Guys who love gambling sum up the crisis in modern masculinity
That acca probably won’t get you laid bro
Most gamblers lose.
If you want this confirmed, walk into the nearest betting shop. There you’ll find the bottom of life starkness, the texture of absolute sadness that comes along with consistent, unbroken loss.
Defined by shit accas and the desperation of keeping something, anything, that we can understand and cherish that isn’t tainted by women having mainstream accas, boys who gamble paint a sad picture of modern masculinity. One girl told me: “When I hear boys talk about their accas I can feel my ovaries literally shrivel inside me”. It’s pretty much that.
Human wreckage staring out from behind a tatty copy of the Racing Post isn’t what betting companies want anyone to think about. Rather than a lonely, obsessive, bedroom-dwelling activity or a landscape roamed by sad old men, betting is presented like this:
The Ladbrokes life is a life defined by a lack of seriousness and a lack of confidence in the future. There is nothing beyond the next accumulator. It’s a life that’s painfully clichéd and easy to describe. Clearly the only thing that’s changed for Ladbrokes’ ideal customer since Hard-Fi released Living for the Weekend in 2005 is the lads trading in Carling for Camden.
I spoke to three gamblers about why they do what they do. What they reveal is a tension at the heart of their hobby. Do they do it for fun or do they do it because they think they can make a profit?
James is a student at the University of Bristol. He mainly bets on football.
“My first bet was a goals galore bet. It means you bet on both teams to score. I think I did a six-fold accumulator and I didn’t win. The reason I started was because of my friends. One of my closest mates was two years above me at school. When I was 16 and he was 18 we’d both watch the footy on the weekend. He’d always be sticking money on it and I always wanted to.
“It’s a social thing for me. I’d never claim I make money off it or anything, although I reckon I probably break even. It’s fun, it’s a laugh, something to make Saturday afternoon more interesting.
“The main thing I’ve taken from gambling is a greater knowledge of football. Before I started betting I knew my team (Arsenal) and I knew the Premier League but not much else about the game. Now it comes to Saturday: you’re watching the early kick off, the pick of the 3pms and then the late kick-off. I’ll watch European matches as well.
“It definitely makes games you wouldn’t really care become interest. It really does matter more when there’s money on it.
James doesn’t believe in high stakes although he does dabble in matched betting.
“I’d never put a £100 on a bet. The most I’ve ever put on an accumulator is a tenner. It was only a double and it only returned £40. That’s pretty rare for me though. If there are weekend fixtures I’ll put a fiver on them. With mid-week games it probably comes to about a tenner a week.
“I know people who have higher limits than me. They’ve placed bets where I think “Christ, I’d never put that on.” My wins usually just about cover my bets until my next wins. Some people will put on bets with ridiculously long odds or ones where the stakes are just much higher. It’s a level up.
“I see it as: the more you put in, the more you stand to lose.”
I asked James whether he see’s betting as something inherently male-orientated.
“In some ways yes. I don’t betting on football is similar to other forms of gambling though. I don’t bet on the horses or online roulette. Then again when you’re out with your mates and it’s coming to the end of the night, you’re drunk, you want to keep it going, you may well end up down the casino. That is a lad culture type thing. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing.
“You can never predict football. Over time you do build up enough experience to know what matches to avoid. Then again you get results like Newcastle beating Man City away last season which no one expected.
“There are certain markets like competitive internationals and the Europa League where you look at the matches and you can pick out the result.”
John graduated from a Russell Group university this summer. He now works for a top accounting company in London. He used to bet regularly on football, horses and in casinos but he’s drifted away from gambling.
“I can’t remember my first bet. I guess when you’re younger it gets to the weekend and a few of the boys want to bet, a couple of quid here and there, trying to win big on accumulators.
“As long as you keep it at that you’re fine. If you go into it looking to make a profit, going from five small bets to one big one, that’s when you start losing more. I’ve gone in to make a profit a few times, not wild accumulators but proper bets. Gambling to make money instead of gambling for fun.
“I think there’s a huge difference between the two things. The proper stuff is dangerous. You start thinking about losing £25 or £50 the next time you bet, whereas the small fun £2 bets you don’t remember. The more you stake the stake always seems less than it is and the winnings seem less than they are.
