The Gambling Curse
THE publicity given in the last week or two to the activities of the "tote clubs" springing up in every city in this country draws necessary and opportune attention to a development of which Parliament must take early cognizance. Ordinary gambling may be a social menace, and undoubtedly is, but there is nothing new about it. The statute still mainly effective against ready-money betting dates back close on eighty years, and throughout that period the disastrous social conse- quences of betting itself and other forms of gambling have been abundantly manifest. ' But the latest incentive to betting is a mushroom growth. The "tote clubs," springing up north, south, east and west, under shelter of a recent legal decision which surprisingly ruled them to be in conformity to the law, promise already to be so demoralising in their effects that amending legislation to compel 'the dissolution of the existing clubs and prohibit the formation of new ones is a matter of urgency. The totalisator itself, to be described roughly as a machine for recording ready-money bets and dis- tributing the winnings from a pool so created, has largely revolutionised racecourse betting, and in some cases driven the bookmaker completely out of the field. But the tote, as we must follow the world in calling it, was intended for the racecourse and for nowhere else. That it could be installed anywhere—or rather some primitive imitation of it—and be made the instrument of that ready-money betting which the Act of 1853 was passed to stamp out, had never till a couple of years ago occurred to anyone. But now new facilities for betting are being called for. Gambling that a generation ago was confined largely to horse-racing has spread to greyhound-racing and even to football. And the dis- covery that a betting-house within the meaning of the Act is not a betting-house if something that can be called a totalisator is installed in it, has opened the door to betting on a new scale, in a new form, and to some extent with a new clientele.
The capital needed for the establishment of a tote dub is what will suffice for the hire of suitable premises (a single room can be made to serve), the tote itself and the five-shilling club registration fee. Only members may bet, but membership is a mere matter of formality and a trifling payment, and, once acquired, it confers the right not only to bet but to drink, for clubs can supply liquor without restriction to their members within the legal horns, and without payment of licence-duty. That, incidentally, is ranging in fierce opposition against them the licensed trade, which sees its own business threatened by unfair competition, and other considerations bring into the same camp the Turf Guardian Society and similar bodies, concerned to protect the interests of bookmakers, and every class of social workers, alarmed at the new facilities and the new incentives offered for the indulgence of a habit disastrous in its social effects. Such a union of forces is unusual, and it is to be hoped that it will prove effective, for the tote club evil must be eradicated before it grows to larger pro- portions and demands the protection always claimed by a vested interest.
Legislation on betting and gambling as a whole is com- pletely .anomalous—hence the appointment of the Royal Commission now sitting on Lotteries and Sweepstakes— but the general principle that incentives to betting should be severely limited, as they were intended to be by the At of 1858, is not-seriously challenged. There is all the difference in the world between allowing a man to bet and instigating him to bet. That increased facilities for betting mean increased betting no one is likely to deny. What is more, there is good reason to believe that the new facilities appeal to a section of the population unaccustomed to bet, or accustomed only to bet occasion- ally in the past, notably women of all classes. There are other objections to the tote clubs. Many, no doubt, are irreproachable financially, but many, pretty certainly, are not. Where a syndicate is opening clubs right and left—one of them is said to control twenty in London and will soon have forty—no criticism on that ground is likely to lie, though the enterprise responsible for such expansion is ipso facto responsible for a vast mass of avoidable evil. But where an astute individual opens a club for his own ends, there is no sort of guarantee that he contents himself with the mere 10 per cent, he professes to' take from the pool for his expenses, and a good deal of evidence to show that he does not.
Against betting, as a private transaction between indi- viduals, it is neither possible nor desirable to legislate, nor can the Legislature take into much account the higher moral and religious considerations which lead large numbers of individuals, including notably the soundest type of working-man, to eschew betting in any shape or form altogether. Its concern is with the flagrant social evils that organised betting brings in its train, and its business is to cheek at every point organised incentives to betting. If anyone still retains any doubts as to what the social effects of gambling are, testimony given in the last week before the Royal Commission will furnish him with abundant proof. The Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, for example, whose preoccupation is simply with poverty and its causes, declared that much of the present-day poverty and distress is directly traceable to gambling, that since the War there has been a LeAvy increase in facilities for gambling, and that full advantage has been taken of them. The Stipendiary Magistrate of Swansea mentioned that in his area betting and gambling covered horse. racing, dog-racing, football coupons, sweepstakes, lotteries, and gambling machines, and that in spite of unemploy- ment there is no diminution of the number of bets made, though there is in the amounts staked. At the Church Assembly, sitting simultaneously, gambling was described by Lord Daryngton as one of the principal causes of national demoralisation. Such evidence could be multi- plied indefinitely, but it would be an unnecessary labour, for the general effects of gambling on the national fibre are universally recognised. The question of how to deal with the situation as a whole must now, no doubt, be left till the Royal Commission at present sitting reports, but meanwhile there is the urgent question of the daily increase of the tote clubs. It is manifest enough that this development is due to an unsuspected loophole in the law. It was the intention of the Legis- lature in 1853 to abolish betting-houses in every shape or form, and it was the intention of the Legislature in 1928 to confine the totalisator to bona fide racecourses. A very simple Amending Act could be drafted to give effect to both these intentions, and carried through all its stages in a fortnight, for it is difficult to believe that a dozen members in either House of Parliament would be found to oppose it. To under-rate the tote club evil and postpone action regarding it till the Royal Commission Report is ready would be a profound mistake. It is an evil that must be checked in its beginnings.