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IT is difficult to realize how large a hold the habit of
betting has upon the young men of London. Gambling has to be conducted under
circumstances which render it more or less difficult of attainment, and the
clubs which may be regarded as the homes of gambling are of such a class that
comparatively few young men can gain admittance to them. It is otherwise with betting. Every boy bets,
almost from the cradle,
and the tendency develops more strongly with each succeeding year. Its
permeating influence is to be seen in the middle-class household and
the daily school, so that when a youth goes to business it is quite a matter of
course for him to offer to substantiate every statement he makes betting upon
it. One only has to listen to the conversation of a group of schoolboys
to realize this. A boy advances a remark, upon which another throws doubt.
Immediately the first says "Ill bet you it is so,"
and the second caps it by saying, " I'll bet you it is not." It is only their mode of
arguing, as of course they do not really bet, but it is significant of
the depth of the national habit.
By-and-by the youth leaves school, and becomes a junior clerk or a warehouse-boy. He continues to [-142-] use these meaningless phrases, which soon, however, begin to acquire meaning. Somebody takes him at his word and asks him what he will bet. The boy who has only used the phrase in the same way that he has done a dozen times before, is taken aback, but is unwilling to appear diffident, and has to stake some small sum, say sixpence. The sixpence changes hands, and the price of a dinner is lost to one ; whi1e this same bet is but the precursor of others, for the boy is then anxious to win his six-pence back if he has lost, or get another in the same easy way if he has won.
Those parents who at Christmas-time allow games of cards to be played for stakes have perhaps more to blame themselves for than they would like to admit, it is the easiest matter in the world to implant a gambling spirit, and it is the hardest matter to eradicate it. To win at such games of chance is fraught with unseen danger, yet parents invariably contrive that the children shall rise the winners. The money won is spent on sweets or other small indulgences, and an association with gambling is thus created. The parents think that as it is only once a year it cannot very much matter, and so the evil grows.
The Oxford and Cambridge boat-race is responsible for sowing the betting fever in many a youthful mind. There are but few offices in the city in which any number of young men are employed that do not get up a sweepstake on the boat-race A sweepstake is an unalarming matter, and many will go in for it who would be extremely loath to bet right away. The amount for each subscriber is [-143-] fixed at a shilling or sixpence, and perhaps twenty join. There are then two prizes and eighteen blanks. The winner of the race generally receives about three-fourths of the money subscribed, and the loser one-fourth. The mode of procedure is probably well known, but it may not be amiss to describe it. Twenty slips of paper, of the same size, are twisted up and put in a hat. On one o them is written Oxford, on another Cambridge. The others are blanks. The names of the twenty subscribers are placed in another hat, written on twenty similar pieces of paper. One person draws a name from the first hat, and then draws from the other hat for the owner of that name. The one who receives the winner of the race of course wins fifteen shillings, and, it is needless to say, from that time forth is willing to join any number of similar experiments. Boat-race sweepstakes are, however, not confined to offices. We know of a youth, the son of a well-to-do city merchant, who is allowed to get one up in his father's house every year, into which he presses the servants, his mother, and anybody else he can. It is a great annual joke to every one, and is encouraged as a piece of harmless fun.
But the Oxford and Cambridge boat-race only comes once a year, and that is obviously not often enough for the youth who has imbibed a taste for betting. So a sweepstake is got up on the Derby. In most banks, insurance offices, and warehouses the "Derby sweep" is an institution. Into this nearly every one must go, under the pressure of public opinion. Young men have a greater fear of being [-144-] thought "mugs" than of anything else, and would much rather run the risk of losing a little money than of hem classed as such. There are of course a few who hold back, but they are what may be termed the pronouncedly religious ones. Young men are not apt to look much below the surface of things. The sinfulness of betting cannot be made so apparent as its foolishness ; and it seems to us that there would be a greater chance of their abstaining from the practice if the sinfulness were not so much enlarged upon as the foolishness of young men's hazarding their small earnings on matters of chance. The clerk who is receiving from fifteen shillings to a pound a week cannot afford to lose half a crown every now and again, and if this could be put before him in such a way as not to wound his susceptibilities he would probably agree with it at once.
Beyond the Derby sweepstakes do not go, and the youth who is developing a taste for hazarding his money must look elsewhere for accommodation. From the boat-race to the horse-race is the obvious step. The youth who has won is anxious to increase his winnings, and the youth who has lost is perhaps not so anxious to recover his money as to show that he does not mind having lost it. Although his lack of means may be notorious, he can never bring himself to accept the fact, and will always sooner put himself to personal inconvenience than acknowledge that he cannot afford to lose his money. So, having once tasted of the sport, he goes on.
