The Manchester Review
Neil Rollinson
Backing a Loser
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Great gamblers trust their knowledge and possess the equipoise necessary to go out on that edge where the gods and demons live. Failure lives out there on that edge. So does luck, and a sensation that’s richer than satisfaction… Stephen Dunn

I’ve never been a gambler so I don’t quite know how I hit on horse racing, but I did. I was snooping about on the net while I was editor of the online literature magazine Boomerang several years ago, reading endless amounts of awful submissions, convinced I could dig some money-making scam out of this internet lark. Others were making money so why couldn’t I? I found an interesting forum that was quite busy and full of nice, pleasant people swapping tips and horsy gossip, so I stuck around for a few weeks watching and listening. One guy, called Malcolm was posting a daily racing nap from a betting system he’d just developed, I followed his tips every day for a month, and incredibly, he had a 100% strike rate. Thirty bets, and thirty winners. Amazing. However, the incredible thing about this was, they weren’t winners at all, they were actually losers. When I first started betting on the Internet I was intrigued to learn that you could actually bet on a horse to lose, rather than win a race, so I bought into this guy’s system, (he subsequently sold his tips after such an auspicious start) and I started to bet on horses to lose races.

With the advent of betting exchanges such as Betfair it’s possible to gamble on almost anything, including in-play betting, which means you can actually bet on a race while it’s still being run, or bet on a football match for the whole 90 minutes not just before kick off. The reason for this is that Betfair isn’t really a bookmaker at all; it just consists of members exchanging odds and stakes, more akin to the market place, or more appropriately: Ebay. Betfair doesn’t offer any odds itself and doesn’t pay out a penny; it simply takes 5% of all winning bets.

So, Bob and Mary are sat in front of their computers on a cold Saturday morning in early April. Mary thinks Rumplestiltskin is going to win The Grand National, so she puts ten pounds into Betfair and decides her own odds: it’s quite a competitive race, obviously, so she offers 8/1.

This is a simple ‘back’ bet, the kind we’re all familiar with, if the horse wins, then she wins eighty pounds and gets her stake of ten back. Nice work. However, since Betfair isn’t a bookies, Mary’s ten quid just sits there in limbo until someone takes her up on the bet, in other words someone who thinks that Rumplestiltskin won’t win the race. In effect she’s looking for a bookie. Well there’s one born every minute. Here’s Bob, and Bob is a bit of an expert on these things. He studies form! And the form says that Rumplestiltskin won’t like the ground, it’s been raining overnight and the going has changed from good to soft, and all of Rumplestiltskin’s form has come on firm ground, Mary’s tenner looks like free cash, so he’s going to take her up on the offer. He’s going to ‘lay’ Rumplestiltskin, which is to say he’ll act as her bookmaker and finance the transaction.
      As a layer, rather that a backer, Bob has to agree to pay Mary out if Rumplestiltskin wins, and in this case, at 8/1 that’s a hefty eighty quid. If however the horse loses, then he simply pockets Mary’s tenner, thankyou very much; he pays the 5% commission to Betfair, and it’s off down the pub for a few free drinks. So, let’s see what happens.