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.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Have you watched Louis Theroux: Gambling In Las Vegas?

 Even though it dates back to 2007, that episode stuck in my mind for many reasons. It was a surreal experience to see a selection of gamblers basically lose their cash. In fact, ironically, the only person who seemed to win was Louis Theroux. I’m sure you can remember Alan the Canadian high-roller and multi millionaire ‘The Mattress Man’ who couldn’t lose his money fast enough, at one point playing two high-limit slots at the same time. The man who sold mattresses for a living said: ‘I think in a lifetime, everyone’s a loser.’

Without doubt, The Mattress Man was a bit of a loser. A Whale, as they call big gamblers, and by the end of the program he was feeling blue. In fact, there are online articles which suggest he went through his cash and now a taxi driver.

But what are high-limit slots?

For those, like myself, who have no idea what limit is a high limit. I’m having flashbacks to Louis chatting with Dr Martha Ogman, a retired dentist who lost millions on the slots. She seemed to think it was humorous spending her son’s inheritance and spoke in glowing terms about the casino who paid for her husband’s funeral and wake.

I needed to investigate high-limit slots and learn more.

I headed straight to the YouTube channel Raja Slots, who have 63.4K subscribers. The video titled: $5,000 Spins! Must See High Limit Slots (Over 15 Jackpots). Those words were printed in caps lock but it was too heavy on the eyes.

The video has 251K views.

If you ever wanted to know how long it takes to lose $250,000 then the video lasts 24:09. I’m not sure who the gentleman is playing the slot but his accent has a southern drawl which reminds me of a character from the Simpson’s cartoon. I can’t remember the name. [Moe from Moe’s Tavern.]

I couldn’t help but imagine one of Moe Szylak’s most relatable quotes: ‘Hey Homer. I could hear your pathetic rationalizing through the door.’

The slot was at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas.

The man playing, let’s call him Moe, seemed emotionless and relaxed about gambling such a vast sum of money [$250,000]. It was clearly a stunt to get people watching the video. I questioned if it was real. I couldn’t help but wonder where the money had come from. Whose pocket? The whole situation seemed surreal. In a world where children are starving to death it made for an uneasy watch. I thought, thank the Lord that’s not my money tripping the light fantastic. I had vision of Hunter Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

Didn’t he blow his brains out?’

The man showed a number of $50,000 vouchers which he pushed into the slot to give credits. He started off at a $1,000 a spin to ‘warm it up a little’. Then after ten spins he started on the big money a $5,000 a spin.

Looking at the YouTube transcript it was ‘50 spins at $5,000 a spin’.

Playing the Black Widow slot.

The money went down much too fast and by the time the $250,000 had been spent the total ‘winnings’ were about $49,000. So, a loss of $201,000 in just under 25-minutes. The biggest of the ‘15 Jackpots!!!!’ was $15,750.

I loved the way a Jackpot was quickly sent to Snapchat. Social media is clearly king in the world of slots.

Another win of $15,250.

Another win of $10,500.

A few smaller wins.

I was left thinking what really is it all about.

In truth, this was probably a fraction of the money lost by the Mattress Man or Dr Martha Ogman.

It’s only money, hey.

Unless you are betting with a skill based knowledge rather than fixed odds you are guaranteed to lose. Gambling needs to be questioned when you bet $250,000 for fun, entertainment or the glorification of the spin of a reel.

I remember Louis Theroux being in a lift with a couple heading back to their room after a night at the casino.

He asked: ‘How did you get on?’

Reply: ‘I lost twenty!’

Therous: ‘Twenty dollars?’

‘No, twenty thousand.’

I’m sure every casino goer left the casino to the soundtrack of Kenny Roger’s ringing in their ears.

The Gambler.