Hopeless on the punt – Fools Die

He was a degenerate gambler. That is, a man who gambled simply to gamble and must lose. As a hero who goes to war must die. Show me a gambler and I’ll show you a loser, show me a hero and I’ll show you a corpse – Alfred Gronevelt


Last week, with purpose but the absence of commonsense, I decided to gamble on nine games of football.  I couldn’t do it in silence.  I received plenty of advice.  All but one of those messengers told me not to.  I did it anyway.  Before the weekend, my betting account held $169.59.


It now holds $187.54.


Sometimes the suckers win, sometimes they don’t.


On Friday night I made four bets.  I put $15 on a triple, Essendon into Geelong into the Western Bulldogs.  The payout was $45.  Another $15 went on North to win by 25-points into Hawthorn to win by 39-points for a $30 payout.


Gold Coast was paying $2.77 to upset Carlton at Docklands, so I bet $15 to win $41.  It was my most uneducated bet for the round.  I think I did it on purpose.


My final bet was another triple, $20 to win $72.35 with West Coast into Adelaide into Sydney.


It is the first time I have bet on every game in a round of football.  It is the last time I will do it.  After four and a half years, I want to close my betting account.


The account has never provided satisfaction.  Making $87.54 across those years, with all the worry and avoidance, wasn’t worth it.


I hated gambling.  And I’m ahead.  I don’t see the point.


It was a week later that Gronevelt called Cully into his office. ‘I got my doctor’s report,’ Gronevelt said. ‘He advised me to retire. But before I go, I want to try something. I’ve told my bank to put a million dollars into my checking account and I’m going to take my shot at the other tables in town. I’d like you to hang out with me either till I go broke or double the million.’


I am a hopeless gambler.  It is more than just being a tight-arse.  Gambling makes me angry.  I hate football when I gamble.  I hate the unfairness of the upset and I hate the smug arrogance of the betting agencies who entice us with attractive odds.


I don’t know how people gamble regularly.  I wasn’t able to do it.  I have no idea how people risk chunks of money on games of football.  I don’t understand how people gamble professionally.


When I bet, the only thing I control is the outlay and I hate that.


The biggest bet I’ve ever made was $35 on Collingwood to win the 2010 grand final replay by more than 25 points.


That bet left me with $4 in my account.  When Collingwood won, it put my account back in the black but didn’t excite me.  It just meant I hadn’t lost my hundred.


I didn’t feel smart.  I just felt lucky I didn’t lose my money.  My account had been open for 18 months and though I was ahead, I was already finding gambling too dangerous.


‘I’d like to give it one more shot,’ Gronevelt said. ‘I was a great gambler when I was a kid. If anybody can beat the percentage, I can. If I can’t beat the percentage, nobody can. We’ll have a great time, and I can afford the million bucks.’


On Friday night I wanted to give gambling one last shot.  The bets I made left me with $104 in my account.  When Essendon lost to Richmond it impacted on three other games.   They cost me $15.  Had the Bombers won, the profit would’ve been $30.


Like Gronevelt, I wanted to double my money.  Richmond’s win made it tougher.


On Saturday afternoon in Canberra, North led GWS by four points at half time.  I was more concerned with North winning than my bet.  Midway through the last quarter at the MCG, Hawthorn led Melbourne by 43-points.  I didn’t care.  I was happy to lose my money if the margin narrowed.


My bet paid off.  Deep into Saturday night, when Fremantle kept pressing against Geelong, I was hoping the Dockers would win.  The money I had already lost, courtesy of Essendon, was irrelevant.


And during the next week, when Gronevelt gambled, Cully always kept that in mind. Gronevelt gambled better than any man he had ever seen. At the crap table he made all the bets that cut down the percentage of the house. He seemed to divine the ebb and flow of luck. When the dice ran cold, he switched sides. When the dice got hot, he pressed every bet to the limit. At baccarat he could smell out when the shoe would turn Banker and when the shoe would turn Player and ride the waves. At blackjack he dropped his bets to five dollars when the dealer hit a lucky streak and brought it up to the limit when the dealer was cold.


This year I have bet on fourteen games for ten wins.  I never bet more than $20, even when I was certain.  Four times when I was certain I lost.


At the weekend, as the games were playing out, I didn’t care anymore.  The angst I normally felt with my money in jeopardy was absent.  I was indifferent to the money.  Winning or losing was irrelevant.  I didn’t care anymore.


It wasn’t until Saturday night that I felt like an alcoholic with one last drink before the cup lays down forever.  Had I closed my account on Friday, I would’ve had $169.59.


I ended the round with 187.54.  It is only an extra eighteen bucks, but like that alcoholic and that last drink, I pretended I didn’t care and I lied to everyone.


In the middle of the week Gronevelt was five hundred thousand dollars ahead. By the end of the week he was six hundred thousand dollars ahead. He kept going. Cully by his side. They would eat dinner together and gamble only until midnight. Gronevelt said you had to be in good shape to gamble. You couldn’t push, you had to get a good night’s sleep. You had to watch your diet and you should only get laid once every three or four nights.


