Gambling & being free to make bad decisions

There are commonly used measures for freedom and liberty – freedom of speech, freedom of press, access to education etc.
I hold a personal view on what freedom is, that may surprise or offend some. And that is, the freedom to make bad decisions.

Where I grew up (the UK), gambling is legal and tax free. Betting on the horses has kept Brits entertained for hundreds of years. The betting landscape has developed over time the UK now enjoys tax free spread betting on financial markets as well as sports as well as access to transparent betting exchanges. Gambling is baked into the history and culture of where I am from, so I took it for granted and didn’t think much of it.

It first came to my attention how restrictive the rules around gambling can be elsewhere in the world in 2010. I was in a taxi, in Bangkok, Thailand, talking with the driver about a wager he had on the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which was currently underway in South Africa. This guy had ~£10 on Portugal to win the tournament with even odds, ie. if Portugal won the tournament he would get a £20 payout. Now, I can’t remember the odds I could have gotten for that position at the time but currently, I can get odds from one of the big UK bookies on Portugal to win the 2022 World Cup of 33/1. Even the favourites, France, are at 7/1. So, when I was in this taxi in Thailand hearing about this driver’s wager, I wondered to myself, how did he manage to get such unfavourable odds?

It turns out that gambling is illegal in Thailand (except the government sanctioned lottery, but that’s another story). Despite this illegality, gambling on the football remains popular. During the World Cup I would see on the news, police successfully disrupting underground betting shops, bringing the shady bookmakers out in handcuffs to dramatic music and movie style camera panning shots. They were making a big show about catching these guys and the message was clear to any would-be-bettor, don’t.

So the poor taxi driver had probably had to go to some dodgy back-street underground betting shop to have his flutter on the World Cup, having to take highly unfavourable odds, with a ‘betting shop’ that may not even exist when he goes back to claim his winnings (Portugal didn’t win the world cup anyway). My guess is that this is not a rare experience world-wide, with a good portion of the world living in states that are overzealous in their efforts to protect their citizens from the ‘evils’ of gambling.

The administrations that implement these restrictive/draconian rules do so with the best intentions, that is, to protect their people from themselves and their bad decision making, because it could be said that betting on Portugal to win the World Cup at that stage, with those odds, was a terrible decision. The implied probability of evens is that there is a 50% chance of realising that outcome. So in this case, it was implied that Portugal had a 50% chance of winning the cup and that 50% chance was given to all the other teams combined, a ridiculous proposition. Maybe he hadn’t calculated the implied odds, maybe he didn’t care and only wanted a bit of fun. Even if just for fun, I would assume, like in all purchases, he would have wanted value.

I am in favour of a more informed bet. If the odds are not in your favour, don’t bet. If a slot machine clearly states that it takes 20% of all monies put in, don’t put any in.
There are pitfalls in gambling, and the betting shop slopes are greased up to direct you into these pits but there is also opportunities to take advantage of.
There are tools, methods and ways becoming more informed in taking and placing wagers, and that’s what explore in more depth in these pages.