He endeavours to be more or less systematic in [-145-] his ventures; he strives to gain some knowledge of horses and jockeys. He is much too new at the work to know anything himself about tips, but is apt to get introduced at a very early age to some "horsey" individual who frequents a suburban public-house, and is a coachman or a groom, or something of a kindred nature, and who is therefore supposed to know everything about horses. The fellow is regarded by these unsophisticated youths as a kind of oracle on the subject, and his lightest utterances are listened to with awe and acted upon without hesitation, The oracle works his own advantage by giving every youth a different "tip," with the result that if five or six horses are running in a race the probability is that some of his juvenile followers get the name of the winner given them. It is considered very bad form to make a fuss if the information that is so freely given should prove incorrect, but the tout does not forget to remind the youths who have received good tips of the correctness of his advice. Young men soon find out, too, that these tipsters do not expect to give advice for nothing, and that it is hard work indeed to refrain from making over a substantial portion of their winnings to the man through whose good offices they were made.
But public-house tipsters do not flourish so well now as they did a few years back, and the cause of their decline is to be found in the enormous increase of sporting papers, which bring much and varied information within the reach of the persons who are desirous of obtaining it for a comparatively nominal outlay. These papers are to be found daily in the hands of a majority of the youths of London, not to [-146-] mention numbers of older people, whose appearance and position would lead one to expect them to be the very last to give their attention to such matters, and their hurtful influence has probably never yet been fully considered. It is a mistake to suppose that sporting papers are read only by what are called "horsey" young men ; that is to say, youths who dress themselves in short coats and tight trousers, and wish their companions to believe they are very "knowing cards " in all matters appertaining to the turf. The youth who buys his Sportsman or Sporting Life pins his faith to its utterances, and swears by the prophecies of the writer with a flashy nom-de-plume, generally couched in a hazy verbiage which leaves him in a muddled condition as to their real meaning. A few rears ago these papers were in the habit of coming out twice a week, and then only had a limited circulation. They are now issued every day, and two or three times a week find sufficient matter to make up double numbers. A great part of their contents is composed of the advertisements of betting men, known as bookmakers, some of whom offer special facilities for betting on limited means.
It is not legal for a man in London to set up an office where bets may be recorded, and thus it is that these firms - for they may so style themselves, since they make a regular business of betting, having the usual paraphernalia of offices, clerks, books of account, etc. - carry on their business by letter from the other side or the Channel. A notable instance of this is the firm of Messrs. Valentine, Hardaway, & Topping, whose place of business is at Boulogne-sur-Mer. This firm adver-[-147-]tises in every sporting paper, and announces that it sends a printed sheet "containing the latest market movements on all big events, which is forwarded free on receipt of post-card containing address." It also announces its willingness to receive any bets - or as it prefers to call them, "commissions "- from five shillings. upwards, either for horses to win or "obtain places." To obtain a place is to be one of the first three to pass the winning-post. From their own point of view these people carry on their business in a perfectly respectable manner, and those who send their money may rely upon receiving winnings if they make them - by no means the normal case with bookmakers and betting-agents. Private bookmakers may be seen in barbers' shops and at railway bookstalls, and oddly enough are frequently bakers and milkmen. There are several bakers and milkmen in Islington who make much more money by bookmaking than by pursuing their legitimate trades.
The English betting law as it stands, which consists virtually of what is called the "Ready-money Betting Act," is of course powerless to prevent this kind of thing. But as betting in this cold-blooded way is distinctly illegal, we rather wonder that some steps are not taken to prevent the sporting papers displaying advertisements which certainly break the spirit if not the letter of the law, Another of these "respectable guides" is Mr. James Webster, who also carries on business at Boulogne in much the same style, issuing a weekly printed sheet of prices at which bets may be made on the horses for the forthcoming races. The circulars are [-148-] got up in a similar way to shipping reports and Stock Exchange price-lists, and contain the ages of the horses, their weights, and all information appertaining to the racing future. They even go so far as to caution operators against "welshers" and bogus firms, who offer better prices than those current in the market, but from whom winnings are no doubt bona-fide ones. An extract from the Sportsman upon one of these firms may be of interest, as showing the assistance accorded them in evading the moral spirit of the law:-
"The police of the town of Boulogne have no cause to complain of the law in England which banishes respectable commission-agents. It has brought them several respected residents, and there is not the slightest chance of the Boulogne business ever being interfered with. Everything is carried on in the most loyal and straightforward manner, and the offices of Messrs. Valentine, Hardaway, & Topping would resemble a bank if they were thrown open. There is a sort of record-room where all the correspondence is received, opened, and sorted. Every transaction which has taken place since the office was opened has been duly recorded. Custom keeps the doors closed, and no one is admitted into the house of business, where affairs are transacted by correspondence. The confidence merited by the Boulogne firm and the high character borne by the Englishmen who have tempted others to imitate their method of doing business. Any one can understand that there can be no harm in betting when it is carried on by correspond-[-149-]ence, and when the market prices are controlled quite as effectually as any Stock Exchange quotations." The italics are ours. Was anything ever written that was more grossly misleading? How can there be less harm in betting by correspondence than by word of mouth? and how much easier is it for a junior clerk to lose ten shillings in the form of a postal order than in current coin of the realm? That a paper with an enormous circulation, such as the Sportsman, can be found willing to disseminate such pernicious doctrines as these should surely be regarded as sufficient reason for some decisive steps being taken to limit its power of doing harm.
