A mug’s game?

Gambling.

Risking your hard-earned (perhaps) in order to win more of the same. Not something you should be doing, young man, the odds being stacked against you as they are. It’s a slippery slope you see. It’ll be the end of you. It’s a mug’s game, understand?

I’ve heard that a number of times, or variations of it, from many people over the years. Occasionally they’ve been sitting in a pub, drinking fizzy pop at over £3 a pint, blissfully unaware of the comedy value of their lecturing me on what constitutes this “mug’s game”. Not that they’re totally wrong, as I remind myself most Saturdays when I walk past the roulette machines in the local bookie’s, each being fed crisp £10 and £20 notes with monotonous regularity by people who really should know better. There are plenty of mugs about, that’s the truth.

But gambling itself is no more of a “mug’s game” than many other forms of entertainment and recreation. Staring at a screen, every single Saturday night, at untalented people being “judged” by slightly-less-untalented people, strikes me as a bit “muggish”. Infecting your brain with the utter garbage that is “TOWIE” or its imitators is surely less rewarding than removing fluff from your belly-button or de-scaling the kettle, isn’t it? Paying to get into a nightclub or pub where you will sit, struck dumb for hours on end, because the endless din of the sound system renders communication with other humans nigh-on impossible, isn’t for me. Mug’s games for gold medal winning mugs. But, each to their own. Just as someone may return home from the local bookie’s empty-handed, so might people return home from a night out absolutely hammered and, when morning comes, completely unaware of anything that happened the night before. Both can be rather soul-destroying occurrences that leave you sitting there, staring into space, and wondering what the point was.

True, the “night out” scenario probably meant you could catch up with friends and enjoy a “laugh” before you got so blotto that you questioned the parentage of the taxi driver who drove you home before you vomited on your doorstep. In this sense, the money you spent had an ” end product” that losing your money in Ladbrokes didn’t. Except of course, that is to assume that every afternoon in the bookie’s is a wasted one. This isn’t true, and even when you leave empty-handed there’s often some benefit that has come from it, even if it is laughing at the people who put Man Utd/Arsenal/Chelsea/Celtic/Barcelona/Real Madrid in a £1 accumulator and realise that the potential payout is £3.88. And, of course, sometimes you leave with more money than you went in with (yes, it happens!) As a student, £50 once lasted me for three weeks. Each time I had about £5 left I went to the bookie’s, found a horse at around 7/1 that I fancied, and backed it. This “system” meant I didn’t visit a cashpoint for ages, a rare oasis in a desert of broken dreams!

But the best gamblers are selective gamblers, and no that doesn’t really include me, however hard I try. When I worked in a bookie’s it used to make me laugh when someone would rush in, pick-up a blank betting slip and a pen, look at the next horse or dog race that was about to start and just HAVE to bet on it. That is the very definition of a “mug”. It doesn’t have to be like that. Here are the rules I try to stick to:

(1) Never rush a bet.

If you don’t have the time to study “the form” then don’t bet. Don’t be the idiot who rushes in and just has to bet on the next thing, even if it’s the first quarter-final of the World Shove Ha’penny Championships from Barnsley. Leave well alone if you haven’t done your homework. If you bet on Chelsea at 2/9 to beat Coventry in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, then go home and hear that Chelsea’s entire Under-16 team are playing in order to give the senior squad a rest, that’s your fault. You’ve been silly, haven’t you?

(2) Don’t be with your heart.

It always staggers me when people say to me “But you hate Man Utd” when I tell them that I’ve bet on the horrible red vermin. What’s that got to do with it? Do the odds reflect the chances of them winning? If you feel that Man Utd should be 4/6 and the bookie has them at 5/4, you should consider betting on them. It doesn’t matter that last night you dreamt that a neutron bomb struck Old Trafford. Leave your personal animosities at the door. Bet with your head.

(3) Only bet what you can afford

When I place a bet, I regard that money as having gone, never to be seen again. If I can live with that, then I place the bet. If not, I don’t. I once bet money that I couldn’t afford, and though the bet won I spent a miserable night hiding behind the settee rather than watching the football match I’d bet on (the 2002 Champions League Final). You need bread, milk, the kids need new shoes, the gas bill is due? Keep your money in your pocket. That horse in the 3.25 at Newton Abbot doesn’t care about your bank balance, so don’t kid yourself that it does.

(4) Bet at odds-on

I don’t mean only bet at odds-on, but I’ve heard some people say “I never bet at odds-on”. This is ridiculous and people who say this should never be allowed to own a goldfish, take a bath unsupervised or use metal cutlery. If I fight Floyd Mayweather tonight (we’ll forget for a moment that (a) he’s in jail right now (b) I’m a super-middleweight and (c) he’s scared of me) and someone offered 5/6 Mayweather, I’d suggest you might want to put some money on him. The mortgage, or the national debt of Greece perhaps? Don’t lay down daft rules for yourself. If the price is better than you think it should be, you have the starting-point for a bet.

(5) Bet singles only

Multiple bets are almost always for “mugs”. If you walk into a bookie’s determined to do a “Yankee” or “Lucky 15” or “Each-Way Treble” then you are already committing yourself to backing a number of horses/football teams or whatever, when you might only spot one selection that offers “value” (i.e where the odds are, you think, in your favour). Bookies love multiple bets for a reason. They nearly always lose, because all they do is multiply the margins (in favour of the bookmaker) over and over again.

(6) Leave the silly numbers games alone

Between horse races the bookies all have lottery-type games, including virtual horseracing, designed to get you to part with more of your cash. Leave them alone. Don’t listen to the bloke in the shop who smells of piss and super-strength lager who tells you he has a “system”. He doesn’t. The only system he has is the one that leads to his self-destruction and being found dead in an alleyway before his 47th birthday. Ignore him.

(7) Bet at the best price

In the internet age there is no excuse for backing something at 3/1 when 7/2 is available just up the road. “Oddschecker” and “Best Betting” are two sites that list all the main High St bookies’ and many internet firms’ prices. The disparities can sometimes be huge, so don’t be a mug. Compare prices and shop around. Betting at best prices might mean a slightly longer walk to your chosen bookmaker, but it makes financial sense. And you’ll get that tiny weeny bit fitter.

Follow these rules and you have a chance, just a chance, of success. That may not actually be a profit, but it will certainly limit the damage and make you much more able to justify your gambling when the wife mentions it, or when the bailiffs come knocking. Enjoy!

Top Tip

Manchester Utd to win the Premier League (5/2 @ William Hill)

 No, not the Champions League, the Premier League 

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