From the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
Belle Vue is the oldest established greyhound track in the Manchester area, and to an uncritical observer the hundreds of cars parked outside the Stadium on a Saturday evening may convey an impression of working class affluence (whatever that may be!). But many of these punters arriving at dog tracks in their own conveyances are tired, jaded market stall-holders, one-man shopkeepers, commercial travellers and such like seeking a few hours escape from the treadmill of their lives; plus the chance of an easy buck. However, thousands also arrive by Corporation Buses and some even on foot! Old Age Pensioners, men on the dole or so called “social security”, conserving their meagre cash for a bet in an effort to increase their government Poverty Line allowances, but generally managing by decreasing it, to increase their hardship instead, For it is a stupendous feat to leave the track on the winning side, despite such popular bets as . . . taking three of the six dogs and combining them in every possible combination for the Tote Forecast of First arid Second dog past the post; a total of six bets at 2s. each, which is an outlay of 12s. per race.
To the novice, this may appear to be a somewhat easy task, at first sight, of half the field running for the punter, but if the remaining three dogs are added; thirty combinations are totalled, so that the six bets made on three of the dogs, is really a four to one against hazard which is the reason they are defeated so often.
In the atmosphere of a dog track, many punters fail to realise this and curse their bad luck in obtaining the winner on many occasions with this type of bet, but not the second dog.
“Lady Luck”, however is simply a mystical term from the dim and distant superstitious past and, leaving aside the odd case of fixing a race, it is figures and odds of probabilities and possibilities linked with form, going, and fitness which defeats those hopeful punters.
So far in the history of greyhound racing at Belle Vue six* dogs have been the maximum number employed, but plans are in hand to accommodate eight dog races at some future date which will boost the falling tote dividends recently, but not the chances of the punters. For if they persist in taking half the field of eight, they will find that the odds against this type of bet have risen to Nine to Two against them.
Anyone interested in human behaviour has only to visit a dog track to note a change in the behaviour of many punters after a few races have gone by; for, with only a certain number of races left to get out of trouble with their dwindling cash, this leaves scant respect for the etiquette of drawing room manners, as they push and shove into Tote queues, making desperate last minute decisions. And, fearful they may not reach the tote windows before the off, many a female operative at the tote machines gets a volley of curses, (in many cases completely unjustified) for failing to punch yet one more ticket. Generally a physical impossibility because the electrically operated machines are cut off just before the traps open to let, (ironically enough) “Man’s Best Friend” fly around a 500 yard track to relieve him of his hard earned cash. However, as recently the glass fronted enclosures and upholstered seating capacity has been enlarged, some punters caustically refer to this as “the painless extraction method”.
After the last race, suddenly all the hubbub ceases; the bookies shouting the odds, glasses clinking at the bars, loudspeakers blaring forth, music while you lose and the constant, punch, punch of the tote ticket machines. Silently the crowd filters through the gates, and now the sound of footsteps are plainly audible. Out again into the mundane world, the world they have never left! The money jungle of capitalism.
G. R. Russell
*At the opening meeting at Belle Vue in 1926 seven dogs were in fact used, but this was a long time ago and ever since the war at any rate, no more than six have been used.