The number of sporting publications is sufficiently astonishing, especially to those who are unacquainted with the numerous indirect ways of making these prints paying properties. There are close upon fifty journals issued in and around London. As such papers go, about ten may be styled respectable, relying upon their circulations for their newspaper existence; about another ten rely on their circulations, but can hardly be styled respectable; whilst the remainder consist of printed sheets, issued in some cases for private purposes, and in others for gulling inexperienced youth, the majority of them disreputable both in appearance and matter, and appealing to the worst passions of the human mind. A usual dodge is to offer "advice" in the form of the name of a horse that is "likely to win" in a certain race. The fee for this advice varies, but as it costs the senders nothing but the trouble of putting it in the post, it is all dear profit. The boy who buys a wretched rag, rejoicing in some such title as [-150-] the Turf Tipster, printed on vapoury paper, with worn-out type and smudgy ink, eagerly scans that column which is headed "Important to our Readers," or "How to Back the Winner," or something of the sort, and greedily swallows the bait that is often so cleverly laid. "We" - that is, the broken-down beerhouse loafer who is the owner, and writer, and "everything" of the sheet - "are constantly in the receipt of important information from trainers and others" - who, of course are always sure to know exactly which horse is going to win and which is not - "and this information we are prepared to impart privately to our readers, charging only a small fee to cover the expense of collecting." Then they go on to hint - not daring to say anything clearly - that the best thing is to place your bets with some respectable turf authority, who will be able to get "on" with bookmakers of undeniable character. Read between the lines, this sort of thing means, "Send your money to the editor of this paper." Many of these papers rely upon their own obscurity or impunity from police interference. and when they do attract the attention or the law they quietly drop out of existence under one title and reappear under another. It may be needless to say that such "information" is absolutely worthless, notwithstanding the fact that such prints can always point to a long list of extraordinarily successful tips, as well as to several testimonial letters from delighted and satisfied recipients of them. The course adopted by the editors of such papers in dispensing tips is virtually the same as that practised by the public-house tipster. They send a different horse to every applicant, until [-151-] the list of runners is exhausted, when they recommence and go through them again. By this means there is always somebody with a winner, and genuine testimonials may be procured, giving, in some instances, leave to other readers to write to the senders and verify the facts for themselves. But it follows that there are more failures than successes, and the youths who aspire to make money on the turf get tired of one tipster after a few failures and try another. Very possibly the new guide is the old under a different name. We hear of one man who produced five new sporting papers in a year, none of which ran simultaneously.
In almost any sporting paper numberless advertisements allure the half-initiated to a consultation. An example of this is the following, taken from the columns of a sporting paper, name and address being omitted : "Mr. A. B. begs to inform his clients and the public that his offices are ---- Established 18--." It is not difficult to divine who the clients must be in such a case. Many a "client," possibly as a result of knowing Mr. A. B.'s address, goes frequently without his lunch, and walks up to business in boots that sadly want repairing. Here is another from the same paper: "Noblemen and gentlemen who are able to appreciate reliable intelligence of a practical turfite of twenty-five years' experience, having superior associations on the turf, also at the principal training quarters, should communicate without delay for terms to ------------" etc. Other advertisements give merely names and addresses, in some cases with the curious description "turf accountants" after them ; but every one [-152-] knows that these are professional bookmakers who are open to receive amounts from five shillings upwards, to be placed on any horse that the sender may select.
In another we find such advertisements as the following : "The 'S.W.' System ; circular forwarded on receipt of self-addressed envelope. Apply," etc. "Jack Black's" (the name is ours) "1888 season. Terms 20s." All who subscribe before January 1st will receive Lincoln and Liverpool daily wires free."
