This is what life in lockdown is like for a keen sports punter - Jacob Farr
Bumping into an old primary school teacher before the “new normal” set in, I was reminded about the fact that I had learned my colours via jockeys’ silks and fractions via odds, all through the pages of the Racing Post I’d pick up in the house.
My first memory of a family holiday was attending the Grand National in 1997 where the IRA rudely interrupted the meeting with a bomb scare.
As a family we would have a takeaway on the Saturday if my old man had a good day with the horses – a tradition I keep alive with my partner today.
I have worked in Ladbrokes and also have people close to me who make a living out of professional gambling. From the age of 18 my friends and I would spend what little we had on trying to make more for ourselves.
We knew all of the staff by name in the William Hill in Corstorphine, Joni would even keep an eye out for you if you were losing too much and would celebrate with you when you won.
This rings true for many a working class punter whose entire weekend routine is based around odds and live sport.
Quite simply, lockdown has completely changed the game for whole communities.
William Hill has reported yesterday a 57 per cent fall in revenues in the seven weeks to April 28. It said online betting revenues were also down by a fifth during the same period, adding that each month its betting shops were closed cost the company up to £15 million.
Their loss will be reflected across the industry and the country.
The impact of Covid-19 may well lead to the disappearance of several high street bookies as betting firms try to cut costs by moving online.
I understand that gambling can be seen as pernicious, a blight, but in reality, for large parts of our communities the bookies is an unofficial hub, and a taming influence on gambling at that, much like a pub, or a library, you build a rapport with the staff and old punters sticking on a patent, trixie or most common of all, a Lucky 15.
Losing the shop environment during lockdown, especially for older punters, has meant isolation and a halt to a routine that can bring stability.
But even as a younger man, I have to admit myself that I miss the culture.
Every Saturday before Covid-19 arrived in our lives, I would wake up and find in messages all of the teams the Racing Post had tipped courtesy of my father, and I’d start my day by planning out my strategy for the day’s betting.
My friends’ group Whatsapp would be brimming with life, statistics and odds chucked around in such a quantity that even Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond would struggle to cope with it – the excitement was palpable.
As an everyday punter you have your routines, mine were two acca’s (accumulators for the uninitiated), one that was the so-called “safe option” with more home teams than aways and worse odds. The other was my “one can dream” acca with higher odds and close to zero per cent chance of coming in – after all one can dream.
The above bets would cost me no more than £8 – that would leave me with £2 to spend on coupons for over/under bets or a collection of both teams to score selections. A further fiver is set aside to play with request-a-bets while watching live games.
At the end of the day the bookies is just the stock market for the working class when you think about it. An opportunity to test your knowledge and hunches against the bookies with the opportunity to turn a profit.
But like the stock market, if abused or misused, it can cause untold levels of suffering. Problem gamblers can not only ruin their lives but the lives of those around them – trapped in a cycle of debt and addiction that can consume individuals.
It is quite widely accepted that there does have to be more regulation and action taken to protect the most vulnerable group – problem gamblers.
Having said all of that, I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy the extra funds that a cancellation to sports has brought me. Not to mention the new hobbies I have taken up or books I have finished with the new found time I have.
But the reality is, the social interaction and stability that a casual punt can bring is sorely missed, and it is evident to anyone who drinks in their local or visits the betting shop, just how much horse racing or football means to people who find themselves isolated in life.
So when this is all over, will we ever properly learn to value the bookies, the coupons, the camaraderie, the chance that a win can bring an extra portion of sweet and sour into our lives?I wouldn’t bet on it.
If you or anyone close to you is struggling with gambling and needs help then please visit: https://www.gamcare.org.uk or call 0808 8020 133