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Tuesday 27 February 2024

The Betting 'Elvis Presley' Is Still Alive

I’ve been reading Ron Pollard’s Odds And Sods: My Life in the Betting Business, published in 1991 by Hodder & Stoughton. This biography detailed the career of Pollard in his role as bookmaker’s clerk to William Hill and Ladbrokes odds-maker and PR Director which he did for over 30-years.

Very few people realise that Ladbrokes made a name by tapping into what we would call these days trending topics. If someone asked Ron Pollard for a price on a novel sport, happening, almost anything, he would give the odds. Many of the wagers didn’t return a profit but they were worth their weight in gold as far as publicity was concerned. In fact, it set Ladbrokes apart from the likes of William Hill who stuck with a more traditional approach to betting dogs and horses..

Pollard was the man to go to for quotes. Every Sunday he would wait at home for his phone to ring and talk to all and sundry and give his opinion and betting odds. As he said: ‘Punters loved to bet on anything and everything.’

However, there were one or two regrettable instances where he wished he hadn’t been so quick to offer odds. Perhaps more traditional press knew where to draw the line while others clearly had no limits when it come to poor taste.

On the 16th August 1977, it was announce that Elvis Presley had passed away, aged 42. The world was shocked but so was Pollard when the Sunday Sport, who had recently appeared on the news-stands had the outlandish headline: ‘Was Elvis was still alive?’

Punters were both intrigued and interested in placing their bets.

Holland said managers from several bookmaker shops asking what odds should be offered. He said 1000/1. Sure it would be forgotten within 24-hours.

Clearly, the odds weren’t wrong because Elvis had definitely left the building and pardon the pun (a quote only the Sunday Sport could have stated) he was a dead cert for bookmakers. As Ron said: ‘I could have offered odds of one million to one.’

‘It was a thoroughly tasteless exercise and an admin nightmare as the transactions had to be updated from one year to the next as the bets were still running.’

The Sunday Sport’s continued their interest in the story. It was impossible to stop the story and the betting was so heavy that the odds were cut to 500/1. The money continued and eventually the odds were cut again to 100/1 (quite surreal considering Elvis wasn’t making a return). Ladbrokes had liabilities of £2.5 million.

Pollard said: ‘I still don’t know what possessed me that Monday morning: thoughtlessness or carelessness. Certainly, it was not very clever of me.’

He considered the Sunday Sport ‘plants’ had been betting merely to obtain more publicity for themselves to give some credence to a ludicrous story but in the process giving Ladbrokes unwanted publicity.

I wonder if any of those punters are still holding onto their betting vouchers?


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