Magazine article The Spectator

A Question of Gambling

Magazine article The Spectator

A Question of Gambling

Article excerpt

A well-known northern trainer was telephoned one day by an owner who had been doing rather well in business and decided to expand his racing interests. `I'd like to get another four-year-old hurdler,' he declared. `I've got just the fellow for you,' said his delighted trainer. `He's just in from Ireland - about 10,000.' The reply wasn't quite what he had been expecting. `I'd actually been thinking of spending around 20,000,' said the owner. `Oh, that was only for a half share, of course,' said the quick-thinking trainer. 'I suppose I could let you have him all to yourself.'

Some trainers may be slow-speaking but most are quick enough on their feet, and they have to be to survive. I know enough successful trainers to envy their lifestyle and enough struggling ones to realise that it is a nerve-wracking business which would have most of us in the care of the men in white coats with fat pill bottles by the end of a single season. And if politicians have been defined as the people who tell lies to journalists and believe what they read, then trainers could be called the people who tell lies to journalists and hope the bookies will believe what they read.

At the lower end of the scale, the landing of a few successful bets is the only way of balancing the books in many smaller yards, as I was reminded when I saw the conclusions of Sir Alan Budd's Gambling Review Body report. The 176 recommendations in the 250-page report mostly make a great deal of sense. It is a ridiculous anomaly that gambling debts are not currently recoverable at law, and if the government accepts the report's conclusions that will be remedied. It is equally silly that betting shops cannot advertise their locations or sell snacks to keep ravenous punters going in the intervals between races, two restrictions which the Budd team advises should be swept away. (I foresee a new career beckoning for the bold-punting Sir Clement Freud as culinary adviser to some of the bigger chains.) It will be sensible too to have a single regulatory body for all forms of gambling and to have more thorough investigation of those who apply for bookmakers' licences.

What Sir Alan calls the committee's `deliberately cautious approach' has largely provided just what a review body should: better protection for the vulnerable young, greater consistency and simplification in regulation, and increased choice for adults to pursue their chosen pleasures. With three months of consultation to come before the government pronounces, the right note was struck, too, by the new culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, who conceded that current gambling laws were complex and out of date and `fail to reflect the extent to which gambling has become an everyday part of the way millions of people spend their leisure'. …

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