The BBC have screened 3 episodes of “Britain At The Bookies”, a series pitched as “a documentary examining the winners and losers in Britain’s gambling revolution”. In the considered view of The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning, the segments concerning the machinations of wagering monolith Coral, “suggest the purpose of this documentary is not to present those in the industry as ruthlessly cold-blooded shysters obsessed with parting impressionable fools from their money, if anything it ventures too far the other way.”
With a couple of exceptions, almost all involved in the programme come across as preposterously optimistic and likable people, whether it’s, as one Huddersfield-based betting shop punter points out, “them trying to take our money or us trying to take theirs”.
“The vast majority of people bet for fun and have control over the money they spend,” says Simon Clare, Coral’s head of PR and a man this column personally knows to be a genuinely good egg. “The sad thing is that there are a vulnerable minority who don’t and we recognise that.”
Of course while recognising this vulnerable, hopelessly addicted minority and doing anything to help or protect them are two completely separate issues, during the making of Britain At The Bookies the four big chains did take out newspaper advertisements responding to “public concerns about the betting industry”. Discussing the advert in his Huddersfield branch, Tony Kendall, a more cheerful soul than any betting shop manager with 20 years’ experience has any right to be, considers whether it merely constitutes window dressing.
“We’re a decent company that are responsible,” he says. “So no, I don’t think they’re doing it to look good. I think they’re genuinely doing it because they want people to be in control.” With impeccable timing, his closing sentiment is rendered almost inaudible by the raucous effing and jeffing of a couple of punters roaring home a horse on a television screen just out of shot. Tony smiles. The horse loses.