Horse Racing Hijinks and Casino Chaos (Memories Of)

Horse Racing Hijinks and Casino Chaos (Memories Of) We live in strange times. I can count of one hand the number of occasions I’ve ever seriously talked to anyone about a pandemic, in fact I’ve likely had more conversations about Pantene. Yet here we are, doused in 70% alcohol gel and now all finger wagging experts in the field.

Life on lockdown in a bundle of both good and bad with us performing a balancing act of isolation and contemplation during this difficult time. Hesitant though we are, we’re now all the more aware and appreciative of what we have and of what we may have taken for granted. And in looking to the future, we revisit memories from the past.

It can’t have been a month before the world was turned upside down, that my brothers and I accompanied by our characterful cousins had a break down the coast. It’s something of a family tradition really when we used to go with our Dad decades back. A break away where we leave life’s problems behind, stay in a cheap hotel reminiscent of something Del Boy might stumble upon on a Jolly Boys Outing, and hit the local horse racing track followed by the casino. My brothers,  a decade older than me, have been into horse racing since I popped out of the womb so it’s always good to make memories at the racecourse.

Our local racecourse is in Great Yarmouth and I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been there over the years.  Yarmouth has seen better days, but there’s something to be said for places that are a bit (or a lot) rough around the edges. The racecourse is the jewel in the Yarmouth crown if you will, the hub, and also exactly what you might expect. Exorbitant entry prices, chips and a pint, the Alan Partidge-like commentary of Derek Thompson (who also judges the ‘Ladies Day’ competition… with excessive enthusiasm!) and top class racing. Rituals that make up the day like watching the horses go around the paddock to spot the real contenders, and trying to find the best spot to watch a race, really do add to the day.

We’ve all had decent wins at Yarmouth races over the years, and sometimes on big priced horses too which is always a bonus. If you’ve done your homework and have answers to questions that certainly doesn’t hurt your win rate. My biggest ever win there though, was luck more than skill. An outsider in the final race of the day, the roulette equivalent of a lucky spin of the wheel. The bookmaker was in two mind about even taking the bet as a waltzed up with seconds to spare, but clearly thought it was free money courtesy of a horse had no hope. Of course when I was making my way back towards him minutes later to collect my winnings he may well have been reconsidering his stance. Cheered on by family, these are the memories that stay with you.

The racecourse has a tie-in with the local Grosvenor Casino, a very attractive venue, which was once frequented by royals. You can use your wildly priced racecourse entry ticket for a free bet on the roulette wheel, but more about that in part two…

Casino Lockdown

Casino Lockdown

Kerry Packer

Kerry Packer It would be fair to say that the late Kerry Packer could be described as ‘legendary’, both metaphorically and literally, because it is difficult to know which of the countless tales of his gambling exploits are entirely fictitious and which contain at least a grain of truth. One of the most oft-recounted, and believable, anecdotes of his derring-do at the gaming tables involves an encounter with a Texan, who had made his money in cattle, or oil, depending on whose account you believe, while playing baccarat in Las Vegas in the Nineties. Apparently, when Packer spurned his approach, the Texan boasted that he was a ‘big player’, worth $100 million; in response, Packer said calmly, ‘If you really want to gamble, I’ll flip you for it.’

What is definitely true is that, at the time of his death in 2005, Packer was the richest man in Australia, with a estimated net worth of A$7 billion, or approximately £5 billion by modern standards. Born in Randwick, New South Wales in 1937, Packer became chairman of a media empire, which included Australian Consolidate Press and the Nine Network, following the death of his father, Sir Frank Packer, in 1974. Aside from his business interests, Packer was known as a larger-than-life gambler, prone to turning up a casino at any time of the day or night and playing baccarat or blackjack, several hands at a time, for up to $US150,000 or $US200,000 apiece.

Known as the ‘Prince of Whales’, Packer won, and lost, millions of dollars; so much, in fact, that he could, single-handedly, affect the quarterly earnings reports of the casinos in which he gambled. In 1997, he reportedly won $US26 million playing blackjack at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and, two years later, suffered the biggest loss ever sustained in Britain, £11 million, or $16.5 million, over a three-week period at Crockfords in Mayfair, London. Back in Las Vegas, he also reportedly lost $US20 million playing baccarat at the Bellagio in 2000, followed by another $US29 million at the same venue a year later.

Bog Standard

Bog Standard

Toilet paper is like gold dust nowadays.

Ida Summers

Ida Summers Popularly known as the ‘Vegas Vixen’, Ida Summers was a petite, attractive woman and, as such, was hardly an archetypal cheat, and particularly not in Las Vegas in the Mafia-dominated days of the Sixties and Seventies. However, a bold, skilful and, ultimately, notorious cheat she was, employing distraction and sleight-of-hand techniques to swindle casino blackjack tables out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Reputedly from Newport, Kentucky, Summers moved to Las Vegas in 1961, by which time she had already mastered the technique of ‘hand mucking’, which involves concealing a favourable card, such as an ace, in the palm of the hand and surreptitiously substituting it for a less favourable card as an when required. This type of deception provided Summers with easy pickings but, later, she took her cheating activity to another level, by recruiting male accomplices to help her substitute not just a single card, but the whole blackjack shoe.

At an opportune moment, when the dealer was distracted, Summers would lift the original shoe off the blackjack table and conceal it in her lap, while a pre-stacked shoe, known as a ‘cooler’, was slipped onto the table in its place. She would offload the original shoe to a standing accomplice and make herself scarce at the earliest opportunity, leaving her remaining seated accomplices to take advantage of a series of guaranteed winning hands, albeit with a few losing hands thrown in, for good effect. Eventually, Summers became the subject of a surveillance operation conducted, jointly, by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the FBI; although ultimately betrayed by a former accomplice, was sentenced to just twelve months’ probation.