Most of the other sporting papers have similar advertisements. The lower they get in the scale of respectability, the more daring they become ; but to all intents and purposes, it seems to us that the examples we have given are quite as bad as they can be, since they distinctly point out to young men where they may go to be plundered and ruined. Let it be understood that we make no charge against these papers or their advertisers of playing otherwise than strictly within their own rules but to make money at betting requires a combination of sharpness and experience that few city clerks or shopmen can aspire to. If street betting is illegal, and none of us can pretend that it is not, then betting by advertisement must be distinctly a breach of the spirit of the law, and for the sake of the hundreds of young men who are annually led astray by the attractions of horse-racing, some steps should be taken to check these public finger-posts to ruin. A discussion recently took place in the daily papers regarding the enormous circulation of sporting papers, which shows us how wide an influence they must have upon the youth of England; although it would [-153-] be a mistake to suppose that the vice of the turf, any more than other vices, is confined to men who are young.
In addition to the papers that devote themselves exclusively to what they call "sport," we must remember that every daily paper has a sporting article, and gives particulars of the "latest London betting." It must be difficult for young men who so frequently have betting and racing thrust upon their notice to believe that there can be much that as wrong in it. But experience teaches, and the youth who develops a passion for betting and has only his limited wages wherewith to satisfy it soon learns that the punishment it brings in its train is sweeping and unavoidable. Against the turf as a sport there may not be a great deal to say; and the best criticism upon it, for cruel common sense, was uttered by Richard Cobden, when he said, "That out of a given number of colts, the name of the one which could run the fastest did not interest him." But the vast majority of persons who pretend to an interest in the turf care nothing for it beyond the opportunities for betting that it offers. Young men who discuss racing in offices and wine-bars never consider the beauty nor the breeding of a horse, nor even its speed in the abstract. It is only the name of the horse that has the best chance of winning that interests them, and that only interests them because they have a few shillings risked upon it. Hazarding money which they cannot afford to lose, upon something which they do not understand, and with persons whom they know to be a great deal sharper than [-154-] themselves, would seem to be the ne plus ultra of empty-headed folly; yet this is what is done. The sums of money ventured at first may not be large. Half a crown might be styled "the clerk's bet." This is the amount he generally risks for a beginning, and it is usually upon one of the big races that he commences, such as the Two Thousand, the Oaks, the Leger. The youth is apt to think at first that these constitute almost all the races, until he makes friends with a typical "horsey" young man, with a striped shirt, a brown "bowler" hat, and a horse-shoe pin, which he is pretty certain to do before very long. This young man may be in the same office or he may not, but he knows all about everything, and although he does not seem to make much money himself, he is anxious to do all that he can for his friends. As soon as the novice finds out that there is a horse-race every day for about eight months in the year, he at once sees what numberless opportunities there are of making money. His friend points out the advantages of the sporting papers and the various guides, shows him where to "put his money on," and how to do it with a certainty of "making something." The friend usually finishes up with borrowing whatever he can get, but of course a man cannot be expected to give his time for nothing. This sort of friend has a frank and racy manner, which causes him to be freely trusted at first. He knows a man who "makes a book," and he offers to place his new friend's money for him. He explains that sometimes a man has his book full, and cannot take any more, and also defines curious expressions, like "on the nod," "on [-155-] the bounce," "short and long prices," and so on. The young man, knowing no bookmakers himself, and having been working into a state of sporting semi-enthusiasm, entrusts his half-crown or five shillings to his instructor to put on a certain horse. Half a crown is the lowest bet that is professionally accepted, and bigger bets are multiples thereof. If the horse loses his money is gone, and of course there is no one to blame but himself; but if the horse wins his friend may assure him, with many expressions of disgust, that the "fellow's book was full up, and he could not get it on." This is a very usual trick, and it is not until it has happened a second or third time that the greenhorn wonders whether his mentor does not pocket his winnings, and only return him his stakes, He cannot, of course, prove this, but he decides to put it on for himself for the future. The facilities for doing this are not far to seek. He turns to his sporting papers, and reads the advertisements. Professional bookmakers of the class who will accommodate him call themselves "turf commission-agents" or some of the other titles already given. Some few of these are "safe" men ; others are decidely the reverse. But there are many who do not send winnings, and never have any intention of doing so. Those firms which are most advertised, as a rule, are those which are least to be relied upon, but which usually attract the novice. They talk about "Experience must tell! We have been forty years on the turf. For a small weekly sum we print our list of advices and send it you," etc. To the youth who knows nothing about horses it seems just the thing to receive a list [-156-] of selections, and he probably subscribes. The usual price is one shilling and twopence an issue ; and occasionally, in order to impress the recipient with their value, they are printed in cipher, and a key sent. The information is, of course, all rubbish, but an address is given to which money may be remitted, with the understanding that it is to be "put on" the sender's "fancy," and the winnings to be forwarded by the first post on "settling-day." Settling-day with circularizing tipsters is usually Monday after the race. But as letters must be addressed to initials under cover to some general address, there is not much certainty of receiving winnings in the unlikely event of any being theoretically made. If the betting greenhorn has won a little the tipster may take the trouble to recommend him to put it on another "moral cert." - a slang phrase for a horse which is supposed to be sure to win - in the hope that he may lose ; or he may just not trouble at all about it, and vouchsafe no answer to the young man's tearful epistles on the subject.
