October 27, 2007 3:00 am
First Person - Balthazar Fabricius
Losing £50,000 was a tough way to discover that being a bookmaker was definitely what I wanted to do, but it played a big part in getting me where I am now.
It was a hot August afternoon; I was a graduate intern at one of the big bookies, and we had taken a box at the Oval for the final test match between England and Australia. During the lunch interval one of our clients took me across the ground to introduce me to his brother.
He told them who I worked for and that I would give odds on almost anything ' and then his brother piped up and asked me what I'd give him on Australia not reaching England's first innings total.
At that point in the game Australia were only 24 runs short and had four wickets in hand. Shane Warne was at the crease, and had looked in fine touch for most of the series. They couldn't lose. Thinking no one would ever be stupid enough to place the bet, I gave him 100/1.
Just as I was leaving to go back to my own box one of the guys said, 'I'll give you a monkey [£500] at those odds'.
I knew my company would never take a bet of that kind, but I wasn't going to say, 'don't be ridiculous.' You want gambling to be fun. I took it on as a personal bet. As a bookmaker, those are the kind of bets you want to take day in, day out. The odds in my favour were overwhelming; I had to go with it.
But in the time it took me to walk back to my box, the ever-reliable Warne had played a loose shot that was caught at mid-on, and was out for nought. The collapse was on. I could see the guy I'd taken the bet from with his friends jumping up and down and celebrating. So that was that, I was in for £50,000. It was very unfortunate ' not the best afternoon of my life. A man pays his debts so I paid my way. I had an absolute shocker.
Yet that's when I knew that I wanted to set up an old-fashioned bookmaker based on the old-school, grassroots principles of turf accountancy. All of them had started as credit offices based in Mayfair looking after the gentry, the aristocracy and the racehorse owners. Then they grew and grew into the corporate monoliths they are today.
I don't think gambling is elitist ' you've got some people betting a couple of quid in the bookies and someone else sticking £50,000 on something ' but I do think that all sports have their elite and I wanted to offer a high level of service, value and discretion, allowing punters to put on the stake they wanted.
I struck my first bet at last year's Cheltenham festival ' £5,000 to win on Nicanor at 10/1. It won, so I was down £50,000, yet I haven't looked back.
I'll take a bet on anything, politics, the Oscars, Strictly Come Dancing, whatever the customer wants really.
We take as big a stake as the client wants to make. I see myself as a luxury goods provider who happens to specialise in the bookmaking industry.
I've taken a few £100,000 bets. One on a horse, some on tennis. Some of them won, some of them lost.
My motto is 'I like getting into hot water, it keeps me clean'. It's spineless to turn round and say you don't want to quote a price. Come on, what are you there for? Being a bookmaker is about taking the risk and playing the odds in your favour, but you have to accept that you don't always win.
I've made plenty of bad calls since my afternoon at the Oval. We've got plenty of people who win off us. Recently I gave a customer 9/1 on a football match ' he put on £50,000 and I paid out £450,000. But you learn to enjoy losing. It's what the business is about, and what the punter bets for. You dust yourself off and start again. You have to help clients celebrate big wins. You take it on the chin.
That's the game.
As told to Ed Hammond.
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