Beating the Odds by Nichola Garvey

You might think from its title that Beating the Odds was one of those books full of ideas about how to improve your gambling. Not at all. It’s a biography of Alan Tripp, who started off as an illegal SP bookmaker in Australia before twice building up and selling on billion dollars legit offshore based betting operations.

It’s the descriptions of activity in the twilight world of off course betting as recently as the 1980s that stand out in the book, a time when fixed odds betting was only legal on course. Tripp built up a huge telephone network in pubs and back street offices in a business that often became entwined with stories of police corruption – if they knew where the betting was going on, they wanted a part of it – and race fixing.

Some of the accounts of police raids and Tripp’s accounts are lively and colourful, and we learn that this private bookmaker numbered the like of Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and media tycoon Kerry Packer amongst his clients. Yet despite the author’s claim of “unfettered access to every corner of his life” you actually hear very little from the man himself, as Garvey has to admit. “It would be a mistake to assume that, once we’d broken the ice, he would open up and tell me all. He’s just not that type of man.”

With high stakes gambling, and the threats of bankruptcy and prison both all too real; Alan Tripp might well have become the billion-dollar bookie who beat the odds. He But without his own perspective, the book just falls short of balancing a fascinating story of the shady world of back street gambling with what drove the man who was his country’s most convicted bookie.