PUNTERS will be under starter’s orders for one of the biggest gambling events of the year as the Grand National gets under way today.
But don’t bet on South Tynesiders sharing the national thirst for a flutter on the Merseyside race.
The world-famous equestrian event will again attract millions of pounds’ worth of bets from all over the country and beyond.
Many of those we spoke to in King Street, South Shields, however, are at odds with that, saying that gambling is getting out of hand and betting shops occupy too prominent a position in the town centre.
Eileen Robertson, of Cleadon, said: “I won’t be having a bet. I’m not really interested in betting.
“I do think that there is a lot of cruelty to the horses in the race.
“I do believe there’s too many betting shops around, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it.”
Her husband Ken Robertson, 78, said: “I won’t be betting. I used to have a bet when I was younger, but as I’ve got older, I have lost interest in it.
“If there was just one betting shop instead of six, everyone would pile into that one instead.
“If they want a bet, people will always find a way.”
Sheila Roberts, 74, of Washington, added: “I won’t be betting. My dad used to enjoy a bet on it.
“I’ve only ever really taken part in work sweepstakes.
“I do think there are too many betting shops, but, on the positive side, they are employing people.”
Her husband Ian Roberts, 76, said: “I have never bet in my life.
“I just think it is a waste of money. I don’t see any point in it.
“I do think there are too many betting shops in the town centre.
“A lot of people get themselves into debt.”
But the appeal of the iconic race – and the opportunity to earn a few quid by backing the right horse – isn’t totally lost on the town.
Ray McNamara, of Jarrow, has acted on a tip-off as he bids to secure a first-past-the-post payout.
He said: “I always pick a horse. It is tradition.
“This year, I have gone for Monbeg Dude. I got a tip about it. I haven’t had any big wins in the past. It is hard enough to get a horse placed in the race.”
Richard Frazer, 62, of South Shields, is hoping to make it a double delight at the Aintree event, first run in 1839.
He said: “I have won a few in the past, and I have lost a few. I have lost more than I have won.
“I had a big win last year on a horse that was a 66-1 shot. I had £5 on each way.
“I am putting on about eight bets for the family.
“My brother doesn’t know anything about the horses, so I am helping him out. It is a bit of fun and livens the race up.”
While Mr Frazer understands the misgivings of some about the town becoming overrun by betting shops, he points out that it isn’t just traditional forms of gambling that are parting punters from their cash.
He added: “A lot of money is spent on the gambling machines.
“They are even putting signs on the shop warning people to be aware of their limits.
“There was a little old lady in Ladbrokes yesterday who won £500 on one of the machines. She was back in about an hour later.”