1902 Encyclopedia > Betting


BETTING may be defined as the staking or pledging between two parties of some object of material value on the issue or contingent issue of some event or contest. The pursuit (it can hardly be termed a pastime, science, or art) of betting has been in vogue from the earliest days of civilization, commencing in the East with royal and noble gamblers, and gradually extending itself westwards and throughout all classes. In all countries where the English tongue is spoken betting is now largely indulged in ; and in the United Kingdom it has spread to such an extent amongst all grades of society during the last twenty years that the interference of the Legislature has been found necessary. The evils it has been productive of are too well known to call for comment here, and the principles require to be treated solely from mathematical and legis-lative points of view.

The first principle of all betting is that" you cannot win where you cannot lose." Accordingly no bets are " play or pay" except those on certain events enumerated below, or unless such a stipulation is laid down at the time the bet is made. Betting may be divided into " bookmaking" and "backing." The former consists in laying the odds, and, theoretically speaking, secures a small though certain profit, were all debts paid and the number of starters for the event large. During the first half of the 19th century book-making was a far more lucrative business than now, because betting was confined to the wealthier classes and bad debts were fewer. Also, betting commenced many months before a great race, and so the bookmaker had more opportunities of laying against all the entries, whereas most betting on play or pay events is now done just before the start. Taking the St Leger (always a play or pay event) of 1875, the following table represents a £100 book opened a week before the race, according to the Continental betting quotations, September 7, 1875. Those marked + did not eventually start.

6 to 1 against Gilbert £100 to £16 13 4
7 „ 1 „ St Cyr „ to 14 5 8
7„1 „ Earl of Dartrey... „ to 14 6 8
10 „ 1 „ Dreadnought „ to 10 0 0
10 „ 1 „ Balfe , to 10 0 0
12 „ 1 „ +Bay of Naples „ to 8 6 8
16 „ 1 „ Rabagas II „ to 6 5 0
16 „ 1 ,, Seymour ,, to 6 5 0
20 „ 1 ,, New Holland to 6 0 0
25 ,, 1 „ Breechloader to 4 0 0
25 „ 1 „ Perkin Warbeck . „ to 4 0 0
25 ,, 1 ,, Craigmillar Winner.
25 „ 1 „ tClaremont ,, to 4 0 0
33 ,, 1 ,, tRepentance Colt.. ,, to 3 0 7
33 „ 1 ,, tSalvator to 3 0 7
40 „ 1 „ Saint Leger to 2 10 0
40 „ " ,, tTemple Bar to 2 10 0
60 „ \ ,, tTelescope „ to 2 0 0
50 „ 1 „ tGarterly Bell ,, to 2 0 0
50 „ 1 „ tSister to Musket.. ,, to 2 0 0
£120 2 6

In this instance twenty horses are quoted in the betting. As-suming that the bookmaker finds a customer to back each of these, and that he encounters no bad debts, he receives £120, 2s. 6d., and has to pay £100 to the person with whom he laid £100 to £4

•gainst Craigirrillar, the winner. This leaves a gain of £20, 2s. 6d. or 20J per cent., but even then travelling and other expenses have not been taken into consideration, and the fewer horses that are backed the less accordingly will be the bookmaker's profit. In fact, the non-backing of any one horse in this instance materially reduces the profit. The race in question was particularly favour-able for bookmakers, both because so many borses were scratched (representing a gain of £26, 17s. 10d.), and because at the date supposed the winner was at such long odds. At the actual start tbe odds against the beaten horses were 9 to 2, and 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 20, 25, 25, 50, and 66 to 1 respectively, and against tbe winner 20 to 3. This will be found to leave the bookmaker, had he com-menced his book the day of the race, a profit of £1, 12s. 6d. only, and had the first favourite won there would have been a loss of £5, lis. lid. There were 178 entries for this St Leger, and if the book had been opened many months before the race, and the book-maker bad been able to obtain customers, the favourites would have been backed at longer odds, bringing less profit from this source, but then more eventual non-starters are backed, which is certain profit. The chief principles of bookmaking are the same, whether the number of starters for an event be unlimited, or two only, though, in tbe latter case, there is no certain profit, as there are not sufficient starters to enable the bookmaker to save his stake. His only chance then is that he has been circumspect enough to have laid his odds on the winner.

