odds-maker and PR Director made him a star turn at Ladbroke’s.

Pollard’s biography Odds & Sods: My Life in the Betting Business, published by Hodder & Staughton in 1991 is a superb read. In fact, for insight and revelations about the bookmaking industry it is one of the best books I have ever read. There are many humorous stories including one about the 1982 Miss World Competition.

This is where Pollard uttered those insightful words: ‘You’ve got to make a living, son, and so you have. All is fair in love, war and gambling.’

He’d bet £300 on Miss Dominican Republic at odds of 16/1 to win £5000.

In 1982, Ron was invited onto a show hosted by Michael Aspell and Danny Baker called the Six O'Clock Shows. It was a behind-the-scenes look at Miss World. The advantage Pollard had over other bookmakers was that he made the odds and the other bookmakers followed suit. So he told a little white lie when pricing Miss Dominican Republic at bigger odds because he was convinced she was the favourite to win. He asked Ladbroke’s staff to keep him informed of the betting just in case someone tried to scupper his plans.

Ron needed to get close to have a good sighting of the girls to make his book. This was made all the more difficult as Eric and Julia Morley, who run the competition, didn’t want him anywhere near them. In fact they had declared war on him after 1979s competition made headline news in the Daily Star. The Morley’s were worried betting would turn their ‘pride and joy’ into a cattle market. In fact, she was determined to stop him.

Unfortunately, she was too late.

Rather humorously, he had been jogging with the girls in Hyde Park, and had the tapes to prove it. Also, when the girls were invited to the Variety Club lunch he disguised himself as a waiter to see the contestants in their national costumes. However, he failed to see the swimsuit parade. He was assisted by the Daily Mail’s photographer who said nothing to dissuade him from Miss Dominican Republic.

However, there had been a tremendous amount of money for Miss Trinidad and Tobago whose odds were cut from 12/1 to 5/4 favourite. In fact, Ladbrokes stood to lose £500,000 is she won the competition.

When the big day arrived and judging was over, it was revealed that Miss Dominican Republic had won!

Ron Pollard punched the air with excitement, he had won £5,000. The money was good but in truth it was as much about ego, simply being right.

Sunday 4 February 2024

The Early Days of Ladbrokes Bookmaker

In 1961 the Betting and Gaming Act saw betting shops appear in the high streets. Before this time the only place a legal cash bet could take place was on course. Bookmakers were allowed telephone clients but this was based on credit. Ladbrokes had this working relationship, not surprisingly, with many punters from the gentry or incredibly wealthy clients. Betting shops allowed punters to place a bet legally. Before, it was was a time of backstreet bookmakers often related to criminals and illegal.

It’s interesting to consider those early years. Reading Ron Pollard’s fascinating book about him working for Ladbrokes as an odds-maker as well as the PR Director these were difficult times. He worked with Ladbrokes from 1962 and remembered how on a number of occasions, in that first decade, they had such liabilities that they were on the verge of bankruptcy. He told of times where they pushed football betting odds to the extreme in what was akin to a price war with William Hill which cost both companies dear. It was madness but that’s how things worked in those formative years. He also detailed how Ladbrokes made a killing by looking for alternative betting mediums such politics and general elections. This proved to be a master move and not only helped gain money but global promotion for the company. One occasions they placed so much hope and money on Labour winning the general election that a loss would have seen the firm the brink of financial disaster. Pollard said he felt so unsettled by the whole situation that he called his mother and said he was contemplating suicide. Thankfully, all was OK.

It is probably too easy to think of giant companies and consider their business history has always followed a straight path and been a bed of roses. In actual fact this is far from the truth. There have been many ups and downs as there will be in the future although it is very unlikely such a company would find itself with serious concern due to diversifying and investing as Ladbrokes did in property, hotels and other businesses across the globe.

I was surprised to read that along the way they invested in managing Aintree to protect the Grand National which was pretty close to disappearing. Also, they purchased Lingfield and many greyhound tracks. They invested in many enterprises which are often forgotten or perhaps viewed less objectively.

It was also interesting to read how Ladbrokes had a brilliant casino business in the 1970s then they encountered problems with The Playboy Club over the acquisition of clients. This was back in the day when rich sheikhs frequented London and literally spent millions in a night. Sadly, the road to riches for both companies fell foul of the law and both casinos lost their licences.

Cyril Stein was one of the movers and shakers in helping create the Ladbrokes we know today and he was a brilliant businessman.

Today Ladbrokes is worth £2.9 billion. It’s a long way from those small beginning when the company was purchased in 1956 for £100,000. Amazingly it was owed £105,000 so in effect the company cost no money to purchase.

Ron Pollards biography is a brilliant read.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Tomorrow Could Be The Best Gambling Day Of Your Life

I guess we all know it.

Deep in our heart and mind we know it.

If we ask ourselves the question it slowly reveals itself, a seed of imagination which leads to a secret garden.