It is a me1ancholy sight to watch the young men in railway trains and on tram-cars poring over these wretched slips of paper with long anxious faces, fingering the while the solitary half-crown and utterly unable to grasp the fact that the selection of names to which they give such close attention is only a hap-hazard collection, without even as much value as the usually worthless stable-tips that occasionally pass from mouth to mouth. Such young men live a life of misery to themselves. Their scanty wages, which at the best would barely suffice for their daily necessaries, cannot withstand the drain upon them [-157-] that a taste for betting ensures, and they dwindle away with a rapidity which is hardly to be conceived. The betting youth, who is pretty sure to get his very best tip on the day that his funds are exhausted, borrows five shillings and stakes it on something which starts at four to one, so that if it comes in first he will receive a sovereign. All day long he fidgets about at his desk, unable to keep his attention on his work, lucky if he escapes reprimand for some absent-minded blunder, faint from want of food, as he of course has had no money to pay for any dinner, and listening with hungry ears for the hoarse cry of the newspaper-boy announcing the "winner of the So-and-so." His inattention to his work is of course noted, if it is not commented upon, and he is mentally marked down as one of the entries for what is vulgarly called "the Irishman's rise." At length the "fourth edition" makes its presence heard above the din of the passing traffic, and the anxious watcher evolves some excuse and slips out to buy one. Of course his horse has not won - it never does when so much depends upon it - and he returns to his desk only to wonder and scheme as to how he can procure the money to back his "fancy" for the next day. This sort of thing necessitates a try shabby personal appearance, walking backwards and forwards to business from the suburban home, a deterioration of heath from insufficiency of food, and a shamefaced acquaintance with the pawnbroker.
Nevertheless he resorts to his usual "bar" in the evening, to talk over his misfortunes and hear what other people, as foolish as himself, think of the [-158-] chances for the forthcoming runs. He cannot go to a public-house without drinking some beer, and this although he has had next to nothing to eat all day and perhaps with the shilling he has just borrowed from his mother or his landlady he finds that he has to "stand" some one else a glass of beer in return for some worthless tip, which, if he takes any notice of, will cost him at least another half-crown.
Every public-house that is the resort of young men has a tipster of its own; that is to say, some down-at-heel individual who, according to his own story, is always related to somebody in half the stables in England, and always knows whether "the stable is betting" on a horse or not. A good example of this is to be found in a public-house in Camberwell, which, owing to the fact that it is kept by two sisters, is the nightly resort of a crowd of young men of the usual class. Here, after 8 o'clock at night, a man familiarly known as "Tommy M-----" may always be seen, drinking at everybody's expense, and giving off his oracular statements with all the gravity in the world. He is the umpire of a local cricket-club, and has, therefore, a double distinction. It is instructive to note the manner in which a lot of young men, most or whom are old enough to know better hang upon his utterances, when it should be patent to them all that he cannot know any more about it than they do themselves.
The circulation of several sporting papers is largely aided by paragraphs in the Parisian style of which means very little better than gross indecency. With this, however, we do not intend to deal just now, beyond instancing one or two whose [-159-] anecdotes and jokes are the talk of London, and which notwithstanding are to be bought at all the most respectable newsvendors'. There are two papers largely made up of "funny" stories of this description, and their absolute indecency is frequently but thinly veiled. Yet their cleverness is undeniable, and the papers number amongst their contributors some University men who may be said to have "come down to this." We know of a paper whose aim is to imitate the style of the two just mentioned, and which is owned and mainly written by a first-rate classical scholar and clever journalist When such men will stoop to pander to two of the lowest vices of mankind, betting and indecency, it must seem that journalism is in a bad way. That the police could interfere if they would is only too palpable. But people who remember the great Kurr and Benson turf frauds, and the prosecution and imprisonment of several leading London detectives for virtually aiding in them, will not be inclined to place much reliance upon the supervision of the police. That a press censor is urgently needed cannot be denied, and that sooner or later such an individual will be appointed must be apparent to all. The sporting papers should certainly have their freedom curtailed, since they abuse it to the common danger of the young men of England. If it were not for these journals, half the betting that is now done would not exist, and many a youth would have no cause to regret the time that they were first brought to his notice, Their raison d'?tre is the love of betting that grows up with young men from the cradle, and never leaves them, even although they [-160-] are constant losers by it. The many instances that have come to our notice of youths who have been induced to bet upon horses at the confident advice of the tipsters who write for these papers are a sufficient justification for our assertion that fully half of them should be summarily suppressed.
