A betting shop is a license to manufacture money," said the man with long orange hair, red face and bright blue eyes. "There is no way for anyone but the professionals and the government to make money betting on horses."
You might expect such a statement from a Baptist minister or an official of Gamblers Anonymous, the betting equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous, but in fact it came from John Banks, a young Scot who is one of the biggest individual bookmakers in England and easily the most controversial.
He was sitting in the living room of his new $150,000 home in Sunningdale, a town southwest of London in the brokers' belt. The seven-bedroom house came with four acres of manicured English gardens, heated swimming pool, tennis court and nine-hole putting green.
"Aye, lad, I mean that," Banks went on, looking around the big room, which is furnished in antique splendor. "You don't think I bought this place by diggin' ditches, do you? It's the punters who have bought it for me and I tell them so. They like for a bookmaker to be honest with them. I keep telling the public this and there's no harm in telling them. They love me for it and I have become the most popular book ever in the history of gambling."
Modesty is not one of Banks' more notable virtues.
"I wouldn't want you to think me immodest," he went on. "I think of myself as realistic. Bookmaking is show business and that's how I play it. You have to put yourself in the public eye and I do that."
He paused to answer the telephone and listened briefly.
"Come up in the morning," he said. "My man will meet you at the Sunningdale station. You will recognize him because he will be driving a gold Rolls-Royce." John Banks also owns a blue Mercedes and his own airplane. He put down the phone and took a sip of black coffee.
"Last night, for instance, I was at the track working in Tattersalls, and the other books had the favorite in a race odds on and I went even. I was taking in money hand over fist and all the time I was saying to the public, 'You're mad, that horse can't win. I've got a pipeline from my satchel to the bank in Sunningdale. Let's keep it flowing." And when the horse got beat, they were not mad at me. They liked me for being honest with them. They don't like it when the book pulls a long face and bewails the fact that he's losing money because they know it is not true. A bookmaker who does not make money should be certified. He must be daft."
Whatever he is, John Banks is not daft. He was raised in the tenement district of Glasgow, where his father was a painter and sprayer and, of course, a punter. Banks' home was not an impoverished one, but he was not raised in the lap of luxury either. He developed his interest in betting early on.