Jamie Corrigan: Gambling not immune from usual sensibilities

The Way I See It: Is anybody out there sad enough to bet on somebody losing their employment? I'm sure they are

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The Independent Online

It is bracketed under "novelty bets" and I suppose it will be a novelty for whichever poor sod it is who loses his job first.

As regular as the grim reaper's clock works, the email drops into the inbox. It is from one of the leading bookmakers informing the recipients of the latest odds in "the sack race". The label should be queried, as it is the only race in the world where the participants are desperate to finish last. But for the purposes of the email subject matter "a race" it has to remain.

This weekend saw Bolton's Owen Coyle lose control of the brakes. He was "the biggest mover", cut to 6-1 from 10-1. At the head of the market remains Steve Kean, whose uncontainable after-burners are odds-on to see him fly out of Ewood Park straight on to the dole queue. Saying that, Steve Bruce isn't far behind him and nor, too, is that housewife's favourite of this race, Mick McCarthy. I ask you, who needs the top four for excitement?

Is anybody out there actually sad enough to bet on somebody losing their employment? I'm sure they are, because after all the "Death League" is still as popular as ever in bored offices up and down the land. But in what number and with what conviction? I have always assumed it was the bookies trying to gain some free publicity, as "favourite for the axe" makes a juicy headline. Yet, there are so many novelty odds quoted nowadays I can't be sure. Surely they wouldn't waste all that cyberspace merely for a mention. So you have markets on the first Premier League club to ban Twitter, the chances of Robbie Savage hosting Question Time, and for those genuinely into wild speculation, the future of Carlos Tevez. Away from football, you can bet on the next EU country to default, the possibility of hundreds losing their jobs by Rupert Murdoch quitting Britain altogether and, I kid you not, which country will be the next to ban the burka. To think, novelty betting used to focus around snow falling at Christmas, the Christmas No 1 and aliens arriving on Earth before the Millennium (they didn't whatever David Icke claims – I still have the 10,000-1 slip to prove it).

Should this mug-punting explosion be of concern? The anti-gambling groups thinks so. And when you watch Sky Sports and see Ray Winstone's head popping up more than that of the old Richard Keys to advise that Robin van Persie is 9-4 to score the next goal you can understand their worries. Imagine being a gamblerholic and sitting there on sofa, trying to take your mind off the dogs at Romford by watching a little footie. Then appears Ray, that Godfather of The Geezer, and his cockney patter is akin dangling a menthol in front of an ex-smoker with a pint in their hands, just after a big meal. "It's not real betting, is it me ol' china? It's only a little flutta..."

Except it is and it isn't. Gambling ruins lives and the fact they can advertise so provocatively, with such sinister timing, with such shameless transparency is rather sickening in my view. My liberal tendencies mean I wouldn't go so far as to ban "novelty betting", although I can't see how anyone could argue that sport would be a far better place without it. True, the underground bookies in Asia would still plague cricket with all that "spot-betting", but no longer would anyone within the game come under scrutiny for one of those so-called "betting stings".

And here's the most outrageous aspect of those "novelty bets". The bookies hawk the odds around with all the integrity of a barrow boy and then, when someone with some inside knowledge – a cousin of the chairman, the cleaner of the manager – is tempted enough to reel off a few crisp 50s, the bookies jump up and down as if they've just been had by Bernie Madoff. Hey, this was the bookies' idea, in their wisdom or otherwise they put a price on the possibilities, they invited people to act on a hunch, or, indeed, otherwise. But no, they just want the mug tenners, not the informed hundreds, and the sporting authorities actually ask them for help to identify the scoundrels. Everything but everything is tilted in the bookies' favour. Even the ethical myth.

Just as nobody with a shred of dignity should invest in the potential misery of a husband and father losing his job, so all this speculating and accumulating on the unfolding recession, on the sensitive issues of Islam, on each and everything which makes this world so unstable is immoral. It's as if gambling is a separate reality where the residents are immune from normal sensibilities. It isn't. But the addicts are led to believe that it is in the desperation of their own requirements to win back that Van Persie money.

So they continue to pile in on Kean, while over the Pennines a mystery punter, whose description, wouldn't you know, perfectly fits that of Ellis Short's butler, has plonked £10,000 on Bruce's imminent departure. Meanwhile, McCarthy totters forever on the brink and Coyle prepares for the fourth must-win game this month.

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