Gambling: How it is in England

As far as the literary evidence goes, the English have been constant gamblers for at least two centuries.

In the 18th century, the upper classes spent much of their leisure in gambling.

The ladies were mainly in various card or table games in which they were often joined by the gentlemen who, by themselves, gambled on various sporting events - horse racing, pugilistic competitions and the like.

The peasantry and urban working classes not only participated in these gentlemanly amusements, but also organized their own contests with animals - cockfights, dogfights, whippet races, pigeon races and so on.

Such contests, whether between animals or humans, were all considered sporting, and the British have prided themselves for generations on the fact that, compared with most foreigners, they were both better sportsmen and better 'sports.'

A 'good sport' is knowledgeable about, and participates in, at least the majority of contests of which he is made aware.

A 'good sport' will take a 'sporting chance' with his money, and will demonstrate his sportsmanship by showing neither regret at losing nor elation at winning his wagers.

A 'poor sport' usually refuses to gamble at all. Or if he does do so, his response to the outcome is unseemly.

Even though England is now one of the most urban countries in the world, this rustic attitude to sportsmanship and sporting events is still a basic ingredient in British gambling. Most of the bets are placed on horses, greyhounds, or football teams.

Nearly every office, every factory, every social club runs a sweepstake on the two most important horse races of the year - the Derby or flat racing and the Grand National for steeplechasing.

It is only the occasional eccentric who dos not take a chance on these two races.

In many large factories, there is a prominent football-pool permutation organization, a kind of workers' syndicate which covers some of the tens of thousands of different football-result combinations possible each week by a complicated system of mathematics.

The organizer of such a factory pool has an unofficial position analogous to that of a union shop steward, giving nearly all his time to collecting the stakes, calculating the permutations and distributing the winnings.

He will receive very adequate compensation from the pools company concerned for the business he brings.

Compared with other societies in which gambling is widespread, the British are generally less inclined to gamble on their own skills, or on the operation of pure luck.

It is rare for card games to be played for more than token stakes (except among the richer business classes).


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