Notebook: Odds on no one'll like it

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The Independent Online
CISSIE is sitting with her slips in the bookies in Chapel Street market in Islington, north London. Cissie is 72 and doesn't think these new proposals to open up betting shops, to make the insides visible from the street, are a good idea: 'They'll be coming looking for their husbands, won't they?'

Cissie's husband is dead, but he used to be a street bookie before it was made legal in 1961. He had never put a bet on in his life, but Cissie had made up for it. She used to be on a fruit and veg stall, in the market. Now she was getting fed up with the traders effing and blinding.

In the old days, the police had turned a blind eye, but all the bookies had to go to the police ball. Sergeant Hodges used to come round and say he wanted two men nicked. So two men would be volunteered and the bookies would pay the fine. It was more fun then. She'd laid out about six quid today, all small bets. 'If it wasn't for my kids, I couldn't bet,' she said. 'They give me a tenner each a week.'

At the other end of the market, in another of Cissie's favourites, Tony the manager thinks the plan in tune with the times, but is not expecting a rush. Tony is an arts graduate who used to teach and is wistful for a lost academic career. Noel, from Madras, thinks the new plans an unjustifiable intrusion on privacy. Noel stops talking. 'He won't talk while there's a race on,' says Tony. Noel, unusually, wins the 2.30 at Brighton, pounds 1 on the nose.

Around the tables, they're worried about wives, too. They want better odds and more winners. After some thought, there is a call for topless cashiers, 'female, of course'. Noel puts another bet on. Britain's 9,500 betting shops turn over more than pounds 6bn a year. 'You know what they say,' says Cissie. 'You bet to lose, and you win if you can.'

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