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'Times have changed since those early days of betting shops - not many operators need personal protection. Back in the 1960s the criminal element did try to muscle in ... ' John Samuels has worked in the gambling industry since betting shops were legalised in 1961. Here in an extract from his book Down The Bookies: The First 50 Years of Betting Shops he recounts his early experiences working for a bookmaker in Silvertown, east London.

ISOON discovered that Connor's, and its proprietor Con and manager Albert, were real old-school bookmakers. First there was the wage process. I was offered a more than generous salary but I was suspicious that what I was receiving did not match the National Insurance and tax contributions Connor's were supposedly paying on my behalf.

I also noticed that Con employed two maintenance handymen, Dickie and Roger. When it came to painting and plumbing they were a disaster, but looking at their size and the way they carried themselves, it became obvious their purpose was troubleshooting and debt recovery rather than maintenance. Con's large Alsatian dog, who accompanied him everywhere, completed the scene.

Times have changed since those early days of betting shops and not many operators need personal protection. But back in the 1960s the criminal element did try to muscle in, offering protection for betting shops. If they met with a refusal from the owner a few windows might be smashed or a fire started in the shop. Danny Quastel had a small group of shops in south and east London and at least one was set alight. In Soho, a bomb blew up on the opening day of another shop. Over time however, and despite persisting public perception, the criminal element was eradicated.

I saw Con also had 'runners' and factory agents. These were a hangover from pre-betting shop days, but were still profitable. The runners were based in pubs around the area and the locals knew they would take bets and place them with Con. It saved a walk to the betting shop for the pub regulars.

The agents worked in local industries, including the massive Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Rank Hovis McDougal bakery, Amoco oil refinery and the Royal Docks. These firms had many employees who could not, or were too lazy to, get out of the workplace to put on bets. Even with betting shops legal on the high street, agents were still doing good business in some areas, including Silvertown.

Agents and runners received 6d (2.5p) in the pound commission for every bet collected. Connor's used the system of clock bags - pouches made from a whole piece of leather, with no stitching or joins, sized between a large purse and small handbag.

A vitally important part of the bag was the metal box used to close and securely lock it. The top of the bag would be inserted into the metal box and holes at the top lined up with bolts in the box's locking mechanism. When lined up a small lever on the box could be activated, the bolts locked into place and the bag secured.

The metal box also had a built-in, wind-up stopwatch. Once the bag had been locked into the box and the lever activated, the stopwatch would start to run. Before a race, all the betting slips for that race would be put into the bag and the bag locked into the metal box.

Back at the office, knowing that the bag containing the bets would often arrive after racing had ended, Con or Albert would calculate how long the stopwatch had been running. Then they would satisfy themselves that the bag had been locked into the box before that paticular race. Using a unique key, the box would be unlocked, the bets taken from the bag and settled.

Throughout the late afternoon and early evening runners would turn up at the main office in Silvertown Way and hand in their clock bags. Later in the evening Con's son Mike would drive around to collect clock bags from factories in which they had agents working night shifts. Mike would return to the main office, unlock the bags and immediately pass the bets through the glass flat-top microfilm camera. The bets would be handed to whoever was doing the 'dog duty' that night. Rarely would Mike delegate this job, but if he did he would stand by and watch the bets being photographed before counting them and noting the number.

The dog duty was the 6.30pm to 10.00pm shift, when one member of staff would stay behind to answer the phone and take bets on greyhound races run that night. The results would arrive from the Exchange Telegraph Company via a ticker-tape printer. Think of 1950s Hollywood movies about Wall Street and newspaper rooms where tickertape machines would whirl away with an editor or investor, cigar in mouth, scanning the tape for the latest news. That was the type of ticker-tape machine Con had.

I learnt that the payout limit for bets in clock bags was much lower because most of the races had been run by the time the bag was opened so Connor's would not be aware of their liabilities and would be unable to hedge bets.

WHEN short of staff, Con would employ someone to cover the dog duty. Soon after I joined there was one such occasion concerning Tim, a retired dock worker who had been a tally clerk checking the number of crates and sacks unloaded from ships. Tim knew his racing and how to calculate basic bets and was forever pestering Con for a job in the shop. He was offered some dog-duty shifts and, having quickly learned the ropes, would be called on when needed.

However, one morning following a dog-duty shift by Tim, Albert saw that a punter of one of the factory agents had won pounds 100. This was from a pounds 5 win double on greyhounds who had won at 4-1 and 3-1 in two 7.45pm races.

Tim told Albert that as the winning bet was on races across the card he had no opportunity to hedge. Albert saw the punter's nom de plume was new and that the agent had been with Con for under a year.

Smelling a rat, Albert arranged for the camera microfilm to be developed. He and Con sat down to view the film and it was no surprise to either that although the winning slip was on the film, the part that contained the winning double had Tim's massive thumb over the place where the winning selections should be. It was obvious that no selections had been written on the bet. Con arranged to meet Tim and took Dickie and Roger, his 'maintenance men', with him.

Tim confessed that the agent had approached him to carry out the fraud. The plan was for Tim to put a slip in the bundle of bets and photocopy it, but ensure that not all the bet could be seen. Then it would be a simple task to write out a winning bet on the slip once results were known and put it with the rest of the bundle of slips from the bag. The winnings would be split between the agent and Tim.

But the pair failed to consider how many years Albert had spent in the business and that to him the dodgy bet stood out a mile. Police were not involved on that occasion, but the maintenance men may have had some fun coaxing out the truth from Tim.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2011
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