Saturday, 13 June 2009

Tricks, Traps and Tips in the Bookie Game

Everybody knows the bookie always wins. Right? Wrong! Well anyway, they didn't always win in the 1950s. There were plenty of punters out to rob the bookie by hook or by crook.

One day I opened a "clock bag" and tipped out the grubby contents. Old fag packets, scrap paper and anything that could be written on. Racing had started about an hour or so earlier. The time stamp of the clock bag was OK. It had been closed and locked five minutes before the first race. All seemed well until I found one of the betting slips rolled up into a tight, thin cylinder. Unusual, and even more so when I unrolled the slip and found it had three winning horses on it. A £5 win treble, which came to over £100 in "winnings".

Called the boss and showed him. He was furious, and experience told him this was a very fishy betting slip. For one thing he always told his runners that any "large" bets should be phoned in before the races started. A £5 treble was, in those days, a large and potentially dangerous bet.

I told him how I'd found the betting slip tightly rolled up when I opened the bag. He inspected the clock bag closely and found that the seam at the bottom had been tampered with. The stitching had been cut in one small section. The allowed the rolled up slip to be pushed into the sealed and timed clock bag. Somebody had got the three winners, written out the dodgy £5 treble, rolled it up and slipped it into the small hole in the seam.

There were only two people who could have done this trick: the runner himself or the taxi driver who had brought the bag from the factory to our office. It did not take long to work out who the culprit was. Normally the taxi picked up the clock bag from this factory about 5 minutes after the first race of the day. On this occasion the taxi driver said he'd been told to leave it until about 40 minutes later that day. The runner had no real excuse for this and thus condemned himself.

He lost a fairly lucrative little side-line and was lucky not to have been roughed up for "trying it on" with Arthur Horton Ltd! Had the runner not been so greedy he might have got away with some smaller scams - but not a fiver treble!

One day we had a couple of chaps call at the office saying they could take a few bets at their workplace. Were we interested? Yes, said Arthur, we are. These two guys said they would bring the betting slips directly to the office just before the first race each day, together with the cash. That's fine we said. No problem. But there was.

I have to explain that in those long gone days there were no "overnight declarations" of runners in horse racing. As a result there were often lots of "non-runners" in each race. It was this fact that our two new "runners" had latched onto.

Next afternoon they arrived at the office. Racing was just about to begin. One of the men pulled out a pocketful of cash: £5, £1 and ten-shilling notes, all screwed up, along with lots of coins. They said, "Let's get the money checked out first of all please.." and the boss was happy to start sorting it out. Eventually a total was agreed as correct. Then a bundle of betting slips, with an elastic band securing them, was dropped onto the desk and they said "Cheerio, see you tomorrow".

I was given the bundle of betting slips to sort out and start "settling". Surprise, surprise: our new runners had a very nice winning first day! Strangely enough, nearly every betting slip had the first winner of the day, either as a single straight win bet, or in doubles and even trebles. Very strange. Especially as all the doubles and trebles were winning bets, simply because the other "legs" of the doubles and trebles included all non-runners. This meant that all these "multiple" bets became singles, with the first winner of the day as the only runner.

The "profit" on this first day did not amount to a great deal as the first winner was odds-on, meaning it was less than even money. The boss knew he'd been "had over" and he had worked out how these guys had rooked him.

Next day when these two shysters arrived, again about five minutes before the first race, they began their spiel about "checking the cash first." "No", said the boss, "just give me the bets first, and we'll settle the cash afterwards." They were twigged! They handed over a bundle of bets which the boss took hold of. Then they handed over the jumble of money. The boss paid them what they had "won" on the previous day and they left, somewhat dejectedly.

This time all their bets lost. Yes, every betting slip was a loser! They actually lost about twice what they had "won" yesterday. We never saw these two scammers again.

How had they tricked us on the first day? Well, the night before they had written out dozens of bets and each bet had a horse in the first race written as singles, doubles etc., all linked with known "non runners" in the later races. If there were, say, 10 runners in the first race they would have 10 separate bundles of bets. Each bundle would have the name of a horse in the first race in every bet. When they arrived at the office they deliberately delayed handing over the bets until our "boardman" had written the result of the first race on the blackboard. Now they knew the first race winner and all they had to do was pick out the "winning bundle" from their pockets. They had to have a system of remembering which pocket the "winner of the first race" was in.

Another scam involved telephone bets. A credit client would come on the phone from, say, Wimbledon dog track, just before a race was due to start. He would read out a couple of bets for later races and then, just after the first race had finished, he would try to place a largish "forecast" bet. This was a bet to name the first and second dog in correct finishing order. His bet was refused: it was too late! He protested of course, but we knew that he had a person in the stadium who had just tic-tacked the result to him in the phone box. No mobile phones in those days, but where there's a will there's a way.

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