“Betting does add excitement to the game. You care more about West Brom if you have money on them. It’s like a form of fantasy football where you have a chance to win money as well.
I put it to John that he might have had moments during his time gambling where he questioned whether it was necessary. Betting on football isn’t an activity that’s going to get you a girlfriend is it?
“It really is just a mugs game. If you keep it casual, small, bets with the boys while Soccer Saturday is on the background, that’s OK. A couple of quid while Matt le Tissier waits for the goals to come in is fine. But if it’s a Tuesday evening and you’re betting by yourself then it’s getting to the stage where it’s become sad.”
Charles started placing bets when he was 18-years-old. After university he worked in Ladbrokes for three months while waiting for a grad job. After that he gambled full-time in a personal capacity and as a runner for others. He now works for a brokerage. He mainly bets on horses.
“I used to place the odd bet here and there while I was at uni but nothing too serious. I met people who were involved with horse racing, started to follow them, started to get an understanding of the sport.
“From there you get into the Racing Post and so on. You learn that horse racing is all about finding an edge. I started posting my tips as Facebook status’. Before long a guy messaged me about my tips and invited me onto his system.
“It worked like this: you’d back horses every day, sometimes by the dozen – 80 horses in a day – that kind of thing. You’d put the same stake on every horse. It was all about beating the starting price. Say I get on a 20/1 shot and it goes off 5/1, the bookmakers going to be behind and I continuously beat that price, well the bookmakers got no chance.”
Charles used the system for 18 months and won quite a lot of money. In that time he felt like he became a better judge of horses. He’s also made large sums placing bets for other people.
“One of the coolest things I ever did was placing £80,000 in cash on the Masters. I can’t go into it too much but let’s say we covered a lot of the field, bet on 200/1 shots and the like. We had a very good time.
“Gambling’s taken me all over the world, to places like Thailand. That’s not to say it’s a way of life, it has been in the past but I no longer do it full-time. You have so many ups and downs. It’s stressful.
“When I did my own bets, sums of £5,000 or £6,000 a day, or higher than that, up to £13,000. A horse race takes about two minutes and whatever happens you are getting this enormous adrenaline spike a few times a day. I think I’ve seen everything in horseracing now.
“It’s not rocket science to work out what’s going to win. It’s right in front of your face if you know where to look. Most people don’t though. The house doesn’t always win.
“If people were more educated they’d only bet on horses. All you need to do is back the horses with shortening odds – that’s it. It’s a type of educated guessing. Do it over time and you’ll make money.
“One of the biggest bets I ever placed was a £6,000 acca, five-fold £6,000 acca returned £120,000. It was a couple of football bets, a couple of golfers. It all came in. That one wasn’t for me but I did get a cut of it.
“I do a lot less gambling now. It became too stressful for me. I started betting in 2013. Last summer was the third summer I did it properly and I’ve made around £110,000 – £120,000. The problem with having all that money is spending it all on nights out. It gets wild.
“I sunk £13,000 into a night out once. I bought two bottles of Ace of Spades, champagne, the works. When you have more money it changes the way you go out, from the £40 – £50 range to the £400 – £500 range. You want to find that next level.
Charles isn’t overly enthused or particularly damning about gambling in general.
“I’ve got friends who have lost fortunes on FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals). I tell my mates not to play the machines because it’s so much harder to know when to stop on them. I once lost £300 on one and I’ve touched one since.”
Betting is a “team sport” for men who never grow up, have children, get a mortgage, get a job which isn’t shit. Along with pints, it’s there to wash away the anguish of not having a girlfriend, of not fulfilling the grandiose demands of one’s ego makes.
And what’s strange about this is that it isn’t even such a bad thing. Men want to prove they can beat the odds and pick a winner – it’s a classic test of strength – one of the few left in a society where men’s strength is usually something to roll the eyes at.
For a generation of restless men with perpetually unsatisfied desires, gambling is an outlet: a way to access adrenaline without murdering anyone, another thing to “chat shit” about with mates on a Saturday.
For guys like Charles gambling becomes an overpowering, life-altering intoxicant. It’s hard to read John’s story without a flash of recognition and a shrug.
Yeah it’s immature to bet on the Europa League every week. But at the same time when have we asked our 21-year-old men for anything other than immaturity? It’s easier to live for yourself and in the moment through a weekly flutter than it is to take responsibility.