As gambling options seem never-ending, maybe it’s time for a seminar on the differences between gambling and betting.

There’s a reason that Government’s statutory body regulating these activities is named The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC). It’s a tacit acknowledgement the three are not the same. Neither gaming nor lotteries require any knowledge or skill. Betting on sports or horse racing requires significant knowledge, reasoning ability, skill and preparation.

The Betting Gaming and Lotteries Act (BGLA) defines “gaming” as “the playing of a game of CHANCE (my emphasis) for winnings in money or money’s worth.” This is where most gambling addicts reside, especially those with smartphones providing easy access to attractive gambling apps that only need an empty head and a short attention span to turn a holder of one of these magic rectangles into a compulsive button pusher.

Then casinos add to the attractiveness for persons with a slightly higher level of intelligence using bright colours, flashing lights and the hypnotic effect of spinning roulette wheels.

BGLA defines “lottery” as “Any game method or device, including any electronic game, method or device not requiring the participation of the players involved, whereby money or money’s worth is distributed or allotted in any manner depending upon or to be determined by CHANCE (again, my emphasis) or lot…

The Act doesn’t define a “bet” but does define a “betting transaction” which immediately highlights the main difference between the games of “chance” and “betting”. A bet is a transaction negotiated between a bookie/promoter on the one hand and a bettor on the other. Then use of the word “negotiated” tells you everything you need to know about betting.

In most advanced nations, bets are negotiated after the bettor prepares thoroughly (whether by studying form or accepting a “tip” from someone else who has done the work for the bettor). Every aspect of the bet is a transaction including the odds on offer from competitor bookies or the Tote whose odds depend more obviously on the spread of bets placed on a race or sport. Bookies operate exactly the same way but not as visibly and they do take some risk on their early morning lines that a Tote operator doesn’t.

The similarities between betting on sports/horseracing and “investing” in the stock market are eerie. Just as punters study form, race conditions, motivation/psychology (especially in sports betting) and fitness so do stock market players study economic form and conditions, fiscal soundness, staff motivation etc before “investing”. The Stock Market itself operates very much like a Totalisator with losers essentially providing capital for winners.

I see BGLC advertising warnings against gambling addiction and advice as to how to get help. This is all well and good but I hope we are not heading down the slippery slope of trying to regulate gambling addiction with legislative restrictions such as affordability checks or arbitrary limits.

The modern face of gambling, namely the smartphone apps with their addictive techniques, are far more dangerous than gambling itself. Betting on sports and horse racing, unlike gambling, is not something that’s as prone to addiction as are the land-based and now virtual casinos that use subtle grooming techniques to attract non-bettors into gambling.

It’s easy to push a button but not so easy to work out which horse is fit, sound and suited by today’s race conditions or which team has fewer injuries, better motivation (a coach’s job) and personnel depth and suited by game conditions. These are factors assessed by bettors before placing a bet.

Gambling restrictions, like affordability checks, can’t protect the “problem gambler”. They are only political public relations to pretend we are doing something about the issue. Prohibition didn’t stop people drinking. It created organized crime. If someone is driven to drink, smoke or bet, he/she will find a way and underworld characters will gladly offer a path.

All we will be doing is papering over an unsolved problem while creating another, namely a massive move away from legitimate betting operations that feed into government revenue, including the CHASE fund, and expanding a previously robust illegal gambling industry. This is already happening internationally as bookies switch to offshore online Internet-based gambling websites where organised crime can easily launder money often with the help of crypto-currencies. The problem gambler will be welcome there, but will have zero regulatory protection thus become even more vulnerable.

In this regard, a special report by Lee Mottershead of The Racing Post (https://www.racingpost.com/news/features/in-focus/how-black-market-bookies-have-spread-through-racing-and-even-solicit-business-at-cheltenham-aahEH7S1Drwg/) should be required reading for every betting regulator.

