My step-grandfather Foster Morris - always known as Jock - was roguish. He loved the ambience of pubs and the amber nectar that was served therein and he also loved nipping into betting shops to try his luck on the horses. Ultimately, this is what fractured his marriage with my grandmother Phyllis. They parted when they were both in their early eighties. He returned to his native Newcastle to see out his days in a little council flat.
Back then betting shops were seedy, mysterious places - generally frowned upon by sensible, respectable society. Logic says that the bookies will always win in the end so the men who ventured into these places were largely seen as desperate fellows, fooling themselves into thinking that success in the betting shop could be an alternative to wholesome labour.
I was forty years old when I first went into a bookies to place a five pound bet on the Grand National. Furtive eyes assessed me as unhealthy blokes looked up from their racing pages, fags smouldering.. I didn't know what to do but the lady behind the counter explained. I thought to myself - you sad gits! There's an obvious correlation between drug addiction and the gambling habit. Gambling also ruins relationships, sucks away finances, breaks up families. I have never returned.
But today things are different. Gambling opportunities are everywhere. There are jolly TV ads for online gambling sites. Football teams may be sponsored by these organisations which are very cunning about drawing in gullible young people with promises of free bets and incentives to open accounts. It is amazing and concerning to me that our government seems to have turned a blind eye to this activity as gambling has come out from behind the closed betting shop door, putting on an inappropriate mantle of acceptability.
There's BetFred, Bet365, Coral, William Hill, BetVictor, Sky Bet, Totesport, Come On!, Ladbrokes, BetFair, Betdaq etc. etc.. Free enterprise is all very well and good - to our current "coalition" government it is in fact something of a religious mantra - but governments have responsibility to protect citizens from themselves. Betting has come out of the closet in various grinning guises but in my opinion it should be forced back into that closet. I mean, politicians and their officers have curtailed cigarette smoking and alcohol advertising, railed against drugs and those who peddle them, pursued paedophiles and people traffickers but they have allowed gambling to grow, as if it was okay. I bet it's not.