Winning Against the Odds: My
Life in Gambling and Politics
by Stuart Wheeler
Wheeler's colourful and varied career means he can
draw on a wide range of stories and anecdotes, which he tells in a
characteristically forthright style. He is very blunt about the weaknesses of
the politicians and business leaders he has met along the way. Wheeler holds
himself to the same standards as this book is a bit like attending a good
after-dinner talk by a speaker who has an interesting story to tell and is
willing to throw caution to the wind.
A life long love of gambling took
Wheeler from a failed law career as a barrister to city trading and then by
chance to set up IG Index, the first sports based index trading company. It was
a grey area of the law but they had a license to trade financials and so no one
questioned the legality. This was a great innovation that nearly ended in
disaster when Black Monday hit on October 19, 1987.
Making trading on
stock market indicies much easier to the general public gained IG many new
semi-wealthy clients who the big boys would not touch with a barge pole.
Unfortunately, in the '87 crash, many of them went long on the DOW Jones
expecting bounce back from Friday's 108pt (5%) fall. Monday saw a 508pt fall,
or 22.6%, the largest one day DJIA fall in history. Unlucky maybe but many
customers had no deposit margin and lost more than they had or were prepared to
pay. The brokers with whom IG had hedged on the other hand did have IG's
deposit and quickly asked for the rest to be paid, a large sum of money IG did
not have. IG then obviously asked its customers to pay the millions they owed
to which came the response, from many a solicitor, that gambling debts were not
enforceable and they would not pay.
Tremdous luck befell IG. Parts of
the new Financial Services Act 1986 had been implemented already which defined
these trades as CFDs, contract-for-differences, and thus enforceable by law. It
was a bad week but bankruptcy was avoided. He did however go on to sell all his
shares after floatation missing a 10 fold increase in the price and hundreds of
millions of pounds.
Fun read with a great back story that covers the
romantic gambling eras of the 1970s and 80s. A book that lends a narative to
parts of the history of gambling. The politics part is covered in the last part
of the book and really is just what happens to people with too much money and
little understanding of the real world.
Hardback: - 288 pages - Quiller Publishing
Ltd (26 Sept. 2019) £14.00
Kindle: - 288 pages - Quiller Publishing Ltd (26
Sept. 2019) £13.30
Dangerous Odds: My Secret Life Inside an Illegal
Billion Dollar Sports Betting Operation
by Marisa Lankester
Marisa Lankester's unique chronicle of
high crimes and low company is as wild a ride as any reader is likely to be
taken on. She was the lone woman in the eye of a predatory hurricane that blew
across continents and devastated countless lives.
memoir describes bookmaking for an illegal international sports-betting
operation. Canadian Lankester, who has been a bookmaker and a model, fell into
bookmaking after arriving in Los Angeles to train for a long-distance driving
competition. When the police shut down Lankester and her boyfriend/boss's
bookmaking operation, the couple moved to his hometown to start over. They
married and had a baby, but owing to continued trouble with the law, moved to
the Dominican Republic to set up an offshore office and started taking bets
anew. Lankester's experience on the island was tumultuous--she spent time in
prison, was raped repeatedly by a corrupt official, evaded the FBI, divorced
and reconciled, nursed her ex-husband after a near-fatal accident, and became a
This is a great read about the world of sports gambling.
Marisa just tells it how it is. Unlike most other gambling books, she stays
away from the bragging or boasting about her criminal life and just tells the
story as is.
390 pages - Cappuccino Books (Aug 2016) £12.60
Kindle: - 405 pages - Cappuccino Books (May 21,
Sporting Chancer: One Man's Journey to Take On the
by Ed Hawkins
classic memoir from a gambling journalist who found himself
A true story from Ed Hawkins told in smooth prose. This is
not a seat of your pants recount of living on the edge, more a quiet and
funny, sometimes rueful, tale of a man bereft of his favoured employment who
sought a challenge. We see him leave the country on a mission to follow the
English cricket team as they play the Ashes in Australia and win money in the
If you don't like cricket it will not be a problem getting in
the way of your enjoyment. If you are looking for serious professional sports
analysis then that might do. However, the charm of the piece is the judgement
style in Ed's betting, the feel punter in the man who mixes very
detailed knowledge with emotional flurries of irrationality. He tries to
emphasize the former whilst being tempted by the later.
Hawkins deviates from the story to launch into a rant or two about how society
and religion view gambling. This isn't unpleasant. He quotes the Prophet from
the Qur'an saying "if they ask you what you should give (gambling for a
gambol), then 'Give what you can spare'". Sound advice indeed. Interpret as you
This memoir is just the right length and ends well with an
adventure into cockfighting. A fun read.
