Our nanny state holds back Britain’s young

Clever people often believe that their cleverness gives them the right to control other people. Nowhere is this more manifest than in nanny state Britain.  So fixated was Public Health England on shielding us from our own bad decisions that when an infectious disease arrived on our shores the quango was woefully unprepared. Junk food advertising bans were prioritised over protecting us against an epidemic.  And so determined are politicians to insulate us from hardship that they attempt to regulate anything that moves. Arguably the most troubling recent development concerns the tacit raising of the age of majority. Since 1969 it has been accepted that we are treated as adults by law

Melanie McDonagh

We need the nanny state to stop gambling ruining men’s lives

My own relationship with the gambling industry is almost entirely framed by horse-racing. If I’m at a race, I’ll put a couple of quid each way on a horse I like the look of with a bookie. If I’m absent from the event, I’ll go for an Irish trainer and a name I like. My family had a weakness for betting on races; my grandmother spent happy hours studying form, and my grandfather had his own stool in the betting shop. As an activity, this does have the possibility you can lose your shirt – and lots of people did and do. But it’s a world – a whole world

In defence of having a flutter

It was the end of May 1983, half term week. I was meant to be revising for my O-levels, which were to begin the following Monday, but instead was mooching around town, a teenager ready to be led astray. And when I bumped into a couple of similarly unfocused classmates, that’s exactly what happened.  Instead of studying, they’d been seduced by gambling – specifically, betting on the horses. And now they were trying to seduce me. ‘You’ll love it,’ I was promised as they led me into a Ladbrokes, where the air was thick with fag smoke and booming with racetrack commentary.  They explained the procedure to me – the

Bookies turn on Boris

Betting markets are famously more reliable than pundit prognostications or political polls. Steerpike was intrigued, therefore, to note this morning that bookmakers are now saying that Boris will not be party leader by Tory conference next autumn. On the Betfair exchange overnight, the price has moved towards Boris Johnson being gone by autumn as the favourite outcome. At the same time, 2022 is now evens to be the year in which Boris is replaced in No. 10. The more interesting market, though, is who will replace Johnson as Conservative leader. On Betfair’s Sportsbook, the favourite is Chancellor Rishi Sunak at 2/1. He’s followed by Liz Truss at 7/2 and then the perennially ambitious

Was Deliveroo the most embarrassing flop in City history?

The market emphatically endorsed my negative opinion of the Deliveroo share offer, which bombed from its offer price of 390p to close at 282p before Easter. The biggest London IPO since the commodity giant Glencore went public in 2011 now also stands as the most embarrassing flop in living City memory. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Cazenove, the deal’s bookrunners, must have known it was in jeopardy when they knocked more than a billion off their first indicative valuation after UK institutional investors lined up to say they wouldn’t touch it. But 70,000 Deliveroo app users, having failed to read that signal, bought into the ‘community offer’ — and have

The coup that nearly cost the bookies £10 million

Since coup conspirators nearly won £10 million from the bookies, the sport has divided into two camps. Some grinned and wished good luck to the schemers in their efforts to worst the Old Enemy; others insisted with sober faces that it was a scandal which besmirched racing and diddled honest punters who weren’t in the know. With most racing eyes firmly fixed on the Dublin Racing Festival on 7 February, bookmakers became aware overnight of potentially huge liabilities on three horses in obscure races, each saddled by a different trainer, who had been linked together at long prices in multiple trebles and doubles. Their panic grew as first Fire Away,

Letters: How to repair the Church of England

Save on bishops Sir: The Church of England is once again missing the point if its financial crisis will result in the closure of parish churches and redundancy of clergy (‘Holy relic’, 6 February). Radical action is required, but the focus should be elsewhere. A starting point would be to amalgamate the vast majority of dioceses. Why is East Anglia served by the C of E dioceses of Ely, Norwich, St Edmundsbury and part of Peterborough when the Roman Catholics manage more than adequately with a diocese for East Anglia? Time to unite and benefit from economies of scale. But it should go much further: halve the number of bishops, diocesan and

