Racing: The A-Z of betting - B is for...

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The Independent Online
B is for . . .

Bandit, One-Armed: Not the description favoured by the betting-shop operators, who prefer the altogether more cuddly "Amusement With Prizes machine", but this itself is hardly accurate, since the entertainment is minimal and the rewards, in the long term at least, non-existent. Like a roulette wheel, they obey the unbreakable laws of probability, the first and most important of which is that the machine always wins. Not that the certainty of losing will ever deter the committed gambler, and Ladbrokes' recent annual profit figures showed a substantial rise, a fair slice of which was attributed to the introduction of OAB/AWPs. Now that's a jackpot.

Banks, John: One of the few bookies to have made a lasting contribution to the English language, Banks is generally believed to have coined the phrase "a licence to print money" to describe the betting-shop business. For almost 20 years, Banks was one of the most colourful figures on the racecourse, a courageous bookmaker of the old school who would form an opinion and challenge the punters to take him on, often laying favourites at several points more than his rivals in the ring. Contemptuous of the safety-first approach adopted by Lad- brokes, Hills et al as they built their off-course empires, Banks rarely missed an opportunity to criticise them - or racing's authorities - with the candour which only a Glaswegian can muster. The betting and talking came to an abrupt halt in 1978, however, when the Jockey Club found him guilty of paying John Francome for information on runners from Fred Winter's yard, where Francome was the stable jockey. Having broken two important rules - don't get caught, and don't annoy the authorities - Banks was warned off for four years, which only makes you wonder what one of the Big Three might get if one of their numerous informers in the big yards was prepared to give evidence against them.

Bar: In a betting show, the minimum price of the horses not quoted by name, which in the case of the BBC can sometimes mean 27 of the runners in a field of 30. Also an area of the racecourse which has given rise to one of the few foolproof winner-finding systems yet devised. Simply pick a name at random from the handicap due off in 25 minutes' time, then try to slip in a quick drink before placing your bet. As the beast romps home at 20-1, you will, of course, remain trapped in the middle of a 12- deep maul while the adolescent with an attitude problem who forms the entire bar staff attempts - in his own sweet time - to serve several hundred thirsty punters. NB. This system works only if you are not within shouting distance of either a bookie or a Tote window.

Big Mac: The given nickname of one John Michael McCririck, and apparently an example of unusual perception on behalf of the Channel 4 racing team, who generally prefer picture puzzles and schoolboy sniggers. To some palates, both man and moniker are unappetising, tasteless and big on promotion - and, on closer inspection, very light on substance.

Blower: Any punter under 25 years of age will look at you a little strangely if you tell them this, but until the arrival of SIS broadcasting on 5 May 1987, about 97 per cent of British racing went unwatched by the nation's punters. From the legalisation of betting shops in the early 1960s, successive governments believed that, although their customers were making enormous contributions to the Exchequer, they should on no account be encouraged to do so, or indeed allowed to enjoy the process if they succumbed to temptation. This philosophy gave us blanked-out windows, sawdust on the floor, those strange, fluttering strips of plastic which hid the interior on the rare high-summer occasions when the door was opened to let in some fresh air, and above all, the blower. A circle of punters would stare at the loudspeaker which relayed the commentaries, as rapt as pilgrims at a shrine, while the man behind the microphone described the action with varying degrees of accuracy. In order to hold the attention, for instance, finishes rarely seemed to be anything other than desperately close, even when examination of the following day's papers showed that the favourite had won unchallenged by 20 lengths.

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