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

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Law: Of which there is about as much in the world of betting as there was in Tombstone before Wyatt Earp rode into town. Bets are considered to be a private matter of honour, and thus beyond the reach of the courts on the basis that, well, Good Gawd, if you can't trust a man's word, don't y'know, harrumph, harrumph, what in blazes can you trust? This was all fine and dandy in the days when Lord X would pit his best colt against that of Lord Y for a modest side-bet of, say, half of Gloucestershire, before heading off to string up an adolescent or two for sheep-stealing. In 1997, when British consumers are, by and large, fairly well protected against the less scrupulous members of the business

world, it is hopelessly inadequate and thus, you might suppose, an obvious concern for a go-ahead Government with a mandate for change. Early indications, however, are that New Labour is as indifferent to our problems as the last lot.

Ladies' race: And also for Lydia Pearce, whose pre-eminence in such events was something of a blank cheque for punters through much of the 1990s. Races for amateur riders of either sex are generally contested by poor, unreliable individuals of very doubtful stamina - and sadly, the horses are even worse. As such, they are hardly the ideal betting medium, but if you always back the best jockey, you can usually be sure that, whatever other shortcomings the beast may

have, it is the best part of a stone well-in with its rivals. Unfortunately, Mrs Pearce's career is now seems to be drawing to a close, but one heir apparent is Emma Ramsden, (that's Ramsden, as in the trainer Lynda and Jack, her professional gambler husband).

Lent, not lost: Arguably the most stupid aphorism ever invented, even in the rich breeding ground for cod philosophy that is the average betting shop. Your selection has been beaten but it didn't get a clear run, needed further, ran green and/or (it's usually and) the jockey was a jerk. Thus, the money you backed it with is lent, not lost, and will undoubtedly be repaid, with generous interest, in the not too distant future. This belief also appears in Chapter One of the Teach Yourself Guide to Economics, by Nick Leeson.

Ladbrokes: Established in 1886 in the Warwickshire village from which it takes its name, Ladbrokes moved its

operation to London well before the First World War, where it cultivated a clientele which was the complete opposite of that which it pitches to today. Snotty to the point of rudeness about who they would do business with, Ladbrokes were turf accountants to the aristocracy (and even now, so rumour has it, several members of the Royal family would not dream of punting with anyone else). From their credit office in Burlington Street, Ladbrokes were purveyors of ruin to the landed gentry on a scale that would be matched only by the introduction of death duty, a couple of generations later. The business plan changed radically, however, when Cyril Stein, son of the legendary pre-War rails bookmaker Snouty Parker, took over as

chairman in 1966. Stein was quick to appreciate the potential of off- course betting shops, which had been legalised five years earlier, and through a combination of tireless acquisition and an approach to the competition which was straight out of Jaws, built the firm into Britain's biggest bookie, before expanding elsewhere. "Is that the best deal you've ever done?" he was famously asked after adding Hilton Hotels to the Ladbrokes portfolio for pounds 645 million in 1987. "It's the best deal anyone's ever done," Cyril replied, and even in the post-Stein years, his firm exhibits the same egalitarian willingness to impoverish anyone, whatever their class.

Loch Ness Monster: The proven existence of which is 500-1 with William Hill, a price that must surely persuade even the most gullible of Sassenachs that the Scottish Tourist Board has been having them on these past 60 years. Novelty odds on such

events as aliens landing in Trafalgar Square, Lord Lucan turning himself in to the police or Manchester City winning the Premiership are generally nothing more than an easy source of silly season publicity for the bookies, and of no interest at all to serious punters. A few optimists, though, have 500-1 about a British winner of the men's singles at Wimbledon before the turn of the century safely hidden away - (the price is now down to single figures). When Mecca took over William Hill a few years ago, meanwhile, only one major stumbling block emerged when the accountants went through Hills' books. The multi-million pound buyout is said to have come close to stalling - because Mecca did not want to take on Hills' pounds 3m liability over the reappearance of Elvis.