Wednesday 10 December 2014

When does a Professional Gambler stop gambling?

Another fascinating article from the Horseracing Pro. It is a well known fact that comedians are at their funniest when on stage. Put them in a normal social environment without the spotlights and cameras and most are unamusing. The art of making people laugh is a skill and it is one learned and practised by the jokester, but he is not a funny man all the time and in many instances lacks wit and wisdom, especially when in an every day situation. Similarly, when filming or on stage, actors have the luxury of being able to assume a part.

This allows them to shelter behind an alter ego. It is often noticeable that characters that play, James Bond for example – the epitome of the English gentleman – often dress casually when interviewed on television: Pierce Brosnan sported a beard on one occasion. It is as if they are seeking to escape from the character created, wishing to scream, ‘That is not me! This is me!’ Daniel Craig and Sir Roger Moore apart, most Bonds look as if they have been yanked from the pub when no longer assuming the mantle of 007.

When you think about it this is not surprising. A comedian is an impersonator in much the same way as an actor. When performing they run the risk of baring their all, their very souls, to the audience. So what better way to alleviate this potential nightmare than to hide behind a mask. For an actor that is easy. He portrays a ready-made part and becomes Hannibal Lector, Dirty Harry or Rhett Butler and if it fails to work, well he is merely following a script. The interesting point, however, is that most film actors are chosen to portray characters close to the public perception of them in real life. But the script, the fact that a film is largely a slab of make believe, allows the actor refuge, meaning he can claim, at least publicly, that whatever parts he has played have been works of fiction. In most cases that is true but there has been a central theme running through the roles adopted by the greats. I am talking about the likes of Bogart, Douglas (yes, Kirk and Michael – ever see Falling Down?), Steiger, Redford, Grant, De Niro, Eastwood, Newman, Hanks – the list is a long one and omissions are not intentional. I am straying slightly here and that is because I am talking about one of my great loves – the cinema.

Thank you for your patience – often an essential attribute in my pieces! I am about to come to the point that is relevant to our business which is not as glamorous as that practised by those that live in and around Malibu and Beverly Hills. But, just as an actor sheds his image when off camera, professional punters need to remove their gambling jackets when not at work. Those that are the most successful at betting are not necessarily gamblers at heart. They trade during the day, using their skill and expertise to bob and weave through the treacherous programme that is a racecard. Ask them what they are doing when they place a bet and the chances are prosperous punters will deny they are gambling. Some of the biggest gambles I have taken in life have been away from the racetrack. If you have the desire to live life on the edge, to bet, to drive too fast, to gamble whenever the situation crops up, you may not last long in racing. Betting is not about deriving a thrill. Yes, winning is thrilling and exciting, it is also rewarding in every sense, but if that is your motivation, take stock. Just the same as any writer or actor that is purely driven by the desire to be famous will eventually flip hamburgers, punters who wish to use horseracing as a legitimate way to gamble are likely to find themselves on the night shift at Tesco.

We are of course all different. I can only speak for myself along with those I have come across during my time in racing. And it is true that like tends to attract like so, even if we had moved in the same social circles, I am sure that, much as I admired his wit and recklessness, Jeffrey Barnard and myself would not have got along. He was a man who liked to take chances from the moment his feet hit the floor in the morning – or perhaps that should be lunchtime! I take no pleasure in risk-taking. My intention when backing horses is to remove as much of it as possible. I have seen what can happen, know that messages can often be dangerous in the extreme because they are someone else’s opinion and the one I trust the most is my own. I try to prune the risk before I bet and unless the price is commensurate with that risk, I don’t take it. As a result, there are those that level the charge against me that I am over-cautious and they may well be right. But, by such an approach, I have survived in a business that claims more scalps than the Sioux Indians managed at the Battle Of Little Bighorn.

Some of my contemporaries have a bank balance that must read like the graph at the end of a bed of a hospitalised heart-attack victim. They dine at the Ritz one day and eat fish and chips the next. Some could not wait to light the fuse, burning out like comets streaking across a night sky. Then there are those that plunged into the high life straight away without actually having earned the money that accompanies such a lifestyle. Others, forced into a corner, have bulldozed their way to massive fortunes by scraping together enough cash for one last do-or-die wager that obliged and from which point there was no looking back. Through a succession of poor decisions, I found myself in that situation during my early years, and had the good fortune to dynamite my way out of trouble. But such action is not something to be advocated. Making a mistake does not mean you are a fool. Failing to learn from it does that.

To a degree, how you play this precarious game depends on your make-up although there are parameters. I tend to trundle along, making enough to live a life that more or less suits and always hoping that one day I will pull off the miracle bet. Miracle bets do not tend to happen to people like me because I lack the optimism or the foolhardiness to strike too many of them. I am always looking to protect my investments so the emphasis is on survival rather than upgrading to a Porsche.

I have stated this before but it is worth repeating: If you have hit on a formula that works for you, that is all that matters.

But I do feel it is important is that would-be professional punters do not confuse gambling with betting. The gambler stands in a casino believing, or hoping, he can beat the house at its own game. The punter constructs his rules. He bets in his own house and to his own percentages, taking risks because they are unavoidable and a means to an end. But he does not take them because he likes to or because he enjoys the buzz they give. Become that man and you are the drunk that runs a pub, a dentist that delights in inflicting pain, a psychiatrist that feels superior to his patients.