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The House Always Wins

Horace McDonald
Negotiation Gambling [Converted]
© Adobe Stock

At the end of my road is one that connects two semi-major routes running west from Shepherds Bush Green. We moved into this house almost 22 years ago to the day and, like many parts of London, the area represents an interesting bellwether of the national and local economy. At the time we moved in, the shopping at of the abovementioned road was book-ended by a small petrol station, which soon closed and became a car wash run by some very friendly Albanians, a number of unedifying pubs and two betting shops (you get the picture). Around 12 years ago a notice was presented in another of the then-empty shops that an application had been made for another betting shop, which was thankfully rejected. Believe me, it’s rather different now, we even have a Gail’s!

I rarely bet, but many people in the UK do. My gambling is limited mostly to the National Lottery, which I do very rarely. The Gambling Commission’s latest report states that 22.5 million adults gambled in the UK in 2021, which is reduced to 15.1 million (40% of adults) if you exclude only those people who play the Lottery and this spending has delivered total revenues of £14.1 billion. Technology has played a significant role in the growing availability and complexity of the market, which has clearly brought a large number of people into the market. On the downside, the number of problem gamblers has increased, as it no doubt becomes more difficult to stop when the next betting opportunity is available 24/7.

The difference between betting and negotiation is that in gambling, the odds are almost always stacked against you, as you’re betting in an environment where you have little control and no amount of research will ever enable you to have more insight than the bookmaker, who manages the odds. Whereas in negotiation, effective preparation, constructive dialogue and realistic proposals are the key to success and provided you have some power, you stand a good chance of a successful outcome. Although, have you ever tried negotiating with a bookmaker? They even take umbrage in a casino if you’re seen to be counting cards.

This week sees the return of Brentford FC’s Ivan Toney, who was found guilty of 262 breaches of the FA’s betting laws in May 2023 and banned for 8 months. It’s undeniable that Toney would have known the rules, however, the number of bets that can now be placed on nearly every element of football can create a chimaera of protection and technology will have paid a huge part in providing both the means and the evidence of Toney’s access and subsequent penalty. Brentford are currently in a rut and will be stronger for his return.

On a more personal level, while Christmas memory is still relatively fresh, I am reminded of the one bet that got away. Working in the music industry, at the start of December one of the biggest topics of conversation was which song was going to be the Christmas No.1. In the mid-90s, our single guru had evidence from the market that a song called ‘Chocolate Salty Balls’ from the sitcom ‘South Park’ was building momentum in the market and had a shot. I placed a £25 bet (I think my colleague did as he loved betting on the horses) at 20/1 and the damned thing ended up at No.2 behind the Spice Girls’ ‘Two Become One’. Only one of these songs has stood the test of time - however, both songs are unlistenable to me for very different reasons!

Horace McDonald
More by Horace McDonald:
Space Race
Man ‘O’ Man
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