In defence of gambling

Doing good doesn’t always work out as expected. A regular entering his local pub takes pity on an old lady seemingly fishing with a bent stick and string in a kerbside pool of rain. He invites her in for a drink. As she raises her gin and Dubonnet, he asks amiably: ‘So how many did you catch today?’ ‘You’re the eighth,’ she replies. Imagine another pub scene. As lockdown is relaxed, a customer’s order of three pints of bitter and two G&Ts is refused by the landlord: ‘Sorry, Squire, but according to my government boozometer that takes you over your permitted weekly Alcoholic Spending Limit of £100. You signed for

Born out of suffering: the inspiration of Dostoevsky’s great novels

A death sentence, prison in Siberia, and chronic epilepsy. The death of his young children, a gambling addiction, and possible manic depression. Few writers endure such dark lives or possess such bright creativity as Fyodor Dostoevsky. His incomparable experiences inform many of his novels’ most powerful scenes, from accounts of innocent suffering and crazed revolutionaries to nightmarish epileptic fits. He intended to reflect on his traumatic life by writing a memoir but, aged 59, he died of a pulmonary haemorrhage. In 1867, Dostoevsky had four months to write two novels (which amounted to 752 pages) Noting this literary vacuum, Alex Christofi challenges himself to write a sort of third-person memoir

How I won €160 by mistake

My French friend André speaks perfect English and is the kindest of men. After reading last week about my futile efforts to place a bet on the French state betting terminal in the village bar, he put himself out during the week to have a word with one of the bar staff. He gave her my description and told her to expect me to appear in the bar the following Sunday afternoon in time for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And he drew an assurance from her that she would help me decipher the betting-form multiple-choice hieroglyphics. Or, better still, take a verbal betting instruction over the counter. I

French gambling is a mystery to me

Feeling oddly confident, clairvoyant even, I entered a bar to place a bet on Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I had researched the internet for advice on how to place a bet in France and I knew I wanted to bet on a couplé gagnant, that is to say make a prediction of the first two horses past the post. Feeling almost supernaturally confident, I thought I would follow up with a wilder bet called a trio ordre, adding a third horse from among the outsiders. Because my desire to bet large on a classic horse race was overwhelming, and my conviction that I would win grandiose, I think

Now get off your sofa to help save the arts

Along, cold weekend brought a haul of business news more bad than good. The worst was from aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce, which announced a £5.4 billion half-year loss — adverse currency movements plus a collapse in new orders and engine-repair work — and warned that in the ‘plausible downside scenario’ of an extended slump in global aviation, the company might cease to be a ‘going concern’. That’s a horrendous prospect for what’s left of British engineering. And unlike recent losses on a similar scale at BP, there’s no consolation in terms of long-term repositioning of the business: in short, the fewer jets flying, the grimmer Rolls’s future. As cash runs out,

The dark world of Victorian horse racing

Two hours after showing her father, the Marquess of Anglesey, the wedding dress in which she was to marry the country squire Henry Chaplin, Lady Florence Paget took a carriage to Marshall & Snelgrove’s department store. Leaving by a side entrance, she was escorted to St George’s Church in Hanover Square where she married Harry Hastings, the fourth Marquis of Hastings. They were back at his Leicestershire estate of Donington Hall before her family knew a thing. It was the ultimate Victorian scandal: the stunningly beautiful Lady Florence was known as the Pocket Venus, Harry Hastings was a rakehell addicted to the cheap cheers of those for whom he bought

Excessive gambling is dangerous – a flutter on the horses is not

Sorry is allegedly the hardest word to say — so Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party parliamentary group studying gambling-related harm, scored a significant success recently by extracting apologies from a number of leading gambling-industry executives about the damage caused by their business. Representatives from Paddy Power Betfair, William Hill, Sky Bet and bet365 agreed that their firms hadn’t done enough to tackle problem gambling after Dan Taylor of Flutter Entertainment, Paddy Power Betfair’s parent company, acknowledged: ‘The industry has got things wrong and has caused harm to individuals. We mustn’t forget that.’ It is hard to remember now that we have lottery outlets in almost every newsagent and betting

