18 FEBRUARY 1949, Page 10


By H. C. LAWTON 0 N February loth the Prime Minister announced that a Royal Commission on Lotteries, Betting and Gaming had been set up. The chairman will be Mr. H. U. Willink, K.C., and the wide terms of reference cover every aspect of betting and gaming, with particular attention to the complex legal problem, and to the developments that have taken place since the Royal Commission of 1932. Gambling is no new thing. It has been a part of man's life since the time when he stood upright and began to express his emotions by drawing on the rock-face of his cave. It is not a personal problem. It has become an industry, a trade and a pro- fession. It is the social problem of commercialised mass gambling that the Royal Commission must examine.

Mr. Willink and his colleagues (whose names are yet to be announced) will find the report of the previous Royal Commission of great value in their preparatory work. But gambling is not a static affair. It is constantly changing with social and economic trends, and the evidence that was given before the previous Royal Commission will bear no relation to the present position. In 1932 horse-racing was the major medium of mass-gambling. Bets were laid with the bookmaker, on and off the course, and with the Totalisator, operated by the Race Course Betting Control Board. In 1932 the Totalisator recorded a turnover of £4,017,578. In 1948, despite fewer days of racing during the year, the turnover had reached £26,252,125. In 1932, in addition to the Totalisator; some £250,000,000 passed through the hands of some thirty thousand bookmakers. In 1948, with an increased number of bookmakers, the total was nearer L400,000,000.

In 1932 greyhound racing was beginning to develop. The Totalisator was not yet in operation, but betting was extensive among the eighteen million people who attended the tracks in that year. In 1946 the Totalisator recorded a record turnover of nearly k200,000,000. With severe weather and the industrial crises of 1947, the turnover dropped to £131,460,177. In 1948 it had dropped again, although the complete figures are not yet to hand. The ten per cent. tax imposed on the Totalisator had a serious effect, but it did not reduce the betting ; it merely changed its direction from the Totalisator to the off-the-course bookmakers.

There are indications that some of the money has been diverted to football pools. In 1932 the amount of pool betting on football results was negligible. In 1948, as a result of the ten per cent. tax, it was possible to assess the amount of money received by the 135 pool promoters, and the figure was over k7o,000,000 for the year. In the course of assisting the pool promoters the Post Office makes a weekly profit of L50,000 by selling postal orders and by transporting the weekly average of 9,000,000 coupons to the pool investors, and the weekly average of 7,500,000 coupons from the investors. - At least two people are betting on each coupon, and it will be apparent that the recent estimate of Mass-Observation regarding pools is accurate. They state that 44 per cent. of the population over sixteen years of age are regular investors with the pools. That it is illegal for anyone under the age of twenty-one to bet with the pool promoters is apparently overlooked. That fact is stated on each coupon, but there is no statement to the effect that, in the event of a person under twenty-one winning a prize, he will not be paid.

The annual turnover on betting and gambling is not less than k700,000,000 a year. This gigantic turnover cannot be handled by a few people. It involves a minimum labour force of some 3oo,coo, the majority of whom make no contribution to the wealth of the nation. Neither can this business be conducted without the most modern techniques of business organisation and publicity. That there is an enormous demand for the services of the betting industry there can be no doubt. Will the Royal Commission be able to investigate this demand?

In 1932 the Royal Commission heard evidence from a variety of sources. They ranged from the representatives of the Church, the Press, the greyhound tracks, the football associations, the pools, the police, the Salvation Army, the Showmen's Guild, to charitable organisations—in all a list of ninety-seven representatives. But they never asked the man-in-the-street—the man (or woman) who has the small regular bet on a horse, or pool ; who likes a ticket in a raffle ; who places his bets, not with the bookmaker direct, but with the milkman, or the newspaper boy, or the liftman in the office, or the bookmaker's tout in the factory workshop. These are the people who do the gambling ; the people who gamble as a test of their skill, as a relief from boredom, as a means of excitement—and if you think there is no excitement, just look at the queues awaiting the football results on a Saturday night!

Mass-Observation, in their recent survey, have made an attempt to answer this question: Why do people gamble ? Whatever the reasons, and they are many, it will be essential that they be examined. Boredom may be the prime cause, or the insecurity of economic status, or it may just be the natural human desire to take a chance. Whatever it is, there has arisen a vast industry, a professional betting-class, which uses all the power of the Press in the publica- tion of betting news and the winning of big prizes, an industry that uses the widespread advertising techniques as a means of inducement. It is this critical survey of a vast waste of human effort that will occupy most of the time of the Commission. If, as a result, we may learn what to avoid in order to live a life of fuller enjoyment, of greater usefulness and social responsibility, then this second Royal Commission will have fulfilled its mission.

It will have a complex task. In trying to unravel the legal tangle of the betting laws it will need first-rate ability and patience. Its results may indicate—in fact, I think they must—a radical change in the relation of the State to gambling. In the past the State has never attempted to interfere with private gambling. It has not made a crime of gambling, except under certain conditions. It has never declared that private gambling between individuals is immoral. The State's policy has always, despite many anomalies, been directed mainly against the creation of a trade in gambling, and the sup- pression of all inducements to gamble. The earliest statutes (1541) were directed against any form of gambling that diverted the energy of the young men from the practice of archery and other military pursuits. That thread of policy has continued until today, and in the current edition of King's Regulations, in the first paragraph concerning the duties of Officers Commanding Units, you will read, " He will discountenance any disposition in his officers to gambling or extravagance. He will also check any tendency among them to practical jokes" (this latter reference continuing the tradition of the word " gammon," which, in its original form, meant a game, or joke, carried too far—to the detriment of military skill).

The attitude of the State may have to change. It may need to direct its attitude to gambling as a social problem of the peace, instead of, as an the past, as a national peril in times of war.