1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bet and Betting

BET and BETTING (probably from O. Fr. abeter, to instigate, Eng. “abet,” i.e. with money). To “bet” is to stake money or something valuable on some future contingency. Betting in some form or other has been in vogue from the earliest days, 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 spread to such an extent amongst all grades of society, during the 19th century, that the interference of the legislature was necessary (see Gaming and Wagering). Bets can, of course, be made on any subject, and are a common method of backing one’s opinion or skill, whether at games of cards or in any other connexion; but the commonest form of betting is associated with the turf. In the early days of horse-racing persons who wished to bet often failed to gratify their inclination because of the difficulty of finding any one ready to wager. To obviate this difficulty the professional bookmaker arose. It was perceived that if a man laid money against a number of horses, conducting his business on discreet principles, he would in all probability receive enough to pay the bettor who was successful and to leave a surplus for himself; for the “bookmaker,” as the professional betting man came to be called, had enormous advantages in his favour. He was presumably shrewd and wary, whereas many of those with whom he dealt were precisely the opposite, and benefit arose to him from the mistakes and miscalculations of owners and trainers of horses, and from the innumerable accidents which occur to prevent anticipated success; moreover, if he carried out the theory of his calling he would so arrange his book, by what is called “betting to figures,” that the money he received would be more than he could possibly be called upon to pay. In practice, of course, this often does not happen, because “backers” will sometimes support two or three horses in a race only, and the success of one may result in loss to the bookmaker; but in the long run it has been almost invariably found that the bookmaker grows rich and that the backer of horses loses money. It is the bookmaker who regulates the odds, and this he does, sometimes by anticipating, sometimes by noting, the desire of backers to support certain animals. Such things as stable secrets can scarcely be said to exist at the present time; the bookmaker is usually as well able as any one else to estimate the chances of the various horses engaged in races. Notwithstanding that the reports of a trial gallop are of comparatively little value to any except the few persons who know what weights the animals carried when tried, the bookmaker is extraordinarily keen, and frequently successful, in his search for information; and on this the odds depend.

Betting in connexion with horse-racing is of two kinds: “post,” when wagering does not begin until the numbers of the runners are hoisted on the board; and “ante-post,” when wagering opens weeks or months before the event; though of this latter there is far less than was formerly the case, doubtless for the reason that before the introduction of so many new and valuable stakes attention was generally concentrated on a comparatively small number of races. Bets on the Derby, the Oaks and the St Leger were formerly common nearly a year before the running of the races, and a few handicaps, such as the Chester Cup, used to occupy attention months beforehand; the weights, of course, being published at a much longer interval prior to the contest than is at present the rule. As regards ante-post betting, bookmakers have their own ideas as to the relative prospects of the horses entered. A person who wishes to back a horse asks the price, and accepts or declines, as the case may be. If the bet is laid it will probably be quoted in the newspapers, and other persons who propose to wager on the race are so likely to follow suit that it is shrewdly suspected that in not a few cases bets are quoted which never have been laid, in order to induce the backers to speculate. According to the public demand for a horse the price shortens. If there is little or no demand the odds increase, the market being almost entirely regulated by the money; so that if a great many people bet on a certain animal the odds become shorter and shorter, till in many cases instead of laying odds against a horse, the bookmaker comes to take odds, that is, to agree to pay a smaller sum than he would receive from the backer if the animal lost. Post betting is conducted on very much the same principles. When the numbers are hoisted bookmakers proclaim their readiness to lay or take certain odds, which vary according to the demand for the different animals. Backers are influenced by many considerations: by gossip, by the opinions of writers on racing, and in many cases, unfortunately, by the advice of “tipsters,” who by advertisements and circulars profess their ability to indicate winners, a pretence which is obviously absurd, as if these men possessed the knowledge they claim, they would assuredly keep it to themselves and utilize it for their own private purposes.

The specious promises of such men do infinite mischief, as they so often appeal with success to the folly and gullibility of the ignorant, and in recent years the extent to which betting has grown has resulted in attempts to check it by organized means. A society for the purpose was formed in England called the Anti-Gambling League. A bookmaker named Dunn was summoned in 1897 for betting in Tattersall’s enclosure, which it was contended contravened the Betting House Act of 1853. This act had been aimed against what were known as “list houses,” establishments then kept by bookmakers for betting purposes, and associated with many disgraceful scandals. In the preamble to his bill Lord Cockburn began by remarking that “Whereas a new form of betting has of late sprung up,” and the Anti-Gambling League sought to argue that this included a form of betting which had not sprung up of late but had on the contrary been carried on without interference for many generations. The divisional court of the queen’s bench (Hawke v. Dunn, 13 T.L.R. 281) held that such betting was an infringement of the act, and that the enclosure was a “place” within the meaning of the act, and had been used by the respondent for the purpose of betting with persons resorting thereto, and that he was liable to be Convicted. The case was remitted to the justices, who convicted the defendant. A somewhat similar case was decided on the same day (M‘Inany v. Hildreth, 1897, 13 T.L.R. 285), in which it was held that a professional bookmaker who went to a place known as the “pit heap” at Jarrow, to which the public had access at all times, and made bets with persons assembled there, was properly convicted, and that the “pit heap” itself and the place where he stood were “places” within the meaning of the act. It was afterwards held by the court of appeal (Powell v. Kempton Park Racecourse Co., Ltd., 1897, 2 Q.B. 242), in an action brought to restrain a racecourse company from opening or keeping an enclosure on a racecourse by allowing it to be used by bookmakers, that the words “other place” must be construed as meaning a defined place, that the user of such a place implied some exclusive right in the user against others, and that the racecourse owners had not been guilty of permitting the enclosure to be used in the manner prohibited by the act of 1853. The decision in Hawke v. Dunn was disapproved of; and the House of Lords afterwards affirmed the decision of the court of appeal.

The Street Betting Act 1906 enacted that any person frequenting or loitering in streets or public places for the purpose of bookmaking, or betting, or wagering, should be liable on summary conviction, in the case of a first offence, to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, in the case of a second offence, to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, and in the case of a third or subsequent offence, or in any case where he is proved to have committed the offence of having a betting transaction with a person under the age of sixteen years, to a fine, on conviction on indictment, not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding six months. On summary conviction the fine is a sum not exceeding thirty pounds or imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months. A wide definition is given to the words “street” and “public place,” and racecourses are expressly exempted from the operation of the act.

On all French racecourses (since 1866), as on others nearly everywhere else on the continent, and likewise in the British colonies, a system of betting known as the Pari-Mutuel or Totalizator, is carried on. Rows of offices are established behind or near the stands, on each of which lists are exhibited containing the numbers of the horses that are to run in the coming race. At some of these the minimum wager is five francs, at others ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred, five hundred and in some cases a thousand. The person who proposes to bet goes to the clerk at one of these offices, mentions the number, as indicated on the card, of the horse he wishes to back, and states whether he desires to bet on it to win or for a place only. He receives a voucher for his money. After the race the whole amount collected at the various offices is put together and divided after a percentage has been deducted for the administration and for the poor. As soon as this has been done, the money is divided and the prices to be paid to winners are exhibited on boards. These prices are calculated on a unit of ten francs. Thus, for instance, if the winner is notified as bringing in twenty-five francs, the meaning is that the backer receives his original stake of ten and fifteen in addition, the money being paid immediately by another clerk attached to the office at which the bet was made. The great French municipalities derive considerable revenue in relief of rates from the Paris Mutuels. In Japan this system was made illegal in 1908.