ASPECTS OF GAMBLING
By E. L. PACKER
THE gross annual turnover in gambling is being watched from two sides. Treasury officials are said to be working out plans to tax betting, and representatives of the Churches recently asked the Home Secretary to " curb commercialised and massed gambling." In particular, the great increase in the popularity of greyhound-racing has swelled the gambling turnover during the last decade. The interest lies, of course, not in the sport but in the betting. £69,452,094 was invested during 1945 by punters at the twenty London grey- hound-tracks. More than £500,000,00o is wagered yearly in horse and greyhound racing, while the amount invested in football-pools rose from £8,000,000 in 1933-34 to £45,000,000 in 1938-39. There was a decrease during the war years, but now the figure is rising again, and in 1945-46 it reached £23,000,000.
These amounts do not represent a loss to the economic life of th.. community, as some people assume. The economist would Quickly be able to show that most of it is transfer expenditure, and
that the real cost of gambling to the community consists of wages and salaries to accountants, tote-operators, track officials, jockeys, trainers and the like. People who oppose gambling frequently do so on the grounds that it is morally wrong to get money without having to work for it. The betting man argues that what he does with his money is his own business, and he resents any attempt to interfere with this prerogative. What has been overlooked, both by the gambler, the reformer and the sociologist, is the effect of gambling on the individual.
Writing as one who formerly backed horses every day throughout the flat-racing season, and who now as a social worker has the opportunity to discuss gambling with many men who bet regularly, I would say that the effect of gambling on the individual is almost wholly detrimental. I started, as usual, with small stakes. Winnings from small sums soon cease to satisfy, and when I staked and lost larger amounts the anxiety occasioned was considerable. This anxiety has a twofold effect. It creates an inconsistency of disposition, good or bad temper showing itself according to the fluctuation of fortune—which is injurious to the backer's immediate circle and in particular to children with whom he may come into contact as parent or instructor. Secondly, the anxiety which follows a losing run, the empty feeling in the stomach when the selection has lost, these emotions in time come to be appreciated in a masochistic fashion. They are part of the tension which gambling provides and which in my opinion is its principal attraction.
The popular newspapers are reputed to sell, not on their policy or lay-out, but on the ability of their sporting writers to pick winners. Certainly to me during my betting days the international scene and the current High Court case completely lost their appeal. My interest was centred on the sporting page. If an investigation were made into the activities and interests of the regular gambler, I should h.: prepared to forecast that it would reveal an almost total lack of interest on his part in politics. The man who likes a flutter every day is not concerned with long-term policies ; he prefers to improve his own status by gambling rather than political action. Waiting for the results after the bets have been placed has a peculiar effect on the mind. The expectation of success produces a sense of euphoria, drains work of any interest it may have, and deadens initiative. Why try to earn more by working hard when you can get rich quickly by judicious speculation ? The betting man dis- regards the fact that he is not getting rich ; his mind refuses to face this situation.
I found myself most reluctant to record losses in my account-book, although winnings were entered as soon as the results were known. I told myself I did not want anyone to know that I had lost ; the prestige of the gambler is dear to his heart. When he is winning he will tell you. When he is losing he uses such phrases as " breaking even," " just keeping my end up," or "not much in it either way." These remarks do not apply to the football-pool entrant. Folk who would never bet on a horse or dog fill in football-pool coupons regularly, and their reasons for so doing would differ from those of the gambler. The football-pool is a social phenomenon which de- serves special study ; its addicts, unlike the day-to-day punter, freely admit that they have had " no luck on the pools."
Losing regularly does not cure your gambler, nor will taxation, curtailment or prohibition have much effect on his mentality. He gambles because it provides an emotional tension which his mind demands. He is suffering from a deficiency disease, and the only antidote he knows is betting. This viewpoint is borne out to some extent by the fact that gambling declined during the war years. The decline was particularly noticeable at times of national crisis, when the tension in the air was sufficient to satisfy the emotional needs of many gamblers. Our industrial civilisation has produced, in spite of " progress " and the emancipation promised by science, a sense of boredom and frustration in the common man. Gambling provides a thrill, a tension, which relieves this social malaise. The attention of moralists, reformers and social economists should be directed to those factors in our culture pattern which give rise to the need for gambling in the individual. A restriction on gambling in any form may merely serve to direct the emotional drive into other and perhaps less socially acceptable channels.