The turf | 14 March 2019

Encountering a generous-hearted bookmaker is normally as rare an occurrence as finding a picture of the Duchess of Sussex without her hand on the Markle pregnancy bump. All credit, then, to Coral and Betfair and one or two others for their behaviour last Saturday. After a thrillingly close finish to the EBF Matchbook VIP Novices’ handicap hurdle at Sandown Park, the topweight One For Rosie, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, was declared the winner over the public-address system. Since I had backed him at 12–1, a certain amount of undignified jumping up and down ensued over which my racing companion was remarkably forbearing. But as I went to buy him a

The snobs won against the FOBTs

It’s good to see that for all their bickering over Brexit and war of words over austerity, the Tories and Labour are firmly united on one point of view: that the poor must be saved from themselves. That the wretched are incapable of making sensible choices and therefore their betters must step in and make choices on their behalf. Behold the great bipartisan belief of 21st-century British politics: paternalism. How else do we explain the cross-party effort to reduce the maximum bet one can place on a fixed-odds betting terminal — or FOBT — from £100 to £2? The government unveiled this state-mandated reduction in how much of our own

In praise of fixed-odds betting terminals

Racing is an expensive sport to stage. Courses and grandstands have to be maintained, health and safety regulations have to be observed. Human and horse ambulances have to be provided, turnstiles have to be manned and, to maintain the ‘integrity’ of a much gambled-on sport, stables have to be guarded, and photo-finish and race-patrol cameras have to be provided. Recognising this, as they sought to clean up gambling laws in the 1960s, our politicians introduced a rare example of ring-fenced taxation: they sanctioned a levy system on bookmakers to make them responsible for producing a significant contribution to racing’s costs. By 1978 the Gambling Commission was complaining that racing had

How can racing balance its funding structure with the issue of problem gambling?

This is an extract from Robin Oakley’s racing column in this week’s Spectator. You can tell by the tone of the jokes how most occupations are regarded and we’ve all heard the traditional ones about the old enemy. ‘Why don’t sharks attack bookies?’ ‘Professional courtesy’. ‘Why did God invent bookmakers?’ ‘To make used-car salesmen look good.’ ‘Why are bookmakers buried an extra six feet down?’ ‘Because deep down they are very nice people.’ OK, such stories are applied to lawyers too. And journalists. But as a Racing Post headline confirmed last week, bookmakers are under heavy pressure. William Hill has been fined £6.2 million for breaching regulations on social responsibility

The turf | 1 March 2018

You can tell by the tone of the jokes how most occupations are regarded and we’ve all heard the traditional ones about the old enemy. ‘Why don’t sharks attack bookies?’ ‘Professional courtesy’. ‘Why did God invent bookmakers?’ ‘To make used-car salesmen look good.’ ‘Why are bookmakers buried an extra six feet down?’ ‘Because deep down they are very nice people.’ OK, such stories are applied to lawyers too. And journalists. But as a Racing Post headline confirmed last week, bookmakers are under heavy pressure. William Hill has been fined £6.2 million for breaching regulations on social responsibility and on money laundering. For example, it allowed a customer to deposit £541,000

Bad feminist

Molly’s Game marks the directorial debut of Hollywood’s most celebrated screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, and is based on his adaptation of the memoir by Molly Bloom. Nope, me neither, but she’s the one-time Olympic skier who, at the age of 26, started a high-stakes poker game for ‘the richest, the most powerful men in the world’ and ended up with the FBI in her face. Poor Molly, we’re meant to think, when the FBI ends up in her face, but I was delighted. Bang her up! This has been posited as the antidote to all those male-driven, big money Wall Street films, with Sorkin even declaring Ms Bloom a ‘feminist icon’.