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Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 16:33 GMT
Good Friday opening a dead cert?
By Nick Tarry
BBC News

Interior of Ladbrokes, W12
The greyhound racing is real, not virtual

Bookmakers in England, Scotland and Wales were allowed to open their doors on Good Friday for the first time this year.

At one betting shop, a few punters offered their views of the holy day's offerings.

"There's nothing to bet on today, really. I was shocked when I came in," says one customer at a branch of Ladbrokes in west London.

The chain opened about 1,900 of its 2,000 shops, with rivals William Hill opening about 200 outlets, and Coral 1,500.

But the punter had found something to keep him interested: computer-generated dog and horse races, which can provide racing even when there is no racing.

These "virtual races" take place at fictional courses with names like Steepledowns and Sprint Valley.

Also on offer this Bank Holiday are real greyhound racing, rugby, horseracing in France, Germany and South Africa, and later on some football, cricket (England v New Zealand) and tennis.

Croatian basketball

Intriguingly, Ladbrokes' website also offered to take bets on Swedish hockey and Croatian basketball, but there didn't seem to be any takers for either of them.

Brian Leen, a 45-year-old local builder, says he usually comes in a couple of times a week, but what would he have done if the bookie had been shut this particular Friday?

"Maybe go shopping, tidy up the house. Or go to the pub and have a few pints. I used to play sport - football or tennis - but I've given up all that," he says.

His usual stake is about 5, and he is "usually down on the month" by about 50.

Charity fund

He was not impressed with the suggestion, made by some Christian groups, that donations should be made to charity from the proceeds of gambling on Good Friday.

"You'd have a Jewish or Arab person - not everyone who comes in here is Christian - they're not going to want to be told what to do by a Christian group, are they?" he said.

Kenny Rolland
I wouldn't mind paying 5p or 10p in the pound just for Good Friday, to give to charity
Kenny Rolland
Punter

A couple of young men playing computer roulette were reluctant to offer their opinions, as was another man watching the greyhounds.

"I don't usually do this," he offers defensively.

Another young man also claims to be "just passing" but lingers a while.

Two old men with florid complexions just roll their eyes and growl incomprehensibly.

Kenny Rolland, a 50-year-old Scot, says he's a defector for the day from William Hill's closed branch across the road. His usual choice of bet is football, and he was in early to get the match list and the odds for tonight's matches.

Visiting the bookmakers about three times a week, he says he's "up a little bit on the month".

Mr Rolland thinks the proposal from Christian groups for a Good Friday charitable contribution is a good idea.

"We used to pay tax before, until Gordon Brown stopped it. I wouldn't mind paying 5p or 10p in the pound just for Good Friday, to give to charity", he says.

Making money?

Some punters are perched on red stools, with matching red faces.

"I'm not talking to you. Not interested," says one man, before talking freely and angrily.

"Basically it's just for them to make more money. A lot of people will lose money today," he says.

"It used to be just Good Friday and Christmas Day, and now it's just Christmas", he adds ruefully.

"It's just somewhere to go, and it's 50:50. I might have a winner," he says, brightening.

There was no pressure on staff to work
Vanessa Brandon
Ladbrokes branch manager

The branch doesn't seem very busy, but the manager says she is pleased with the turnout.

"[It's] busier than a normal Friday. Just one or two regulars, but lots of customers from William Hill over there," Vanessa Brandon, 35, says.

Double time

Worth it for Ladbrokes, then, but is it worth it for the staff?

"Double time and a day off in lieu. There was no pressure on staff to work," she adds.

"If I'd had plans to spend time with family then I wouldn't have worked today, but my son is old enough to do his own thing now," she says.

Vanessa Brandon
Branch manager Vanessa Brandon reported good trade

Vanessa also believes the charity proposal is a good one, but says implementing a percentage tax for just one day would be too complicated.

She adds that her shop is already involved in charity, recently holding a Race Night in aid of MacMillan nurses and contributing to the Queen's Park Rangers youth team.

And the Swedish hockey and Croatian basketball - has she ever taken a bet on such a thing?

"Never", she says.



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