“It is not enough that I succeed; others must fail.”
Gore Vidal is supposed to have said that. If he did, since he was a writer, when he said “others” he probably meant other writers.
But the nasty sentiment works for gamblers, too. Literally. In betting, there are no winners without losers.
Which is why I’m glad I did not bet on a team to finish first in England’s top league before the current season began, because I would not have bet on Leicester City at 5000-1.
Having wagered nothing, although I’ve gained nothing, at least I can feel happy for the few people who found the odds irresistible and backed perhaps the most extraordinary underdog ever to run first.
That 5000-1 opportunity was offered by William Hill, a bookmaking establishment in the United Kingdom. Somebody there must have figured that a number of idiot dreamers in Leicester and environs would drop the odd quid on the home team if the potential payoff was sufficiently attractive. So, sure, they apparently thought. Let’s make it 5000-1.
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Leicester City is a minnow in the sea regularly dominated by leviathans: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and so on. Last season they were 14th, much closer to the bottom than the top of the league. Why would anyone have bet even a pound on them to win?
“I was a bit drunk at the time,” Leigh Herbert has acknowledged. Maybe it was more than a bit. Immediately after he’d bet that pound, he went back to the William Hill website, took back his wager, and bet five pounds instead.
At the urging of his panicking bookmaker, Herbert cashed out a portion of his bet while the issue was still in doubt, but he still cleared over $29,000 on his half-addled plunge.
Herbert’s not alone. Some estimates have bookmakers in the U.K. losing upwards of $29 million to people silly or smart enough to believe that if anything at 5,000 to 1 was ever going to pay off, it might as well be their soccer team.
I did not bet on Leicester City. But I didn’t bet on Liverpool, Arsenal, or Man City, either. So I can be happy for Herbert and the rest. And I hope it can be enough for them that they succeeded, and that the unlikely triumph of that longest of the longshots is sufficiently delightful so that even those who failed might smile a bit as they shake their heads and wonder how they missed it.