My dad liked a punt, so inevitably he would frequent the bookies to put his line on. As I stood outside, I could see through the slim crack in the door. The first thing to note was the place was filled with smoke. No smoking bans in those days, so almost 100 per cent of men puffed away as they studied the form of horses or completed fixed odds coupons. As I looked in, I could also see the ‘board’. This was a magical looking whiteboard or blackboard where one man and sometimes two on a Saturday would write up the races and the changing odds.
It all looked so complicated to me – 5/2 the winner along with even money on the favourite. With this came the Tannoy. It would boom out the runners and riders, the odds for each and then give a frantic sounding commentary for each race.
Punters would come and go, some happy and some not so. I would get a bookies’ pencil thrown at me as a goodwill gesture by some leaving. Mostly middle-aged men and older men. Mind you they all looked pretty old to me as a nine-year-old. It was a club that us youngsters just did not go near. A place where women were nowhere to be seen, unless they were dragging their spouses out as he had been in there all day. The sign on the door was clear. Strictly no under-18s allowed. I know I was not allowed in there. But I was happy not be inside as the men all looked a bit rough and ready. No, the old style bookies was ringfenced for men only and firmly behind closed doors. Hence my complete bewilderment at gambling. Not so now…
Gambling has become mainstream. There are casinos aplenty in city centres – and, of course, bookmakers. But today’s bookies don’t look so intimidating as those old-style bastions of maleness. No, today they are high tech with screens galore, betting terminals with lots of lights and graphics, glass and aluminium. Why they even have carpets! A long way from the old wooden planked floors of the Kilbirnie bookies. They are more inviting and dare I say it – user friendly – than the old style units. But that doesn’t mean that I want to visit them anytime soon. Why? Because I can do it all online. The bookies have gone digital.
Before I go any further, I am not about to criticise bookmakers, online casinos or the gambling industry. There are plenty of column inches elsewhere focused on this. Rather, I wish to gaze in awe at how sophisticated, yet simple it has become to join an online bookies. No more having to wade through reams of men drawing on cigarettes to get to the cashier. No more feeling a little intimidated by those who hung out there as I looked at newspapers pinned to the wall informing me of how many times a horse has won and at what weights. No, all I need to do now is pop open my laptop or fire up my iPad.
The availability of gambling via online bookmakers and casinos is simply jaw-dropping. A Google search of online casinos throws up 41,800,000 hits in 0.49 seconds. As one expects nowadays the top of the page shows the ads paid for and then there are even more pages of online gambling for me to choose from. Well-known names from the high street and well-known names from the digital world. From here I can enter a whole new world of betting. And so can you.
Within minutes, I can be signed up to an online bookmaker, where I can bet on local football results, football matches from literally all over the world and any sporting event that I can dream of. No longer just horses and dogs, but motor-racing, snooker, tennis and even waterpolo.
If that doesn’t take my fancy, I can go straight to Las Vegas and play slots, roulette and blackjack, along with other casino games. As long as my bank card is accepted I’m in. There is always a welcome bonus to pull you in. It is big business.
Only this week it has been reported that the co-founder and major shareholder in Bet365, Denise Coates, who was awarded a CBE in the New Year’s honours List in 2012 has had a bumper salary. Yes, a £323 million pay packet last year. Probably a lot more than the local bookies in Kilbirnie. She and her brother started the business 20 years ago from a Portakabin in Stoke-on-Trent. Well done her I would say! But, it highlights the global scale and availability of betting, gambling, bookmaking and the size of the online industry.
For now, I am not going to sign up to any particular online bookmaker. Gambling has never got my juices going. But, if I or you do, there is so much choice. No longer is the local bookies a place that is off-putting and male dominated. The online gambling industry has grown up, scaled up and opened up for everyone to have a flutter, should they wish.
Maybe one day, I’ll pop a tenner on the 2.45 at Glorious Goodwood from the comfort of my own armchair. If I do, wish me luck because there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: it is still gambling and the odds are stacked in the house’s favour.