Racing / Commentary: Laws required to bring layers to book

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THE BOOKMAKING industry is today engulfed in indignation over its continuing refusal to pay punters who backed Jo N Jack, a 33-1 winner at Lingfield two weeks ago. The Jockey Club have said the race was clean and Yorkshire police have dropped an investigation into the affair - how much did that cost the taxpayer? - and yet still the winnings are locked away. Not clever. Not clever at all.

It was a weekend of unceasing diatribes against the betting shops' trade organisation, BOLA, for its failure to act on Friday when Detective Chief Inspector Raymond Falconer, who presumably could have been doing better things with his time, announced that he could find nothing unproper in the gamble on Jo N Jack, which bookmakers claim cost them pounds 50,000. This morning's edition of The Sun carries no racing tips but instead urges its readers to boycott all betting shops for a day.

Imagine all those smoky pits emptied, the Treasury's tax on betting drying up for a day, nobody paying gambling debts until BOLA Do The Right Thing. At least one professional punter is refusing to hand over any arrears until the Jo N Jack affair is settled to the satisfaction of those who backed the horse. Barney Curley said yesterday: 'I'll not settle with any bookmakers until they do so over Jo N Jack. Nobody is morally bound to settle as things stand.'

Mark Coton, chairman of the National Association for the Protection of Punters (NAPP), was equally scathing. 'Perhaps it was reasonable for them to investigate for a day or two,' Coton said, 'but punters are utterly maltreated by this system. The first rule of bookmaking is that a bet should be honoured, and the complete lack of magnanimity with which they have greeted their defences being breached illustrates the arrogance of the big bookmaking organisations.'

The line, 'no statement today', which emanated from BOLA's headquarters on Friday will come to haunt them, and the self-defeating stinginess with which they have behaved will not be appreciated even by many of their own members. At a time when the off-course betting industry is being scrutinised as never before, its own representatives have damaged it, perhaps irreperably, by their refusal to accept that one came in under the radar that day at Lingfield.

To recap: the Jockey Club confirm that Jo N Jack was not doped and was not a ringer. Yorkshire police said on Friday that 'no offence was committed in the placing of the bets'.

And to put the whole incident in perspective, you would need to stake only pounds 1,500 at 33-1 to win pounds 50,000 (assuming the size of the deferred payout has not been exaggerated). Hardly a coup, is it? Perhaps BOLA will compensate Yorkshire police for the considerable cost of the inquiry. Maybe the bookmakers concerned will pay the punters interest on their withheld winnings. Doubt it.

In fairness to BOLA, they had every right to investigate what they call 'unusual patterns of betting' that afternoon, particularly as there appeared, for a moment, to be a connection with the famous Flockton Grey ringer scandal of a few years back.

It is a pity, for BOLA's sake, that the normally reliable bookmakers' intelligence network failed to register the support for Jo N Jack in time to blow money back to the course and so shorten the horse's price. If that had happened, and Jo N Jack had started at, say, 8-1, you have to suspect that there would have been no such carry-on over a few punters successfuly acting on information from a stable.

Similarly, if the horse had finished 12th, the bookmakers would have been banking the day's takings while chuckling at the stupidity of some punters.

Day after day people lose money at betting. The flow of mugs never stops. And yet, on the rare occasions when a punter beats the system, down come the shutters while BOLA assumes for itself quasi-legal and moral powers which, in a regulated betting system, it would not have.

That, in truth, is the crux of the issue. The horse-race betting industry is like some frontier town in which anything goes provided you say it does. There is no compulsion for BOLA to issue the overdue instruction to pay. Nobody stands guard, nobody properly abitrates. It is time we found a sheriff.

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