But betting finds harbourage not only in racing, but in many other amusements - billiards, for example. Billiard-playing is one of the most fruitful sources of what may be called ordinary betting. Against billiards as a most interesting game of skill nothing can be said ; it combines plenty of exercise, with improvement in accuracy of judgment and keenness of vision ; and the only objection is that it necessitates the devotion of a great deal of time, if a man desires to excel. To those who do not play billiards, as with those who do not dance, it is impossible to comprehend the fascination which it exercises on the minds of its votaries. The youth who acquires a taste for billiards may be regarded as engaged for the rest of his spare time through life, as long, at any rate, as his means will suffer him, for billiards is an expensive amusement. A short game of billiards - "fifty up" - may be played at some places for sixpence, and in others for a shilling. The "places" are for the most part public-houses, though there is a fair proportion of " billiard-saloons" in existence. There are some exceedingly "shady" resorts where billiards may be played at "3d a game," but the tables are rarely "true" enough to tempt the adept at the game, and are chiefly used by the lower class of players. Owing to the growth of "billiard-saloons" and the fact that [-161-] each public-house possesses a billiard-room, the game which a few years ago was regarded as almost beyond the reach of the middle classes is now played by mechanics, under shop-assistants, and the out-at-elbows portion of humanity with which London is so familiar. The gambling-clubs are all fitted with billiard-tables, and the charges made for playing on them are usually small. But it is not to these resorts that we intend to turn our attention just now, because the very character of the places is sufficient to keep away many youths and young men who will think nothing of frequenting the ordinary billiard-room at a public-house. It is a great temptation to the youth who, when he has finished his day's work, can think of nothing better to do than walk about the streets with a pipe in his mouth to drop into a billiard-room, seat himself on one of the softly cushioned, comfortable benches that line the walls, call for a glass of beer, and give himself up to the delights of watching the game that is progressing before him. If he understands anything of it himself he will enjoy himself the more, for he can mentally criticize, and hammer on the floor with his stick when a good stroke is brought off, or make a peculiar gasping noise in his throat if one of the players "pots" his adversary's ball. The men who are using the table are probably both in their shirtsleeves, smoking pipes, and stopping occasionally to take large draughts of beer. They remark loudly to everybody around on the progress of the game, and in the course of a few minutes all those present understand that they are playing "100 up" for "the table and half a crown," which means that the one [-162-] who loses has to pay for the hire of the take in addition to the stakes. But the opportunities of money-changing do not rest here. If those looking on know anything about the players - and as the frequenters of a billiard-room soon scrape acquaintance with each other, they are most likely to do so - it is a usual thing with them to bet with one another upon the probable result ; or when a rather "nasty" position is taken up by the balls the man who is about to make the stroke will frequently accept bets against the chance of his doing so. It is but fair to say that such betting usually takes the form of "a drink," thus combining conviviality with the speculation; but it is an open question whether betting a drink is not fraught with worse tendencies than betting money. It is certain that in the former case the result, let it be what it may, is positive evil to both, since "betting a drink" means one for the winner and one for the loser, as it is contrary to all public-house etiquette to drink by oneself.
A casual visit to some of these billiard-rooms is not uninteresting. We will instance one in the Upper Street, Islington, the street which is popurar1y supposed to be attended with more danger to young men than any other in London. The entrance is through an unimposing public-house door, from which a passage conducts to a long, narrow, low-pitched billiard-room, which after 8' o'clock at night is filled with smoke and reeking of whisky, and tenanted by a lot of aimless men of all ages, with nothing to do until from 8 to 9 o'clock the next morning, and most of them intent upon enjoyment in the meantime. Some of them put [-163-] clean collars on in the evening instead of the morning, so that they may look nice and fresh in the eyes of the barmaids; others wear rings, and have a dig with them that they hold by the collar so as to display them. Most of them smoke pipes of various patterns, a few cigars, whilst some of the younger ones even descend to cigarettes. Somebody once said that it was a sure sign of the deterioration of a country when its inhabitants took to smoking paper. If that be the case the London suburbs must be going headlong to ruin, for one may everywhere see small boys smoking paper cigarettes. In the room under discussion a ceaseless babble of tongues is kept up, and the conversation, when it is at its best, is chiefly devoted to betting. Betting upon the games being played is only a small part of the evening's amusement, although if the game be pool instead of billiards there is much more opportunity for wagering, and consequently more excitement. The greatest possible number of players at billiards is four, but at pool fifteen or sixteen will essay to save their lives. each of them will back themselves, and upon nearly every stroke the watchers can bet. As the evening progresses the atmosphere of the place becomes positively noxious, for public-house loungers can never bear any windows open ; fresh air is a great deal too much for them. The smoke hangs heavily against the low ceiling, the smell of the conglomerated fumes from the spirits, together with the clatter of the waiters, the rattle of the billiard-balls, the heat from the gas, and the loud, coarse jokes of the inmates, which get louder and coarser [-164-] every half-hour, all combine to render the place a veritable pandemonium. Yet it is not at all an unusual thing to see two or three fresh-faced youths in the room, only just introduced there by some fly young man of their acquaintance.