So many of us are stuck inside an invisible cage. We can’t see the bars. The path ahead is clear. The opportunities unlimited.

A phenomenal day, a step away.

Sadly, we just don’t open that door.

I don’t know why.

Even your pet cat scratches it with curiosity.

Imagine how beautiful the view is from outside.

For so many, we never open that door. We don’t put our ear to it, listening to hear what’s happening on the other side. We don’t dare to kick it open in fear there may be a monster waiting the other side. In truth, the monster is sitting next to us in that comfy chair, both looking ahead without hope.

A beautiful experience left behind.

It’s a good reason to ask ourselves a question: What would the best day of your life look like? Where would you go? What would you do? What would you think? How would you feel? At the end of that day, as you rest in a different comfy chair, you think about your day.

The day is yours. But it’s not given.

Don’t let this day of days slip by. Make it happen. Plan what you want to do because it makes you happy, excites you like never before, and fills your heart with joy and anticipation.

How would my perfect day look?

It would be a beautiful summer’s day.

I’d wake up at the Pier Hotel in Gorleston, the Sunrise Suit. The window open all night listening to the crash of waves. The sweetest smell of honeysuckle fills the room.

Dressed in my new suit, shoes shining like a horse chestnut, Panama hat and dash of after shave from Floris, London. Walking down stairs and entering the breakfast room, I have tea and smoked herrings.

Outside I hear the beep of a car horn. I pick up my Racing Post, pat my pocket full of cash, say ‘thank you’ and walk outside to be greeted by a chauffeur driven white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III

The journey to the course is slow and meandering. In the distance I see Nelson’s Monument, the smell of the North sea and old leather fills my senses with a comforting quiet. I watch the world go by as people enjoy their day…

I heard an old bloke say: ‘That man looks like he’s having the best day of his life…’

Why don’t you join me?

There’s never been a better day.

Monday 15 January 2024

How many horses have won the King George VI Chase three times or more?

Established in February, 1937, the King George VI Chase was named, plainly, in honour of King George VI, who was proclaimed king the previous December, following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, and crowned the following May. Run over a practically flat three miles at Kempton Park, traditionally on Boxing Day, the race is now the second most prestigious conditions steeplechase in the British National Hunt calendar, behind only the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The King George VI Chase has a habit of throwing up multiple winners, with Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Captain Christy, Silver Buck, The Fellow and See More Business just some of the top-class steeplechasers with two victories to their names down the years. Not altogether surprising, winning the race three times, or more, has proved more of an 'ask', even for the best in the business. So far, just three horses have managed to do so.

The first of them was Wayward Lad, trained, like the aforementioned Silver Buck, by Michael Dickinson and arguably the best chaser never to have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He did, however, win the festive showpiece two years running, in 1982 and 1983, and after a distant, distressed third in 1984, returned to complete his hat-trick in 1985. Next up was the popular grey Desert Orchid, who won four of the five renewals between 1986 and 1990 and finished second to Nupsala in 1987. Last, but by no means least, came the record-breaking Kauto Star, the fourth highest-rated chaser in the history of Timeform, who contested the King George VI Chase six times and was victorious five times between 2006 and 2011. Following his fifth and final win, jockey Ruby Walsh paraded the 11-year-old in front of the stands, to rapturous applause, before weighing in.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Big Deal: Do You Remember Robbie Box?

Back in the 80s there was a real buzz about Big Deal.

I’m sure many gamblers remember this TV program that appeared on our screens from 1984 – 1986 starring Ray Brooks, Sharon Duce and Lisa Geoghan. In fact, it had an excellent cast and a fine production by the BBC.

The theme music was on point, performed by Buck’s Fizz member Bobby G.

It was created by Geoff McQueen and written by David Crane. It was released as a comedy-drama but it really captured the lifestyle of a gambler and Robbie Box was a character many would-be professional gamblers could associate.

I looked forward to watching the three series with my Dad.

The storyline followed the ups and downs of small-time London gambler Robbie Box and his long-suffering girlfriend Jan Oliver.

His addiction to poker made for an incredible watch.

The three series of 10 episodes each started on the 14th October 1984. I would have been 14-year-old at the time and had aspirations of being a gambler myself and I know Dad would have loved to have given up his business to bet for a living.

Each episode lasted for 50 minutes.

The start, finish and end was something to be savoured and I loved every minute and couldn’t wait for the next instalment.

The last episode in series 3 titled: ‘Innocent, OK’ was a fitting end to a superb drama. Ray Brooks has a long and varied profile as a brilliant actor from the Ken Loach directed Cathy Come Home to the voice of Mr Benn.

I think Big Deal was one of his most enjoyable roles he played, the cast seemed very much like a family.

It was a sad day when the series ended and disappointing that the BBC only released series 1 on DVD (2006).

Luckily, some kind soul keeps putting all three series on YouTube. The picture quality isn’t great, but when Bobby G starts to sing: ‘Gone are the dreams. You had them so very long. Now you’re having a run…’

It’s a good day.