For one reason or another…No, let’s start again. For the reason that I needed some cash I got a job in a Canterbury bookmaker’s shop.
It was a revelation not least for the fact that the main reason bookies came into existence in the first was to take bets on horse races.
But as I learned on my induction with Betfred, it’s the machines which bring in the dough.
I was told that fixed odds betting terminals accounted for more than 80% of the company’s entire business.
It’s easy to see why. And from sitting in that shop, it’s easy to see why the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is today recommending a limit of £30 for the maximum stake.
At present hardcore gamblers can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games like roulette, slots and blackjack.
People lose thousands. One gambler admitted to blowing £1,500 in a day.
As soon as I arrived at the Betfred shop in Canterbury High Street, I was told by a colleague that its machines would be in use almost all of the day.
They were. The first people to play on them turned up at 8.30am and by about 11am all the machines were in use.
Such is their popularity that gamblers are quite content to hang around for hours waiting to play. They just sit and watch.
One guy, well-dressed and with a thick eastern European accent, sat for three hours to get on one. I was told he gambled thousands and to always make him a drink should he want one.
A screen behind the counter keeps track of the time and money players spend at the machines. On my first day it showed that a guy had put £1,100 in over two hours. He won nearly £1,000 back so it wasn’t a total catastrophe.
Another bloke in a hi-vis jacket, a popular form of attire in the betting shop, admitted sheepishly that he’d lost £200 and would have to explain to his mum where the money had gone.
But for one Eritrean bloke in his 30s, a loss of £5o was a disaster. I watched as his final spin of the machine was a loser. His head fell. He looked broken. Some of my sympathy for him evaporated when he came back two hours later and started playing again.
I mention the fact that he’s from east Africa because I estimate that around 80% of the Canterbury Betfred’s customers are not English.
The English gamblers, I learned, prefer dogs and horses – as do the Chinese. But for everyone else who goes in there, it’s the fixed odds machines, described as being an electronic variety of crack cocaine.
These things are addictive – and it’s the roulette that appears especially popular. The drug analogy works: players can feel the rush of winning as much as the downer of loss.
As such, it’s no wonder the government is recommending scaling back the stakes. From what I can tell, gamblers will still gamble – just less and with smaller pay-outs.
But there’s no doubt that opposition to its recommendations will come from one direction: the gambling shops themselves who take in upwards of £10,000 a day.
To call these machines lucrative doesn’t do them justice. The reality, as I discovered in my days at the bookie’s, is that they are insanely profitable.