THE KANGAOROO JACK COLUMN

All gambling advertisements in Oz are accompanied by taglines like, ‘Don’t chase your losses; gamble responsibly’. This legal failsafe is about as useful as telling an LSD enthusiast he can pop the dot but should skip the hallucinations. There is no doubt that a segment of the gambling population cannot punt with any semblance of perspicacity, let alone responsibility. One of the inevitable consequences of gambling is the transference of money from the stupid to the clever.

Jonathan Quayle Higgins and I are shameless adherents to this view. Whenever we’ve compared our selections on big race days, we’ve chuckled at the fact that there will be lots of ‘monkey money’ in the betting pools, supplied by day trippers and other punting yahoos who back horses because of lucky names, lucky numbers, or hopelessly flawed judgment.  These mugs can balloon pay-outs by a point or three, and enable JQ and I to get 5-1 on 5-2 shots. God bless these knuckle-brained klutzes.

Still, these once-a-year investors are not the people the ‘gamble responsibly’ ads are aimed at. There is a coterie of addicted punters who actually think they know what they are doing, and steadfastly drain their accounts with misjudged bets. Of course, like the most committed golfing hacks, these people will occasionally have a lucky day. This is fatal. It keeps them coming back to repeat the experience and they fail to factor in that, overall, they are talentless judges and speculators who lose much more than they win. Eventually, hard financial reality comes to bite them and – after years of denial– they realise they are problem gamblers.

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This I know because I have a friend – let’s call him Cy – who makes his living counselling these people. Cy has bag-loads of empathy and a shit load of money. When he bought his second house for a couple of million, he knocked it down and rebuilt it. The clifftop location was what he had been after. The house was an eyesore easily replaced. Cy did not bat an eyelid. He knew that problem gamblers would keep him financially afloat for ever.

Actually, since Cy is a psychiatrist, he spends less time counselling his patients than drugging them. By the time they get to him, they are quivering with self-loathing and holding on to their assets (like wives and kids) by their fingernails. Cy can identify every form of gambling illness, and he has a hot-dot to counter it. These drugs work the opposite way to hallucinogens. They help the troubled wagerers resettle into a climate of sober reality. They calm down, stabilise, re-evaluate their lives, and then call in their financial advisor for a complete re-set. It is the beginning of rehabilitation.

Occasionally, one of them finds the contemplation of life without regular gambling highs to be unliveable. One jumped off the cliff close to where Cy’s house is. He had, Cy believes, no idea that his psychiatrist was only metres away in his now $5 million perch. Cy wept when he heard the news, but told me he doubted he could have talked the chap down, even if he’d known of the drama along the cliff top. Like Amy Winehouse, who could not contemplate life devoid of drugs, the poor punter did not want to live without his weekend bets. When he could no longer afford to indulge his passion, life became meaningless.

History is full of tales of plagued punters. The great novelist, Dostoyevsky, is my favourite case. When he went on gambling binges in various casinos, he would send his second wife, Anna, letters in which he offered grovelling apologies for punting away most of their cash. He would promise never to bet again, told her they’d need to pawn their belongings (again), and then asked her to send money to tide him over until his next masterpiece came out.  Anna’s only consolation was that her husband’s cringeworthy missives were written in zingy Russian. At least the couple went down the toilet on a wave of riveting metaphors and exclamations.

Illogically and pathetically, Dostoyevsky believed he had the power to predict where roulette balls would land. When he practised mentally before starting to bet, he said the ball went exactly where he thought it would go. But when he started playing, this magical foreknowledge dissipated.  He began to PLAC (punt like a c – t).  And punting like a … um … clot, is a dreadful experience. It is akin to strapping oneself to a rock and shouting to the gods, ‘Hey, come snack on my liver, why don’t you?’

Dostoyevsky took 10 years to overcome his obsession.  Some punters never do. ‘Many are masochists who need the gods to keep telling them that they deserve punishment,’ explains Cy. ‘If they kept winning, they’d become totally confused and anxious. It’s important to them that they lose, which is a situation they can handle and which they unconsciously want.

‘The best-case scenario for such punters, if they can’t stop betting, is to lose small. They can then indulge their obsession and receive the expected message from the gods that they deserve to wallow in self-pity. This is their version of fun.’

Does all this self-degradation mean society should step in to curtail gambling, or attempt to identify problem gamblers before they lose too much?  The answer is a resounding ‘no’.  Many of life’s competitive pleasures are risk-laden and it’s up to all of us to take responsibility for our actions. Gambling is an adult pleasure and one must handle its consequences like an adult.

Of course, some punters, like my friend Jeremy, says gambling isn’t the problem – only losing is. That’s true to the extent that one treats gambling on, say, the horses, as an exercise in judgment based on a proper assessment of form. There is a smallish group of people on the planet who are disciplined enough and spry enough to make a constant profit from the punt. One needs intellectual judgment and emotional detachment to make this work. That’s not a common combination.

The other key factor is time to weigh up the form effectively. That’s more of a full-time occupation than a part-time one, and is a luxury in today’s world.

Far better it would be, if you are not one of these people, to invest in the International Racing Club, where consistency is the key and, with more ups than downs, hey have made the profits everyone else brags about, but can’t prove. The IRC now has a profit-and-loss page available on its website, where you can monitor progress. It has been updated with statistics from June to October, 2021, with further and backdated updates to follow. You get to invest in an expert team of judges, have regular runners to shout for, and a ready-made band of fellow owners with whom one can bond and celebrate success.

Members are also directly represented by great trainers and jockeys, the latter wearing famous racing silks which now represent you. Let the IRC team feel the pressure. Your job is simply to congratulate yourself on an intelligent investment, and celebrate victories along with your new partners in passion.

I have asked Cy to comment on this latter punting strategy.  He hasn’t got back to me yet.  No doubt he senses a loss of customers coming on.  And, for all his empathy and love of his fellow-man, I don’t think he’s loving this thinking man’s alternative. -IRC.

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