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Why the DG is right to be afraid.

THE rule of thumb is working again. If Tom Kelly, who as director general of the Betting Office Licensees' Association, has a title only marginally less imposing than the Holy Roman Emperor's, is against something, then the rest of us should really be striving might and main to make sure it happens.

The DG of BOLA (mouthpiece for the big bookies to you and me) is sorely vexed by the idea that we may one day soon be allowed to do our betting in pubs. When we ask ourselves why his opposition should be so vehement we quickly see that it has nothing to do with fears for the drunken punter, for the sacred atmosphere of the British public house, or for the future of civilisation as we know it. It is simply because he perceives such liberalisation to be a threat to the profitability of the 8,000 or so money factories owned by his bosses around the country.

Should we share his anxieties and join with him in hand- wringing at the thought of all the evils that must inevitably flow from the moment the first mug is permitted a punt with his pint? Not unless we're simple we shouldn't.

The director general's main stated fear is that legalised betting in pubs will lead to an increase in illegal betting in pubs. (Yes, that's right. This is not a misprint).

Perhaps he'd better try to explain again why this should be because so far his logic is somewhat elusive. Certainly, there may be a small amount of betting between individuals in order to avoid paying tax, but does he really think there isn't already? (The big stuff between the heavy hitters who wouldn't bother with a betting shop in the first place is all done on the phone anyway).

Does he really think that if such betting ever became large-scale or systematic in a pub it could not be detected immediately by either the landlord-who would fear for the loss of his licence-or, if the landlord himself could possibly have been persuaded to collude, by any off-duty copper, never mind plain clothes Customs and Excise man, who happened to drop in for a quick half?

You may as well argue that the legal sale of alcohol is conducive to the illegal sale of moonshine.

The real reason why those currently running off-course betting are so afraid of any alteration to the present system is more or less the same reason drug barons fear legalisation of their product: it will interfere with a profitable monopoly.

If we can bet in the pubs, turnover in the shops will inevitably decline; and because their current status as sole authorised purveyor of the right to bet is broken, so will their capital value.

If we can bet in the pubs there will be fewer people in the shops to play the numbers rackets and slots, on which the bookies now rely so heavily to keep their shareholders content. But most importantly, as far as the director general is concerned, one suspects: if we can bet in the pubs, there's always the chance our betting habits may change.

THE director general claims to be worried that persons who may be perfectly competent at pulling a pint may have neither the time nor the inclination to learn the skills and intricacies of accepting bets and settling. Absolutely spot on. They won't.

What they will have no trouble at all doing, though, is inserting a pre- marked card into a machine, which will then come up with a ticket (just like the lottery) and then later inserting that ticket into the same machine before presenting the lucky punter with whatever he's won.

In other words, Tote betting would not be a problem. And that most terrifying consequence (for the bookies), the emergence of a Tote pool that would provide them with genuine and frequently more attractive opposition, may become a reality.

Like all good opponents of Tote betting in this country, the director general points with horror at the example of France, where betting has long been permitted in bars and cafes, with no spectacular benefit either to the punter or the popularity of racing.

But the French experience is not relevant: everything about their racing culture is so different from ours.

What we ought to be looking at is the system that operates so successfully in Australia, where in at least one bar of many pubs the racing (SIS equivalent) is on non-stop, and the barman deals with your bets as nonchalantly as he deals with a request for a schooner of (real) Foster's.

The system works in Australia, where no obvious social evils have ensued, to the great advantage of their racing-and also to the great advantage of their government, which naturally takes its rake off from turnover.

If there's one thing governments like it's increased revenue, and when ours notices that this could be its if it chose to follow the Australian example it ought to jump at it.

Perhaps the director general is right to be afraid. Very afraid.

Rule of thumb applies as usual I think.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Haigh, Paul
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 3, 1998
Previous Article:All Our Yesterdays.
Next Article:Letters.

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