When did long shots coming in stop being confined to a steeplechase with multiple fallers or giant killings in the FA Cup? Now bookmakers are faced with the glory of Leicester City (at the time of writing) defying 5000/1 odds and winning the Premier League in what will be for most odds compilers time to crack open the bubbly at the demise of the 16 Premier League teams who went off at a shorter price than them in August.
Whilst football (and indeed horse racing on a smaller scale) carries significant importance to the lives of supporters and punters alike, it is an almost entirely passive event that supporters and bettors, individually and collectively, have little control on the outcome of a match or league season – if you can look past fanatical support, empty stands and (cough) fixing.
Historically, one might argue that politics in the democratic world has been as passive a series of events. “My vote doesn’t matter – the government still gets in” is an age old quip that the voluntarily disenfranchised collective have all too often spewed – so much so that the betting markets were wholly dispassionate and generally predictable. A dismal show, all told.
No more. Cue stage (very) left Jeremy Corbyn – originally a 100/1 shot in a 4 horse Labour leadership race – riding the coat tails of the discontented all the way to the dispatch box opposite the Prime Minister. A veteran, rebel bank bench MP with views and a dress sense that seemed to belong in a bygone era of Commons smoke and sepia somehow managing to galvanise Labour party members so disillusioned with the pitiful ebbing away of New Labour and the nothingness of Ed Miliband. A collective FU to the Parliamentary establishment was sworn in.
Of course, Corbyn’s rise was heavily backed by the trade unions in the UK – dare I say that a few Union leaders may have backed him at the bookies too – a vital injection to any Labour party leadership campaign as Ed Miliband would testify. On top of that, his current approval rating looks disastrous, so on Corbyn alone, one could make a case against a seismic change unsettling the political elite and label it a unique, but undeserved virtuoso enactment.
Cue stage (very) right (whisper his name very quietly) Donald Trump. Trump has blustered up a tornado of a disenfranchised, disgruntled, distanced demographic that nobody running the odds at a bookmaker or running polls at GOP HQ, even knew existed – and he’s supposedly done it off his own somewhat wealthy back. His authoritarian appeal has completely removed the traditional Republican voting audiences from their VIP seats and installed a whole new group of people with altogether different motives for being present come voting night.
150/1 was Trump’s odds on becoming Republican candidate in 2014. This was in spite of the Republican party having Mitt Romney bend over to secure Trump’s support in 2012, so much an importance they placed on the Trump megaphone to secure votes and Trump’s flirting with running for office in the past. That price has of course come in somewhat when Trump declared his intent to run, but William Hill have confirmed that by far their current biggest loss maker in political betting was Trump winning the Grand Old Party nomination.
As much as I’d love to continue to examine quite how a proto-fascist can garner so much support in such as supposedly progressive democracy as the US, my point must focus on how bookmakers have now twice been caught out in misreading public opinion from a price perspective. Good news for those that caught the whiff of Corbyn and Trump from afar and covered their noses with cold hard cash, but the worries for the industry extend beyond paying out the big winners.
Gambling’s trepid lifelong duel with public opinion regularly invites much unwanted front page headlines, never more so than in the past 10 years as we as an industry have hit the mainstream and especially in the UK. In late February 2016, The Guardian ran an article with the headline “Paddy Power ‘encouraged gambler until he lost his home, jobs and family”’– news that is impossible to ignore no matter your position on the social standing of gambling. Paddy Power responded in the only way they know how – on the front foot, by launching a series of spoof ads featuring comedian Kayvan Nowak as their apparent ‘Head of Complaints’.
Paddy Power possess the industry’s sabre in the duel with public opinion, whether the rest of us like it or not, and The Guardian’s piece is just another notch on their waterbed post as their reaction testifies. They’ve come close to crossing the decency line many a time – the Oscar Pistorius trial odds another standout example – and that’s all well and good for all of us if we are comfortable knowing where that line is drawn.
There is without a doubt a simmering smorgasbord of political upheaval taking place in the Western world at present – one must only look at the four most heralded democracies of our and our ancestors’ time – Greece, France, the United Kingdom and the United States – to notice the verve behind ranging political concepts we considered all but defunct.
It is only a matter of time before the dynamism behind these movements begins to shift public opinion in all manner of directions which will lead to demand for upheaval on a social scale in anything that ticks a ‘Maybe’ in the Moral or Not checkbox. Gambling, at least in the UK, will likely – largely of its own making – find itself as a frontline barricade and an easy target or scapegoat, depending on where you stand morally, when this happens – plus it’s a thriving industry making plenty of (taxable) money.
Who knows what that will mean for the industry we work in, but bookmakers and gambling operators ought to be increasingly wary of overstepping a mark that is evidently moving faster than their trading teams. That will involve proactive sacrifices to reinforce our position in a changing world. First port of call must surely be the demise of the FOBT.
This article appeared in Gambling Insider Magazine