Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Time to Shell out on Racing Snails; Betting

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Time to Shell out on Racing Snails; Betting

Article excerpt

Byline: COLIN CAMERON;PAUL JACOBS

DON'T despair if you are one of the millions of punters who lose money each week on the horses.

If you still want a fix of gambling on horses while all races are cancelled in Britain because of the foot-and-mouth crisis you can bet on South African meetings, but there are far more exotic wagers to be had.

You can have a flutter on goldfish racing, elephant racing or, if you can stand the tension, snail racing.

Next Monday is the big one. Live hamster dragster racing. The initiative is down to Blue Square, the internet bookmakers. During a spell last year when meetings were called off because of bad weather and abandonments, they brought in snails to fill the void.

This year, with such a serious situation unfolding, it's hamsters who are going head-to-head.

The animals - all cared for, incidentally, by qualified handlers - will race on a straight track at the bookmakers' London offices and the action will be beamed live on the internet. Sounds complex?

Not at all. The dragsters are based on the well-known concept of a hamsters' wheel and all the field are given the same odds.

All profits - and you can bet there will be some of those - are going towards Comic Relief, but be warned. Hamsters' dragsters can go backwards as well as forwards, though at least the track is straight.

In 1967, the last time foot-and-mouth disabled this country, betting shops were mostly scruffy little outlets, accessible to only the most hardened gambler.

Horse racing was the staple diet, no cricket betting, greyhounds from Walthamstow let alone a chance to place your money on who shot Phil Mitchell in EastEnders. It was an all-or-nothing scenario. No horse racing, no betting - no betting, no turnover for the bookmakers.

Some 34 years on, those who excel at taking our money are hardly downbeat about the current situation. In fact, Graham Sharpe, media relations director of bookmakers William Hill, seems to be revelling in the situation He said: "At the moment we have a whole host of sporting

alternatives for the public to test their wits on. There's the new Formula One motor racing season coming up, two Test cricket series in India and Sri Lanka, rugby Super League, Six Nations rugby union and much more."

Back in 1967, racing was the be-all and end-all of betting turnover, but Sharpe reckons it now comprises about 70 per cent of all income.

"We also have plenty of alternative horse racing lined up. …

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