I run a lot.  I am usually in bed before midnight.  My diet doesn’t include fast food or unnecessary snacks.  I study the teams and odds and read websites and keep up to date with football.  I am always in shape to gamble.


I think Gronevelt liked gambling more than getting laid…


Sydney’s win over Port Adelaide on Saturday night was complimented by Brisbane’s loss to Adelaide on Sunday.  I needed West Coast to beat Collingwood and I couldn’t trust either team.


I decided to lay-off.  I called a mate and told him I was putting $20 on Collingwood, to cover West Coast as the last leg.


‘If you do that then you shouldn’t be gambling,’ he said.


‘If I don’t lay-off and West Coast win I will have $207 in my account,’ I said.  ‘If I lay-off and put $20 on Collingwood and they lose I will have $187 in my account.  If I don’t lay-off and West Coast lose I will have $135 in my account.’


My mate did the sums.  ‘You can’t lose.’


‘If I lay off I am guaranteed a win,’ I said.  ‘Unless it is a draw.’


‘Then you should do it,’ he said.


I made the lay-off.  It cost me $20, but it guaranteed me a win.  It isn’t often when the odds are stacked in favour of the gambler.  It is said you must spend money to make money.


By the middle of the second week Gronevelt, despite all his skill, was sliding downhill. The percentages were grinding him into dust. And at the end of two weeks he had lost his million dollars. When he bet his last stack of chips and lost, Gronevelt turned to Cully and smiled. He seemed to be delighted, which struck Cully as ominous. ‘It’s the only way to live,’ Gronevelt said. ‘You have to live going with the percentage. Otherwise life is not worthwhile. Always remember that,’ he told Cully. ‘Everything you do in life use percentage as your god.’


The percentage might pay out occasionally, but the percentage never loses, in the end.


Unless you can lay-off.  And as my mate said, if you need to lay-off, then you shouldn’t be gambling…




Fools Die was Mario Puzo’s follow up to The Godfather.  Published in 1978, Fools Die was set in a Las Vegas casino.  It should be read by anyone interested in gambling or anyone who is concerned with their gambling.


Alfred Gronevelt used the percentage as his god.  Guess if he won or lost…


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Nice one Matt. I was hoping you put it all on the Cats (by under a goal) as I advised, and had taken the family on a Bali holiday with the proceeds.
    A faint heart never won a …………..

  2. Gregor Lewis says

    Was Mario Puzo into happy endings then?

    Well written but extremely frustrating read Matt.

    What you describe as an experience – quite adeptly – fails to reach far past the dictionary definition of the word(s) … Experience (Gambling).

    And while I can understand a talented writer lending their stylus to a time-wasting sojourn they enjoy passing time with – which I think is the best that can be said for what you describe – you also admit you don’t enjoy what you’ve been doing.

    ( I understand you called it gambling – for artistic purposes perhaps – but that’s not what it was, beyond perhaps a timid replication of the palest dictionary definition of the word).

    I’ve lived on your side of the divide, riding the straddle for all I was worth because I enjoyed each gamble in the moment, but wanted to ensure I NEVER walked away a loser.

    And I never did, but although I could have enjoyed the outcome more had I gambled bolder, I couldn’t possibly have enjoyed the journey more – for itself, not just the destination.

    On the other side of the tracks is a rollercoaster worth experiencing – even on as minute a level as your announced bankroll above – full of moments worth living, combined with reverses that are both financially & emotionally cataclysmic. Devastatingly emptying.

    You’re obviously a writer, but a gambler?

    A punter?

    Hopeless or otherwise … I think not.


  3. Matt

    Interesting experiment. Very like ‘Super Size me’?

    Like you, I don’t really like footy betting but I admit I don’t have an affinity with addiction, so I know it’s a bit easy to just say “it’s stupid’ because for many people it’s a lot harder for them to stop than it would be for me or was for you.

    I think the issue for me if I bet on footy would be focussing more on the margin or specific result rather than the general outcome. I can’t see myself being disappointed about a Richmoind upset win if they didn’t win by the ‘right’ amount to satisfy my winning margin wager.

    Interesting that success (in that you are ahead) gave such a negative emotional feeling.

    Like it, thanks


  4. matt watson says

    It took me a month to decide to gamble $15 and $20 on each game. It’d take me a year to decide to put it all on a team by less than a goal…
    Gregor, good summation of what really is an insignificant account that will never bankrupt myself or the TAB. And you’re right, in what I am doing is only the true definition. It is not, as an associate of mine discovered, a life changing addiction. His gambling losses grew to $150,000 before his wife found out. Now he is living in a rental. They made no money on the sale of their house. He has lost 50% of his super, but she was entitled to 80%.
    Now that is gambling…
    Sean, the negative emotions are why I want to close the account.
    I simply don’t enjoy it.
    since the weekend I have told two mates I am closing my account. One told me to withdraw my original $100 and bet with the profit. The other told me to keep it and expand it to include a host of other mates, betting $20 a week.
    Gambling is an individual sport. I didn’t like it alone, I’m not going to like it with mates.

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