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Differences Indeed!
by Will Roseff

As a “Brit” I have two objectives when writing pieces for our American cousins. First is to inform you about the betting market over here, and second to comment on the peculiarities, in our eyes, of the American betting market.

Of course, there are lots of differences in language. My chief American trader started talking about “chalk” explaining that “chalk” means favourite, and a “chalk eater” is a favourite backer. For us, the “jolly” is the favourite and “chalk” means rookie or inexperienced, usually as in “chalk jockey.” Before the days of computerised information boards jockeys names would be displayed next to the horse numbers, printed on wooden boards manually aligned with the correct horse number before each race. There were a couple of blank boards on which the names of jockeys would be chalked when the course didn’t have a specially printed board for that jockey. A “chalk” jockey was one who hadn’t had enough rides to warrant a board of his own. My trader couldn’t tell me origin of the American usage of “chalk” as meaning favourite, but perhaps a Gambling Times reader can?

The saddest difference in the American market is the con-tinuing concern about getting paid; how solid are the books? American punters have to win twice, once with their wager and once with their choice of book. Lack of regulation allows all sorts of scallywags to set up as bookmakers, some with no intention of paying and others who run out of money due to incompetence. Ironically, the chief mischief in the American sports betting market is caused by those trying to ban it. If it were properly regulated, the scam books wouldn’t have a chance.

Over here, the punter’s main concern is backing a win-ner. Sure, there have been some bookmaker failures, but the punter can see the evidence of the main bookmakers’ financial strength on the High Street. Betting shop licences are difficult to obtain and relate to the particular premises. To get a new betting shop licence you have to jump all sorts of regulatory hurdles. The result is that they have a value, many in excess of a million dollars each. There are around 8,200 betting shops in UK so bookmaking is a substantial business, important to the British economy. Betting shops have been called “a licence to print money,” but they take some running. With 58 shops and in the midst of launching a new look Internet site, right now the joint is jumpin’ at the head office of bet365. An example of the confidence in the UK bookmaking industry comes from Blue Square, an Internet bookmaker known to have substantial City backing. In July, they reported a futures bet ($831,000) on a cricket championship that would not be settled until the end of September!

Talking of cricket, I was watching a game of your baseball the other night and noticed a striking similarity. Both games involve the batter trying to hit the hell out of the ball, and the bowler/pitcher trying to stop him. I wondered whether the one evolved from the other and did some research. It seems that several founding fathers of the US, including John Adams, were cricket enthusiasts. Like most cricket fans I assume they liked to wager. I’d bet they wouldn’t have stood for this Wire Act nonsense!

This story was first published in the October - November 2002 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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