There is another well-known billiard resort in one of the semi-suburbs of London ; that is to say, a suburb which was a suburb once, but has now so much that is suburhan beyond it that, by a process of negation, it seems to be almost part of the city. It belongs to a public-house sufficiently distinguished-looking to call itself an hotel, and has no shortcomings in the matter of ventilation, being lofty and fitted with glass air-holes. It has all the appurtenances that the most exacting of billiard-players could desire, and is frequented by the more aspiring members of the lower grades of city men and shopkeepers. A couple of Jews make this place their nightly resort, and "make a book" on the games of pool that are played. They take up the same position every evening with quite a professional air, and offer the odds on the players with no attempt at concealment. It has become the habit to accept their presence, and it is almost a matter of personal honour with the players to take up the gage which is thus thrown down to them. New-comers will do it in the fear of being thought soft if they refuse, and the habitu?s will not desist lest the others should think they were losing faith in their own skill. How much influence this sort of feeling has upon young men who use billiard-rooms and bar-parlours cannot be rightly understood by any but those who are well-informed in their ways, [-165-] but it may be taken for granted that with no one does the unwritten law of custom prevail so strongly as with weak-minded young men.
The betting is carried on fairly, and there are never any instances of trickery. This consequently reconciles the youth who is at first apt to hold aloof, and at the second or third visit he "puts his money on" some one, just for the fun of the thing. The fun of the thing is not so apparent when he loses as when he wins; but he, of course, cannot show the white feather. It is a noteworthy fact that the young men who commence betting are always scrupulously honourable in their dealings; it is only after they have been several times tricked themselves that they begin to think they may as well turn their experience to account.
Learning to play billiards is expensive, since it is always understood that the loser of a game must pay for the hire of the table. The teacher, moreover, cannot be expected to give his valuable time for nothing; and if the novice is not himself imbued with the idea the other will soon insinuate, with no great delicacy of manner, that he expects his drinks and smokes to be provided for him. Drinking, smoking, and betting are the inseparable adjuncts of billiard-playing, ill-fitted as they necessarily must be to the game. Billiards require steadiness of hand, keenness of sight, readiness of nerve ; but drinking must interfere with the first, smoking with the second, and betting with the third, since the youth who is likely to lose two or three shillings that he can ill spare, if he makes a few misses and bad strokes, is much less likely to do his [-166-] skill full justice. Playing at billiards. then, not reprehensible in the abstract, is accompanied by so much that is opjectionable that those who have any influence over the young should certainly discourage the taste for it as much as possible. In addition to the injurious habits promulgated by an addiction to this pursuit, the extremely bad company that a youth meets in the billiard-room should not be over-looked. The ordinary time-wasting young men, with their slang, their loose ideas, their low conversation, their general ignorance and stupidity, are objectionable enough, but the sharpers, sporting touts, and professional rnisleaders of youth are much worse, and individuals of these classes are to be found in every billiard-room. The youth of seventeen or eighteen who is conducted from his home to the billiard-room, amongst a lot of fellows who endeavour to be dreadfully jolly, wear their hats on the backs of their heads, stick their hands in their pockets, know the latest rnusic-ha1l catchwords, joke familiarly with the barmaids and generally seem very "knowing cards" indeed, is, to a certain extent, dazzled, and thinks it must be a fine thing to be such a dashing sort of chap himself. Not being behind the scenes, he cannot see that the red-striped shirt-front is only a dicky, and the "knowingness" the result of spending Saturday night in the shilling seats of a music-hall.
Certain city barmards, as we have mentioned in speaking of gambling, have acquired a reputation of selecting the winners in races. There is one in a well-known restaurant in Queen Street, of whose sagacity many men speak with the utmost enthu-[-167-]siasm. The foolish, blind trustfulness of amateur betting-men could not be better shown than by this instance.
Professional betting-men who make books for a living are by no means anxious to be pestered with the small accounts of city young men ; but there are plenty of individuals who combine bookmaking with their other businesses, and are always prepared to bet in small amounts. Bakers and barbers have well-deserved reputations for making books, especially the latter. The Jew barbers of Houndsditch are celebrated for their "starting-price" books. "Starting-prices" mean the odds that are actually laid against the horse just before it starts for the race. Many city waiters make books and whisper seductive tips as they bring the plates of hot meat to the hungry clerks. Tobacconists, who are well known to foster every form of vice under the pretence of selling cigars, are notorious betting-men, and we know of several shops, behind the counters of which young ladies assist, which are made the daily resort of young men with a penchant for "sport." Publicans in many cases make books and register bets over the counters, and this quite openly. Nay, the police themselves are more than suspected in some instances of "putting money on" with the very publicans whom they ought to denounce. In nearly every bank and most large offices there are sure to be clerks who surreptitiously lay the odds. It is hard to believe that the principals could not easily prevent this if they chose to bestir themselves.