Mottershead reports from Bookmaker Fitzdares’ CEO William Woodhams’ account regarding last year’s Cheltenham Festival:

While entertaining clients at Cheltenham, it became apparent some of Woodhams’ guests were being approached by a representative of a large online operator licensed on the Caribbean island of Curacao but thought to be based in Montenegro.

That business, which is not regulated by the UK Gambling Commission, and therefore, should not accept UK customers, is ostensibly a crypto-currency operation but is believed to accept bets and pay out in sterling including on British horseracing. Multiple sources told Racing Post that prominent within the organisation is a high-society Englishman with contacts in the sport.”

So, please don’t bother with the excessive moralizing. It never helps. It’s worse if you try legislating morality. That’s a slippery slope to the same warm climate that we all know is paved with good intentions.



Abbreviations: CT = “Corrected Time”; TV = “Track Variant” (a calculation of track conditions’ effect on official times to arrive at “real/corrected” times); TVs are expressed in fifths of a second; “minus” (-) means a fast track; “plus” (+) a slow track (e.g -2 is fast by 2/5th second). Variants beside horse’s names represent the difference between its official time and the grade standard.

JANUARY 27, 2024 [TV+0.9 per 200m (round) +12 (straight)]

Lion Charmer (-3) was imperious on his fourth start (Race 5; 4yo maiden condition; 1500m; TV+7) since fitted with a figure 8 on Boxing Day. Placed on his first three efforts with the new equipment he showed marked progress up in trip winning by 16 lengths in 1:36.2 on a slow track! His CT (1:35.0) is a full second faster than non-winners of 2 so he seems guaranteed of another win at around 1600m.

FEBRUARY 10, 2024 [TV+1.0 per 200m (Round) +5 (straight)]

Race 7 (Overnight Allowance; 1600m; TV+8) is a KEY RACE.

Divine Force (+0) survived a contested early pace; made all; and finished strongly winning by a length and clocking 1:39.4! His CT (1:38.1) is 1 2/5th second faster than Open Allowance standard.

D Head Cornerstone(+1) was 2nd. His CT is 1:38.2!

Regal and Royal (+5) although five lengths 3rd still produced a CT (1:39.1) 3/5th second faster than Overnight Allowance standard.

All three have races to win.

Overseas Betting Opportunities (OBOs)

Although the weather could endanger many jumps meetings tomorrow, hopefully Kelso, although situated up north, can stage Scotland’s most valuable hurdle race (The Morebattle; 2m51y; forecast good to soft, soft in places; 1450GMT; 9.50 a.m. Jamaica Time).  

Kelso is a small, sharp left-handed course with a punishing uphill final two furlongs. It’s the stiff finish that makes me, even at this early stage, lean toward French import L’eau du Sud as a likely winner. He has obviously been fragile since coming to England in early 2022. His five starts there have been punctuated by three lengthy breaks. This will be the first time he is running two consecutive races since December 2022. He showed marked improvement last time out (February 10 after 83 days off) to finish 2¼ lengths 2nd of 21 to Iberico Lord despite starting at 28-1 odds. He looks nailed on to progress again and should relish all conditions tomorrow.

Irish raider Brucio showed good staying power stepped up to 2 miles 2 furlongs last time out to win a mares handicap hurdle at Leopardstown so could give the selection most to do.

Here’s another Notebook Horse for Cheltenham Festival’s ante-post portfolio:

Zenta [5yo b.m. Pastorius-Zenturie (Tiger Hill)] shaped really well to finish third in an ultra-competitive event on her handicap debut (February 4; Listed handicap hurdle; 2m; Leopardstown; soft). She won a Grade 1 juvenile hurdle last season; didn’t seem to enjoy her lone chasing attempt; then returned to hurdles where she’s 3 for 5. At Leopardstown, after a 56 days break, she looked every inch a future winner of a big handicap. She’s a mouth-watering wager in the County Hurdle on Friday, March 15.

Good luck!

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