Are You A Pools Fan?

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The football season is with us again — the English League football season, of course, and that means that the pools fever will awaken in earnest. Some people would like to see participation in the English football pools made illegal; it is certain that many thousands of rupees leave Mauritius every week during the English football season for Liverpool, London and Cardiff.

Many of these rupees are sent by labourers who cannot really afford to lose their money each week, but whose weekly stake (or ‘flutter’) brings them the hope, however transient, of wealth and, they think, of release from the misery and unhappiness that are their everyday lot.

What are the chances of someone winning a large sum on the pools? Everyone who does the pools dreams of being the only winner on the Treble Chance in a week when there are only 8 draws on the whole coupon; in such a week, the only winner would (on Littlewood’s) scoop perhaps £200,000 (say, Rs 2½ million). On Vernon’s Pools, because of different rules regarding sharing the prize money, he would scoop £75,000 (say, Rs 980,000). But what in actual fact are the chances of finding 8 draws in 55 games when there are only these 8 draws to be found?

Mr Kenneth Wheat, head of the statistics department at Vernon’s has worked out the odds against picking at random 8 draws when there are only 8 draws on the whole coupon: the odds are astronomical, being in fact 1,217,566,350 to 1. A practically meaningless figure, you will agree. It is, in fact, approximately equal to the combined population of India, China and the continent of Africa. That is, every person in India, China and Africa submitted a coupon, each with one line of eight different draws, only one person would have a winning entry. If there are nine draws on the coupon, the odds against picking 8 of them are reduced to 135,285,150 to I; more manageable are the odds when there are as many as 18 or 20 draws on the coupon. Here the odds are:

18 draws …… 27,825 to 1
20 draws……   9,667 to 1

It is the Treble Chance pool which has captured public imagination in recent years, mainly because of the huge prizes (for some reason these are known as dividends) paid to winners. Yet it is on this same pool that the huge odds are stacked against the entrants. The odds against entrants on the lesser pools – the four aways, the three draws, the nine results — are smaller; but so are the prizes, anyway. Take the nine results pool, for example, in which you have to select nine matches and forecast correctly the results. To be absolutely certain of getting a correct line, you would have to select nine matches and forecast every possible combination of results for these nine games. It would take you no less than 19,683 lines to do so! Pools firms declare their dividends at so much per shilling stake; to enter these 19,683 lines at a shilling a line would cost you nearly £ 1,000 – Rs. 13,122, to be exact. And does the nine results pool ever pay such a large prize? Never.

Pools prizes are, in fact, like all betting wins – paid not by the promoters or the bookmakers, but by the people who have made losing bets. They are, indeed, like taxation in that they seek to redistribute wealth; but whereas taxation seeks to redistribute wealth on a wider basis, taking from the few to benefit the many, betting and pools promotion redistribute wealth in the opposite direction. They take from the many and concentrate the wealth in the hands of the few. In this they are anti-social. They are anti-social, too, in fostering the desire for something for nothing.

Betting on horse-racing is just as anti-social as football pools. Many people bet more money than they can afford; betting can lead to much misery. The odds are against the bettors, too; who ever heard of a bookmaker going bankrupt? Nor are the horse races always as fair as they are supposed to be or as they appear to be to the backers of the horses. Despite stringent precautions that are taken on most race courses, including the Champ de Mars, horses can be tampered with so that those ‘in the know’ can pull off a betting coup at the expense of the man in the street.

Sometimes drugs are used to retard or improve a horse’s performance; sometimes other means can be employed. Not always is it possible for the drug to be detected; nicotine, caffeine, heroin and strychnine have in the past been widely used by racetrack racketeers to improve or retard (as the case may be) the performance of a particular horse which the bookmakers wish to win or lose, but they all have the disadvantage of being detectable in swabs of the horse’s sweat, saliva or urine. So, racketeers have turned to other additives. Tranquillizers cannot be detected in swabs; they can improve the running of highly strung horses. Some drugs cannot be detected in swabs if when they are administered their antidote is administered as well — but the administering of the antidote does not, oddly enough, affect the working of the drug! And some drugs occur naturally in the horse’s system, so that their appearance on swabs is to be expected. Hormones and cortisone occur in the horse’s system; if extra hormones or cortisone should be injected or administered, the horse’s performance in a race would be vastly improved, yet the administering of the extra cortisone could not be proved by a swab being taken.

Alternative to the use of drugs is the use of a battery. A horse is hit with a battery in training. On the morning of the race, the horse is hit with a battery on the racetrack. Penetaine rubbed on the horse’s side acts as a conductor. In the actual race, the horse is touched with the whip at the same point on the track as where in the morning it had been ‘batteried’. The sensation of being touched with the whip is the same as being ‘batteried’; and the horse spurts to a fine finish. The use of the battery and penetaine does not show in swabs. This is, therefore, another favourite device of racecourse touts and racketeers to improve a horse’s performance.

Why should racketeers wish to fake a horse’s performance? Because poor performances in training mean that a horse will run in a race with long odds against it. Those in the know then back the horse at these long odds; and by the use of drugs or some other way ensure that the horse wins. They therefore win more money than they would have done if the horse had started at short odds. A horse may deliberately be retarded in training so that the odds are lengthened; or it may be improved in training so that it starts at short odds and receives a lot of support. But on the morning of the race, a slowing-down drug may be administered so that it is bound to lose and the bookmakers thus win a lot of money from innocent backers.

Not all horse racing is crooked. I do not suggest that any of methods I have mentioned is used in Mauritius: but they are all in use at some time or another during the Australian horse-racing season. Even when everything is fair, and aboveboard, however, backing horses is a fruitless pastime. The bookmakers are bound to win in the end. Hence the saying: Horses have sense, they don’t bet on humans.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 1 March 2024

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