During the course of the afternoon Banks watched six races—the customary number at an English track—all of them with the same enigmatic composure. When the day ended, he had quite a few pounds in hand and Gordon drove him home to Sunningdale; on other, busier days, he might have flown off to work at a night meeting. "He's very good about coming home, though," Anne-Marie had said. "Sometimes he does not get here till the wee hours, but he always comes."
On this afternoon, given the late fall of night in England in the summer, he had time for a set of tennis on his court. He plays tennis industriously and well enough, the same way he plays the baby-grand piano in the big living room.
On the music rack of the piano were "Beringer's School of Easy Classics," "The 100 Best Short Classics" and "Classic and Romantic Selections for the Piano."
"I don't play those," Banks said. "My daughter does. She is a very fine pianist. Me, I can only play by ear. I picked it up as a lad when my brother was taking lessons."
He was pleased with his take at the track and knew that the 27 betting shops he owns in Glasgow probably had a good day, too. "The betting shops make money relentlessly," he said. "The other bookies do not like it when I say things like that. The first time I said that a betting shop was a license to manufacture money, they all fell on me in a rage and declared that it was absolute rubbish. But it is true."
A bookie like Banks makes money, not by the built-in advantage of the vigorish which an American bookie has, but by skill and the ability to balance his books in the continuing hurly-burly of the betting ring. "To be a good bookmaker and a successful one," Banks said, "you must know the business from A to Zed. Me, I know it from A to Zed and from Zed to A. I know it well enough to make money betting with other bookies. I should say that I clear well over $50,000 a year just by betting myself."
Since betting winnings are not liable to income tax in Britain, that represents a great deal of money. But Banks' income is much vaster; he pays some $200,000 in personal income tax.
"The bets I make, I make personally," he said with relish, his blue eyes bright and happy. "It's my split-second judgment against the professionals. And I have a great deal more information than the punter at the track. I have two telephones here in the house, one for my regular business and the other I'll not tell you about, but I get information from all over England. My telephone bill for the house—not for my office in Glasgow, mind you, but here in Sunningdale—was $1,125 for the first three months of this year. I know what I'm doing when I lay a few bob."
If he feels that the race is such an open one that everyone knows as much about it as he does, he does not bet. "I have myself a cup of coffee," he said.
In the last 10 years Banks has built an enormous following among the inveterate punters of England; certainly, although he is a pygmy among the giants of English bookmaking, he is easily the best-known bookie in the land. "I make news," he said comfortably. "I am one of the small group in racing, people like Lester Piggott [ England's Willie Shoemaker] who make news each time they sneeze. And I like to give reporters a story when they're casting about for something to write. Yesterday one of them asked me about odds on the Epsom Derby and I told him I was making book on which horse would finish last. Now that will be splashed about in the papers today and I'll have more than a few quid on the books on last place." He did have considerable money wagered on last place; it helped defray the bad day he had at Epsom when the overwhelming favorite, Mill Reef, won the race, contributing to a rare losing afternoon for Banks.