" Backing" is a very plain matter, but in the long-run invariably a losing method of betting. It simply consists in taking the odds laid by a bookmaker against one or more starters for any event. If it be a play or pay event, and the possible starter be scratched, the backer loses his money at once. Although a backer may become possessed of such special information as may enable him to win large sums occasionally, his losses will in the long-run exceed them. In fact, the bookmaker virtually keeps a bank against him.

" Hedging" consists in laying off at shorter odds part of the sums various starters may have been backed for. Thus, a backer has taken £50 to £1 about A, B, and C respectively for a play or pay event some time before the date fixed for the contest. A turns out a non-starter, so there is a certain loss of £1. At starting the odds have come down to say 2 to 1 against B, and 3 to 1 against C. So the backer lays £50 to £25 against B, and £50 to £16, 13s. 4d. against C. If neither wins he receives £41, 13s. 4d., out of which he has to pay £3 to the bookmaker, leaving a profit of £38, 13s. 4d. Should B win he receives £50 from the bookmaker, and £16, 13s. 4d. on account of C's defeat, out of which he has to pay £2 to the bookmaker on account of A and C, and the £50 he has laid against B, so the profit left is £14, 13s. 4d. Should C win, the hedger receives £50 from the bookmaker, and £25 on account of B's defeat, out of which he has still to pay the bookmaker £2 on account of A and B, and the £50 he has laid against C, so the profit left is £23.

The only events that are now play or pay are the Derby, Oaks, St Leger, Two Thousand Guineas, One Thousand Guineas, Cesarewitch, and Cambridgeshire Stakes, the Ascot, Goodwood, and Doncaster Cups, and all handicaps above £200 value, with two forfeits, the minor whereof is not less than £5. In all other betting the backer is entitled to a start for his money, unless the contrary is stipulated at the time the bet is made.

In the United Kingdom betting has been the source of considerable legislation during the past thirty years. Curiously enough, by the 9th of Queen Anne, if any one gained over £10 by betting, the loser was entitled to pursue for repayment of the stake if he had paid it, and if he did not do so within three months any one might sue for treble the amount with costs. After it had become a dead letter some informers raked up this Act in 1844, and the result was the insertion of a clause in the Gaming Act, 8 and 9 Vict. c. 109, annulling the old statute. Dur-ing the next seven years betting on horse races increased to «n enormous extent. " List shops," where the proprietors kept a bank against all comers, and backers could stake their money in advance on a horse, sprung up in the metropolis and large towns, leading to many acts of flagrant dishonesty. Sir Alexander Cockburn, then attorney-general, accordingly introduced the Betting Houses Act, 16 and 17 Vict. c. 119, whereby all houses or places kept for such purposes were brought under the above-mentioned Gaming Act, and might be proceeded against as a common nuisance and contrary to law,—heavy penalties being incurred by the owners, occupiers, or advertizers of such houses or places. Betting on race-courses, or at Tattersall's and similar private clubs, where money is not received in advance, was not meant to be interfered with. For some time this legislation had the desired effect till attempts were made to evade it by receiving money through the post. These were successful till the summer of 1869, when the Government suddenly bestirred itself, and several prosecutions took place. As the Act, however, did not extend to Scotland, the betting-house keepers removed there or went abroad, and their adver-tisements at such addresses were still legal This led to 37 Vict. c. 14, extending 16 and 17 Vict. c. 119 to Scotland, and making all advertisements of betting-houses, whether in or out of the United Kingdom, illegal. It came into force on 31st July 1874, and almost exterminated the receiving of money in advance, especially as it is now enforced very strictly.

In 1866 a system of betting, termed Paris mutuels, was started in France. It consisted of agencies where any one may back a probable starter for any sum or sums he pleases. The whole of the money thus staked on all starters is added together, a commission deducted by the agent for his trouble, and the balance divided in " equal shares," or Paris mutueis, amongst those who have backed the victor. In this instance the agent's gain is, of course, certain. It has been found, however, that unlicensed opportunities of staking money in advance have produced the same evils in France as in England. During the past three years the French Government have taken the matter up strongly, and betting-houses and agencies are now as effectually doomed on the French as on the English side of the Channel.

In the United States betting is also illegal. Under the Gambling Act, whenever any money has been staked for a bet, either side can sue the stakeholder and recover his portion of the money, either before or after the' bet has been decided. Owing, however, to the strong public senti- ment which naturally condemns such a course, proceedings against stakeholders are excessively rare. Any voter betting on the result of an election forfeits his franchise, yet the heaviest betting in the States is on elections, and the betters go unchallenged to the poll, (H. F. W.)

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