BACK WHEN JIMMY KNEW THE ODDS
It’s September and the footy finals are on, but I won’t be having a bet.
That’s because I reckon the way betting is heading in this country is almost criminal. And I should know, because my Dad was a criminal.
My grandfather was a horse trainer and my father, James Bernard Donohoe, broke the law regularly – pretty much every Saturday – by ringing his SP bookmaker at Randwick. Off-course betting was illegal back in those days.
Not that Dad took any notice. He rang a bloke who knew a bloke with a bag at the track and that’s where the deal went down.
My old man loved the punt, but he was never an addict. When he was “rollin’ in it” he’d bet big. When he was less than flush, he’d put a couple of bucks on.
Melbourne Cup day, 1960.
He always went to the races fully booted and spurred, freshly shaven, Windsor knot resplendent.
He’d park the Valiant hardtop in the AJC committee members’ parking spots (“take the secretary spot, Jimmy. He’s overseas”). And there it would be, the Flash Harry vehicle, in between the Bentleys and Rollers and bringing down the tone of the whole establishment.
It wasn’t because Dad was “important” that he bagged the coveted spot, but because he was “connected”. You see, my father knew everyone at Randwick and truly liked most of them…or at least he was charitable enough see their best side.
Dad loved racing. Everything about it. The horses, sure, but they were almost a sideshow to the main game. It was the people he loved – from the parking blokes to the toffs in the members and everyone in betweeen. He, in turn, was well regarded by them.
The track – the sights, the sounds, friendship, drama and conviviality – was the conversation of his life. He had a deep and abiding passion for my family’s heritage and those in the industry.
When my Dad gambled, it was a cultural pursuit. Which is the opposite to what we have today with online betting.
No longer do you get decked out to go to the track or put on your club colours to get to the footy game. No friendship, no conversation, no connection with the wider world. You have the privacy of your smartphone, no socialising required…for God’s sake even the pokies at least require that you have a shower, comb your hair and get dressed! (And as for that TV ad showing the guys being longingly eyed over by gorgeous girls? Well not at my pub!)
Instead, in this brave new world of gambling, you sit at home, alone, and calculate the numbers. To me, that’s the true hideousness of the modern “bet”.
And (even more insidious) what ability do you have to make an educated punt? At least when you’re at the track you can see and touch horesflesh, talk to a trainer. Same at the footy ground when you get the sniff of liniment from the stand and know which player is pulling up lame, no matter what the coach says.
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