Think the National's a lottery? Here's 50 other fancy flutters

Today, Britons will wager up to £200m on the Grand National. Are they missing a trick? Stan Hey introduces a range of alternative investments for the more discerning punter
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Today is Britain's biggest betting day of the year, with the nation's bookmakers eagerly anticipating up to £200m being wagered on the Grand National at Aintree. This is the day when almost everyone has a bet, whether individually or by way of the office "sweep". And it won't end there - tonight millions of people will check their pools coupon, buy a lottery ticket, play bingo or try to outwit the one-armed bandit in the corner of the pub, the chip shop or Chinese takeaway. Whether we like it or not, we have become a nation of gamblers, mostly with money we can afford to lose, but occasionally with money that should be put to better purposes.

Today is Britain's biggest betting day of the year, with the nation's bookmakers eagerly anticipating up to £200m being wagered on the Grand National at Aintree. This is the day when almost everyone has a bet, whether individually or by way of the office "sweep". And it won't end there - tonight millions of people will check their pools coupon, buy a lottery ticket, play bingo or try to outwit the one-armed bandit in the corner of the pub, the chip shop or Chinese takeaway. Whether we like it or not, we have become a nation of gamblers, mostly with money we can afford to lose, but occasionally with money that should be put to better purposes.

Those who see this as a further example of our moral degeneration should ask themselves first if they have a personal pension, a portfolio of shares or even a few hundred premium bonds, because these financial products are based on the notion of the gamble.

Indeed, given the continuing wave of financial scandals it might be worth asking which is the better bet - a £1,000 investment with a secretly over-stretched insurance company or a tenner each-way on a nag in the National. The Government's imminent gambling Bill will attempt to bring legislation up to date, enabling more betting opportunities, particularly with casinos. But the Bill also increases the levels of compliance and integrity expected of the gambling industry, all of which is an official acknowledgement that a huge proportion of the population likes a punt.

Yet just over 40 years ago you would have struggled to get a bet on the Grand National unless you knew a street-corner bookie or had a telephone account with one of the few established firms of "turf accountants" as they were euphemistically called.

It was not until 1961 that betting shops were opened but even then they had to have "dead" windows, blacked out to avoid corrupting the passing public. Inside there was only a counter, a board with the results, and a speaker relaying racecourse commentary.

Now betting shops are mostly palaces of comfort, with sofas, multiscreens, snacks and hot drinks, no-smoking areas, lavatories and all the information you need to formulate a bet. But even this experience is increasingly remote to a new generation of internet gamblers, who pit their wits against fellow punters on the betting exchanges that act as a form of electronic stakeholder. Traditional punters such as myself, prefer to be paid in cash, the wedge of readies being the sensual conclusion to our breathless pursuit of winners.

With these structural developments has come an almost bewildering variety of bets, and it's almost true to say that you can bet on anything - any sport, politics, and the outcome of television shows such as Pop Idol, Big Brother or I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here!

And then there is Graham Sharpe of William Hill, the man who will take a bet on any possibility, such is his delirious affection for the betting game. If you fancy the chances of your six-year-old son winning the men's singles at Wimbledon, or you think the appearance of the Loch Ness monster is due, or even if you get an inside tip that Elvis Presley is about to turn up at your pub, Graham Sharpe is the man to talk to.

Most punters will stick to a "Lucky 15" (a 15-bet combination), a Patent (seven bets) or the occasional Heinz (yep, 57 bets). The exotic spreadbets ("buy" or "sell" on the bookies' position on a football game, or the performance of a golfer, or England's likely runs in a Test match) are scary and need to be handled with care. But whatever the bet, the feeling is the same if you win, you are king for a day.

The right to enjoy a bet, with respect and in as much comfort as we need, has been a hard won, if minor, civil right after a century of puritan anxiety and legislative oppression.

Of course, ultimately the only real winners are the bookies (check their growing profits and soaring share prices), the betting exchanges, the casinos and last but by no means least, the Treasury, which is raking in the dough in the form of corporation taxes. So, even if you lose, you can console yourself that your money may be spent on a good cause.

If you are on the dark side of betting, contact the charity Gamcare on 0845 6000 133, or go to www.gamcare.org.uk

Robbie Williams to get married 20-1

Jamie Oliver vegetarian for at least 6 months 100-1

Jonny Wilkinson to get married Evens

Rod Stewart to be knighted 6-1

No rain for a fortnight at Wimbledon 10-1

Spice Girls to have number one single 10-1

Confirmation of current existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life by Prime Minister or US President 66-1

M1 to become a toll road 100-1

Tim Henman to win Wimbledon 10-1

Palace announce Prince William engagement 50-1

Cherie Blair pregnancy announced 50-1

Record high temperature in UK to be set 12-1

General Election to take place 20-1

Mick Jagger to leave the Rolling Stones 25-1

'Archers' theme tune to get to number one 66-1

Prince Andrew to get married 16-1

Elton John to revert to name of Reg Dwight 100-1

Cannabis legalised by end of 2007 33-1

Arsenal to win the treble 6-1

Charles and Camilla to marry 12-1

Alex Ferguson to leave Man United 5-2

Tony Blair not to be Prime Minister 6-1

Gordon Brown to become Prime Minister 8-1

Michael Howard to be next Prime Minister 5-2

Charles Kennedy to be next Prime Minister 50-1

New series of 'The Office' screened 10-1

Concorde to resume scheduled service 100-1

David Coulthard to win at least one Grand Prix 1-2

Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate 20-1

Confirmation of first cloned human baby by Prime Minister or US President 50-1

Tiger Woods to win no majors Evens

Britney Spears to get married again 5-1

White Christmas in Cardiff, London and Glasgow 6-1

Zara Phillips to win an Olympic gold medal 16-1

Rowan Williams confirms 2nd coming 1,000-1

Rowling announces death of Harry Potter 100-1

David Beckham to sign for Chelsea 4-1

Betsy Duncan Smith on 'I'm a Celebrity...' 33-1

Anita Dobson to return to 'EastEnders' 25-1

Prince William to get first class degree 2-1

Abramovich to play in Chelsea first team 500-1

'Sex and the City' reunion programme by 2005 4-1

John Kerry elected US President 11-8

Britain joins euro, dumps pound by end 2006 14-1

Votes for 16-year-olds to be introduced 100-1

'Coronation Street' to end permanently 125-1

George Best to marry again 5-1

Williams sisters in Wimbledon final 4-1

All national broadsheets to produce compacts 2-5

Queen's immediate family on 'I'm a Celebrity...' 33-1

Comments