Losing bets

Apr 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Ireland

An estate agent’s board stares mockingly down the road, “Ready to go sites with full planning permission for three stunning detached houses”.

Walking the dogs on an evening when Iceland’s name is associated with volcanoes rather than banks, the board seemed like a torn up slip on the floor of a betting office, or a discarded ticket at the foot of a bookmaker’s racecourse pitch.  It was a reminder of a bet that has gone badly wrong.

Memories again surfaced of a television play; perhaps a BBC Play for Today or something from the days when ITV did drama.  It was from the late 1960s, it couldn’t have been much later because Britain went decimal in February 1971.

An older man comes into a betting office.  A couple of shillings in his pocket – he is looking for someone to lend him the eighteen shillings he needs with which to buy his grandson a train.  He decides to place a bet on a horse, which wins; then the winnings are placed on another horse; and then the accumulated sum is placed as another bet.  He continues the winning run, each time being exhorted not to place the full amount, until his winnings stand at £10,000, which he places on a dead cert, which loses, and every penny is gone.  At the end the bookmaker offers him the eighteen shillings he needs to buy the train.  It was a piece of adult drama that had a profound effect upon a childhood mind, for it is recalled again and again.

No-one would be stupid enough to lose everything in a single bet, would they?

Ireland has lost its new found wealth betting on property.  Half finished estates dot the country; half empty developments are mocked by the overblown descriptions on the billboards announcing properties for sale.  Did even the bankers, and their paid economic experts who repeatedly declared in the media that ‘nothing could go wrong’, believe that the price curve could rise forever? Questions raised were treated as heresy; dissenting voices were described as people who knew nothing.  It turned out that the ‘know nothings’ were working all along for the financial institutions.

Ireland has lost years of what might have been a good future in a single disastrous bet on the property market. Like the man who had come into the betting shop looking for eighteen shillings; there was not the wisdom to invest the money in different ways.  In 2006, David McWilliams warned us on RTE television that apart from the growth in the property market, there was not a lot happening in the economy; but we carried on pouring money into bets on an old steeplechaser that finally came up against one fence too many.

Maybe we have eighteen shillings left, but even that is going to be spent on further losing bets on NAMA property. We persist in the belief that one day one win will recoup our losses.  Look at the losing slips on the floor; look at the pathetic cry of the agents’ boards..

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  1. Nice one Ian. I’m afraid that Ireland is a largely a nation of inveterate gamblers and there is some in-built genetic trait that drives many, many people to look for something for nothing. What, for example is the point of the horse-racing industry other than to make book-makers rich? Every day the results feature on the sports news as if they were of some importance and Saturday afternoons the media is awash with commentary. What of the Lotto? Did you see the amount of money that was being spent and the rate at which it was being handed over yesterday? The organisers know all too well that distributing that amount among more people would not generate the same sales so they continue not to put a ceiling on any prize. More greed.
    Contracts for difference anyone? “Yeah put me down for a few million, I ‘ve got loads” says one Mr S. Fittzpatrick who “isn’t a gambler at all. He likes nothing more than a quiet game of cards in his local pub on a Friday night.” “Oh and throw in a few bank shares while you’re at it.” Nobody would decry investing in businesses but when people buy for speculation rather than investment they deserve to lose and if they can’t afford it, tough!
    AMuch of this downhill slide began in this country in the mid 60s when AIB was formed and the gentlemen of decency and integrity who ran the financial institutions in this country were replaced with shysters intent on lining their own pockets. AIB have hardly been out of the financial scandal headlines since and a new generation of incompetents is now running the show. Matthew Elderfield will do something in the short term but once his contract expires, the gambling habit, suppressed for five years, will be out of the traps quicker than a greyhound. Remember, you heard it here first.

  2. We didn’t suffer quite so badly but I still know people who are certain property is a good bet. It’s not. Unless you own it, keep it and wait a very long time to realise it. We used to advise clients to diversify their investments but there was always the client who ha a couple of rental houses and swore property made them a better return. He forgot the costs involved! I’m putting my money on the lottery!

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