Paperback: - 224 pages - Pitch Publishing
Ltd (1 May 2011) £6.45
Lay the Favourite: A True Story about Playing to
Win in the Gambling Underworld
by Beth Raymer
A fast-paced memoir set in the underworld of sports
A true story of money, sex, glamour and gambling. When Beth
Raymer arrived in Las Vegas, her dreams didnt extend beyond getting
herself a job as a cocktail waitress at a casino on the strip. And then she met
Dink, one of the biggest gamblers in town, and found herself seduced by the
adrenalin-fuelled, high risk, high reward world of professional sports betting
and the obsessive, funny, rule-breaking bookies that run the show.
book is an unusual read, mostly compelling, sometimes irritating. I liked it
not least because its written from the perspective of a young woman which is
what occasionally makes it irritating. Unlike other memoirs, which I will not
mention, this rings true throughout, from New York to Vegas and the
You as the reader don't learn much about bookmaking or sports
betting except that it takes a lot of work to be good at it and even then there
are pitfalls that will end most careers eventually. Dangers like the mafia, the
FBI, theft by employees and drug addiction are all here but not treated in an
over dramatic way.
This memoir is just the right length and ends well.
Paperback: - 240 pages -
Yellow Jersey (5 Aug 2010) £8.39
Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything
The biography of Titanic
Thompson recounts a life that is so outlandish you almost couldn't make it
A gambler and hustler who started out in the early twentieth
century, Titanic travelled America playing poker, gambling on golf games and
placing bets on anything he could think of. He married 5 times and murdered 5
men and lived a life so interesting it could quite easily be made into a film.
The stories of his early exploits as a child are a bit Tom Sawyer,
where he hustles people and uses their own greed against them. His later life
show him making bets of such audacity that although highly unscrupulous, you
can't help but be impressed with his ingenuity and bare-faced cheek. Using
sleight of hand, card marking and other scams with various accomplices Titanic
made vast sums of money from things like games of poker, betting on golf games
and how many melons may be in a lorry he sees drive past, to tossing a
(secretly weighted) bottle cap over a block in distance.
portrays Titanic as a ruthless gambler and yet at the same time gentlemanly and
generous and it's a wonder he hasn't been heard of more often. Other reviewers
on Amazon have noted this book has an almost tabloid quality to the writing and
whilst I agree it doesn't have a great deal of depth and skims over some
details (like his brief time in jail), the writing style allows you to fly
through this in no time and you get caught up in the chicanery and hustling on
Overall, this is an entertaining and easy read of the life of a
quirky, cunning and fascinating character. Worth taking a punt on and giving it
Paperback: - 256 pages - W.
W. Norton & Co. (21 Jan 2011) £7.99
Repeat Until Rich
by Josh Axelrad
'I was thrown out of my
first casino in spring of 2000. In the years since then I've kept playing and
kept winning, in wigs, under aliases, from behind fake glasses. I've been
chased across casino floors; followed outdoors by crazed goons with drawn
weapons; pursued in a car at high speeds; and, placed wrongfully under arrest.
Casinos continue to provide my entire income, along with free rooms, Champagne,
and, most important, a mission in life. The heat, this business of getting
thrown out, hasn't kept me away from the action at all; it's the very force
that keeps me coming back'.
"Repeat Until Rich" is the hotly awaited
true adventure of how an average Joe in a dead-end spreadsheet job took to the
road as a member of a blackjack card-counting gang taking millions of dollars
from casinos across the US. Josh was an Ivy League graduate who grudgingly
started a regular life before a chance meeting at a party changed his life
forever. This is a brilliantly written memoir first and gambling book second -
a universal tale of an everyday guy's unexpected exit into a mysterious and
dangerous underworld from which there's no going back. It is a story about
finding meaning in a crazed ongoing battle far from the dull and comfortable
confines of the 9 to 5 world.
Paperback - 320
pages (22 April 2010)
it All Go Right?
by Al Alvarez
Poker player, novelist, critic, rock-climber, failed suicide--Al
Alvarez is a man of many parts and they are all presented here with endearing
candour. He records that "my first 30 years were purgatory"--but that in
retrospect, the next 40 were so blissfully happy as to seem almost uneventful
in comparison. So the greater part of this autobiography is occupied with those
first 30, storm-tossed years.
It starts in pre-war London, studying the
different strands of the British Jewish community. His mother and father both
came from very different families, and he writes about the trials of their
troubled relationship. He then carries on the story to school, and his early
love of poetry, rugger and boxing. Then he goes to Oxford, where he becomes
disinterested in the petty arguements of academia.
Then comes an endless
list of anecdotes about all of the key poets in the 1950s and 60s (whilst Al
worked in America and as poetry editor of the Observer). Each person comes to
life through Al's witty, insightful writing.
Alvarez lived and worked
around some very interesting famous people, and here he dishes the dirt, and
some praise too.
Paperback - 400 pages -
Bloomsbury Publishing (18 Mar 2002) £8.99