The Manchester Review
Neil Rollinson
Backing a Loser
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      It’s Rumplestiltskin, by a whisker! Mary whoops and banks her ton while Bob puts his head in his hands and growls. He’s ninety quid down. He’ll now spend the rest of the afternoon chasing his losses, and end up a hundred and eighty down. Never go chasing your losses. That’s one of the cardinals for gambling.

Something happens when you start chasing your losses, the normal laws of chance and randomness go out of the window and, as Bob will tell you, something akin to quantum physics kicks in whereby your involvement in an experiment affects its result. All bettors know that when you put your hard-earned on a horse in dire straits, then the horse will win if you want it to lose or lose if you want it to win, leave well alone and the desired result will miraculously materialise. This is sod’s law of course! Bob is today’s victim, he goes for five more bets to make up his money, that’s five lays. Everyone knows, absolutely everyone, that you can’t back five winners in a row, it’s just impossible, that’s why we’re layers, but in the next five races, every nag that Bob lays goes on to win! It’s a miracle! He knows with absolute certainty that if he’d backed the buggers they’d have fallen at the first fence, every one of them. His last bet, in desperation, is to actually back the favourite in the ‘lucky last’ at Musselburgh. If you can’t beat em, join em. It’s the Racing Post nap and an odds-on certainty, a shoe-in actually, dropped down in class and trip, and running against a load of donkeys in a seller. It’s got Jamie Spencer in the plate, and if this one loses, then horseracing is fixed and Bob’s going to hang up his jodhpurs for good. It’s a short price of course, so he’s lumping on. He’s going to fill his hods with this one. Of course it loses, doesn’t it! What else did you expect? It wasn’t even placed, which is the final insult, since he had an each-way bet on this, just to cover himself. If he bet on heads today, with a saving bet on tails, the coin would land on its edge!
      Mary on the other hand is a level stakes gambler, she doesn’t have a staking plan and she doesn’t have a recovery plan. She’s got a bit of extra cash in the Halifax and she only bets a set amount each day. Many serious gamblers bet to level stakes, you won’t make as much profit as the others but you don’t suffer the stresses either. She doesn’t use the housekeeping either, that’s another cardinal. Don’t gamble with money you can’t afford to lose!

These are fanciful tales of course, though not a million miles from the truth, forty seven million pounds were traded during the last Wimbledon men’s final on Betfair, just like this, and similar tales of woe and glee will have been played out for the whole four hours of the match. For every winning bet on the exchanges there's a comparable losing bet, and vice versa. The obvious, important distinction to be noted between backing and laying is that if you want to lay horses, then your liabilities are huge in relation to backers’, who only stand to lose their stake, which is why most people wouldn’t dream of laying horses, even though its clear that the betting shops are full of losers, while the bookies themselves are driving big posh cars. Bookies are ‘layers’.

I know nothing about horses, or horse racing. I know nothing about breeding and bloodstock and, I must admit, I’ve never even been to a racecourse. I’ve been to the dogs at Catford and at Brough Park, but never to a horse racing track. No Ascot or Brighton or Sandown, no York or Aintree, none of those famous places, those great crucibles of sporting excellence. I don’t even like horses to be honest. A lot of race going folk are prats, just look at the hats for a start! I’ve never liked horsy girls and well, actually, you can’t do what I do at the race course, you can’t lay horses there, you can’t even lay horses at the bookies. This is something that only happens on the betting exchanges, so it’s just me and my computer. I am learning more about form, but this is just statistics, and you only need to know a few things to take advantage. So while it’s is tipping it down at Thirsk and Market Rasen I’m sat in the house with my slippers on looking for losers.