POOLS AND THE WORKERS
By JOHN BROWN
T0 an ex-worker like me a good deal of the stuff written about the " proletariat " or " the working class " reads hollow. " Working class " is really an attitude of mind. Millions of workmen have not got the attitude at all, but all members of the Communist Party have, it. Workers are insulted if you refer to them as " good working-class types " or " fine types of working men." The dream of nearly all workers is to get enough money to avoid the danger of being regarded as typical working men. Snobbery has always been rampant in England, and it is most active round the broad base of the social pyramid. Money means more opportunity for increasing social prestige. No wonder the pools flourish.
Years ago when I was a young candidate addressing meetings I used to speak proudly of my proletarian origin, thinking this would endear me to the humble and lowly. I was puzzled by the lack of response to this battle-cry. Faces that had seemed interested were clouded over by doubt. Cheerfulness gave way to uneasiness. This was most pronounced in the slums. People said, " He's just the same as us " in a sad tone. I'd have done far better as a broken-down aristocrat. I realise now that the workers don't really admire one another. Their great ambition is to escape from their drab surround- ings and live a fuller life. A fuller life means more freedom, and that can only be found through money. All the talk in the highbrow papers and on the radio about " the right use of leisure " and " a full life," meaning cultural activities, gets nowhere with three-fourths of the workers. They know quite well that possession of money is the shortest cut to their idea of a full life. Now for a shilling a week you can fill in a pool coupon and have a chance of winning L60,000 on the " treble chance " or the " penny points." Even if you lose, you have the excitement of looking forward to the results, checking them, with nervous tension if the first matches are right, and com- paring notes with your friends. "If Chelsea had got only one! " No wonder the Post Office handles fourteen million pool packets a week.
Mass Observation some time ago did a survey of gambling for the National League for Education against Gambling. The report which resulted is very interesting. Eighty-nine per cent. of the pools bets are for amounts under 5s. On most pools £5 is the maximum stake per week for the entire coupon, which includes varieties to suit all tastes. There are the " easy six," the " four aways," " three draws," " eight results," " penny results," " penny points," " treble chance," " ten results " and so on. In one survey-area nearly 6o per cent. of a sample of men over forty in a working-class district went in for gambling, and this may be an underestimate. It is common knowledge that civil servants and shopkeepers are loth to admit their betting activities.
Half the people who go in for the pools admit they have never won anything. Twelve per cent. of the pool subscribers admit they have won sums of more than £m. In an inquiry I made myself I found that over two million people had won dividends from one firm alone. The prizes won each week are large. The penny points pool run by the largest firm on March 20th last totalled £143,418, and five first dividends of £12,907 were paid, with fifty-seven second dividends of £503 and over 5,000 smaller prizes ranging from £82
to £3 4s. On March 6th a speculator won £70,271 with a shilling, and the penny gamblers have netted as much as £64,000 at a time. Each subscriber has a code number, and all bets are credit, the stakes being forwarded a week in arrears, win or lose. The coupons are usually filled in on the Wednesday or Thursday before the matches, most families having a special " pools night," when Lunn is discussed and copies of entries made. The paper restrictions have halted the printing of copies by the firms, and a great deal of ingenuity is exercised in making a little paper go a long way.
Before writing this article I made a small survey of my own in two working-class areas, and found that the use of what are calved " block perms " is now widespread, especially among the higher-paid workers. A " block perm " is a method of eliminating possible errors, and multiplying entries without the necessity of filling in hundreds of lines. There are three possible results to a football match—home win, away win or draw. On a sample of a thousand matches from the four English Leagues I found the percentages of these to be 5o, 27 and 23 respectively. Most backers work on an assumption that would confirm these figures—that is to say, half their column on the penny points is for home wins. The difficulty is to decide where they will be on a list of fourteen matches. To eliminate possible errors some people " perm " as many as six matches three ways, covering all possible results. This costs £3 os. 9d. on the penny pools. Other students of form cover ten matches two ways (usually home and away) for £4 5s. 4d. Many of the Sunday news- papers now employ permutation correspondents, who each week devise some new combination and suggest " bankers," as likely winners are called.
It can hardly be maintained that the pools encourage the very poor to waste their substance, as in fact the group which bets least of all is the worst-paid income group, where the family income is under £4 a week. All other income groups gamble to a greater degree, and pool gambling has no obvious relationship to educational background. The more intelligent workers are the chief addicts of the permutation systems, which demand an elementary knowledge of statistical method. Many thousands of workers bare employed by the pools firms, but recruitment is hindered by the Control of Engagement Order, and in any case most of the girls are part-time. Two of the big pools are situated in areas where there is considerable unemploy- ment.
The most elaborate precautions are taken to prevent fraud, and, as credit betting is legal, the aid of the law can be called on when cases of fraud are discovered. There must inevitably be a fair number of people who do not pay their losses after a losing week, but no figures are available. The existence of a black-list of bad payers is one safeguard. The pools, after deducting their percentage for running costs, pay out on the assumption that everyone will settle the following week. Costs vary between ten and twenty per cent. Advocates of State control of the pools have suggested that the State could run a single weekly coupon, and the profits would go to meet State expenditure by other departments. I met no sub- scribers who were keen on this idea, which appears to be confined to middle-class publicists. Indeed, the sort of criticism of the pools and their supporters that one hears from platforms seems to me remote from actualities. Politicians and reformers invariably exaggerate the number of pools employees—sometimes to a fantastic degree. They often claim that fourteen million people are losing three shillings a week that they can't afford. But thousands of prizes are distributed to reach winners on the Wednesday after the matches.
On the credit 'side can be placed the hope of fortune round the corner. On the debit side the moralists can set the unholy excitement of the gamble, the effort to get something for nothing and the rich rewards handed out (sometimes no doubt to the unrighteous) without preparation, forethought and honest endeavour. Will this make us an immoral nation? Apart from the fact that we have no right to judge, the workers don't think so. The Englishman, like the Chinese, has always had a reputation for gambling. In a world of planners and planned, where every course is charted, the worker believes he is showing his initiative when he seeks his Treasure Island by post..