In the Stock Exchange there are several members who, although nominally dealing in stocks, actually [-168-] only make books, the minimum amount they accept being a sovereign. As, in addition to the ordinary members of the institution, there are some six thousand clerks of all ages connected therewith, it will be seen that there is a wide scope for making money out of them. The Stock Exchange "Derby sweep" is well known, and the big first prize is a matter of common talk.
There are one or two "outside" stock-broking places - i.e., unconnected with the Stock Exchange - which under this guise carry on large betting businesses. They are fitted with the telegraphic tapes, and are made the resorts of numbers of young men in their lunch hours. The tapes, we may explain, are automatic machines connected by telegraph wires with the central office, from which are sent the names of the winners of the various races. The machine stamps the news on a roll of tape which unwinds itself with the motion. Betting-men sometimes elect "to pay on the tape," which means that whatever the tape first announces they will accept as correct although the instrument frequently makes mistakes.
There are little betting-clubs in every part of London, clubs to which the subscription is small, and whose advertised advantages consist of "tape and telephone." There is a very low place of this kind on Islington Green, where betting touts of the shadiest character congregate, and to which many young men of the clerk and shopman stamp resort. There is another, of a better class, to which the subscription is a guinea, at Dalston. The proprietor is a well-known bookmaker, and the place is a Sunday-[-169-]night rendezvous for all the betting-men who are in town. Here may occasionally be seen such celebrities as Jem Smith and Mr. Topping, and many of the members obtain the entr? merely to be able to say that they know such characters, They are expensive, however, these acquaintances; but there is a certain "Boys of England" glory about it which is irresistible to the homily disposed youth. In the Imperial Arcade, leading from Ludgate Hill, there is a well-known meeting-place for betting-men, to which the youth of the neighbourhood repair on the off-chance of getting a good tip. The police appear to wink at the fact, although it must be well known to them.
The result of betting is, in many cases, ruin and disaster for young men. It plunges them into difficulties from which it is impossible to extricate themselves, except at the expense of their honesty. The habit grows in time into a vice, just as drinking or gambling, and saps their energies and destroys their interest in all other things.
A few instances of this may not be amiss :-
Two young men were employed by the London and South-Western Bank, the one as clerk in charge of a suburban branch, and the other as cashier at the head office. The salary of the former was ?90 with a house, whilst that of the latter was ?120. They were accustomed to play chess for ?1 a game, and to finish the evening by tossing for sovereigns. The both became members of a betting-club behind Sanger's Theatre, and immersed themselves in a science they "did not understand." The cashier lost a lot of money, and believing that [-170-] he had got a really good tip by which he could recoup himself, he borrowed from his till for the experiment. The tip turned out a failuyre. He borrowed again and lost, and yet again. Then he was afraid to come to the office. He was not prosecuted, and is now driving a hansom cab. The other quite speedily followed his example and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
Alfred B---- a Cornish youth in an insurance office in Lombard Street, was inveigled into betting, and contracted the habit of supplying his stakes from the pockets of the coats of his fellow-clerks, which were kept during the day in a lavatory underneath the office. He was discovered, and dismissed without a character.
William M----, a pawnbroker's assistant, married to a very pretty young wife, found that he was lucky at betting. In the usual course he lost his place and then hawked jewellery amongst the servants of West End houses. One day his furniture was seized and sold, but he never ceased betting. He was a pleasant-looking, fresh-faced young man, and he obtained furniture on hire from a firm in Queen Victoria Street. He pledged this furniture to raise his necessary stakes, but could not keep up his weekly payments. Then he obtained other things, amongst them a sentence of twelve months' imprisonment. His young and pretty wife, ashamed to show her face to those who knew her, fell into evil courses. These are but stray example of what has come to our knowledge.
The folly of betting cannot be too strong1y impressed upon the minds of young men. in the first [-171-] bet that is made lie the germs of future ruin and disaster. The traps that are spread around boys and young men to induce them to bet are innumerable, and, as we have shown, wherever they are likely to remain for a few minutes and get into conversation an enterprising bookmaker establishes himself to receive them. Young men must depend upon themselves to escape the danger, and if they once fully realize the big consequences with which a boat-race "sweep" may be fraught, even if they think they are strong enough themselves to know when to stop, they will refrain from giving a countenance to it which may induce others to follow their lead.