29 JUNE 1889, Page 10


(11HE special popular attraction of betting on horses, which JL_ just now exercises the minds of all the more observant philanthropists is not very hard to understand. All easy forms of gambling in which, if you win, you are pretty sure to

get your money, exercise an attraction over the majority of mankind. Englishmen are accustomed to say that Italians are greatly attracted by their lotteries, and to attribute the fascination to the vein of superstition in the Italian character; but the Viennese are Germans, and they all buy tickets ; .the

French Government knows well that by tacking on a lottery to a loan it can enable great Companies to raise money in large sums after their credit has wholly disappeared ; and if a successor to Bish could open a London lottery to-morrow, half the workers in London would buy chances. The passion for unearned gain is, in fact, innate, and influences the half-educated European almost as strongly as the half- civilised Chinese, whose peculiarity is not that he gambles, but that, rather than not pay when he has lost, he will sell himself for a slave. Betting on horses is at present in this country, which prohibits lotteries, gambling made easy to the smallest purse and the most deficient intelligence. A gaming- table is not always accessible, but anybody who wishes can " place " a bet on a horse to almost any amount he pleases, either with a bookmaker or with a friend. Tickets for what is really a horse-lottery are sold just as openly as they were twenty years ago, when we published an account of the system, and far more widely. As a rule, too, the winner is paid. There is plenty of " welshing " on the actual race- course, and every now and then some great betting-man levants, taking as many precautions to avoid pursuit in England as if he were a forger ; but the great mass of lost bets are fairly paid. The bookmakers do not often lose, on the whole, and individual bettors make extraordinary exertions to pay up. The social feeling on the subject is still, in fact, exceedingly strong, so strong that it is difficult for a defaulter who has been kicked into hospital to obtain any redress at all, and that we read every month in the Northern papers of clerks and others in positions of trust who have risked penal servitude rather than not pay their bets. Betting on horses is therefore, in England, the alluring form of gambling, and its attraction is deepened by a curious and not quite explicable fact. Nobody is ashamed of winning a bet on a race. As a rule, a man excuses himself for buying a lottery-ticket, even if he happens to win—a rare occurrence—and if he pockets a large sum at cards, deprecates any allusion to his good fortune, except from the card-players present on the occasion, and can grow irritable if even they allow themselves too much latitude of comment. The winner on a horse-race is, on the contrary, a little proud of his success, and quotes it as evidence of his sagacity. He knows a horse when he sees one, witness those fifty pounds. He can rely on his information, so he can ; whereas the man who lost—why, he actually believed that his tipster could be trusted on his oath. Except in very respectable circles, the winner on a horse-race gains credit among his acquaint- ance by his success, and, besides, gratifies that strange pride which induces three English citizens in five to talk as if they understood all about horses, dogs, and the mathematics of betting, the last a subject upon which half the chatterers know as much as they do of Euclid. This pride, which is very curious if you remember that a majority of Englishmen live in cities, is the result, we fancy, partly of tradition and partly of the sort of caste superiority which still belongs to those who ride instead of walking; but it is ingrained in entire classes, some of them sedentary classes, of the British community. Vanity, therefore, is excited by successful betting as well as greed, and the result is a state of society in which great political newspapers are compelled for weeks on end to devote entire pages to the evidence given at a trial the object of which is to decide whether some jockeys and their employers did or did not habitually cheat.

The attraction of betting is easy to understand, but one must think a little more to comprehend why betting on races tends so exceptionally to make men rogues. It is all very well to deny the fact, and to assert, what is perfectly true, that there are honest owners, honest trainers, honest jockeys, and honest bookmakers on the turf ; but as a matter of fact, no experienced " sportsman " denies that the amount of roguery in racing transactions is extraordinary. Numbers of owners are utterly distrusted, the jockey who never sells a race is praised as a moral hero—just remember the columns of moral lauda- tion lavished on Archer ;—and as for the bookmaker who always pays—which he must .do if he is to get good customers—he stands on a level with a millionaire philanthropist. There is not a betting-man in the country who is not full to the lip of stories of roguery, and not a stable-boy who could not enlarge the betting-man's repertory if he told all he knew. Nobody connected with races even affects to be surprised when he hears of sharp practice, and there are great owners who would no more bet than Archbishops, because they know that if they did, even their characters could not escape the mud which more or less smirches every man whose chief in- terest in human affairs is the comparative running of young horses. Now, why is that ? Speculators on 'Change are very often not nice men, and some of them are, we fear, deliberate and accomplished liars ; but they are not all smirched as the turf-men are, even in the eyes of the very strict, and a large majority play fair. So do the majority of card-players, whom one would, a priori, expect to be at least as much inclined to sharp practice as any betting-men. The question has been answered a hundred times by sporting writers, by a statement that somehow not only betting-men, but horse- dealers also, catch roguery as a sort of disease from the beasts themselves ; but that is, of course, only a jocular confession of ignorance, and we fear the true answer must be much more cynical. There is no such roguery in any amuse- ment as there is on the turf, because there is no amusement in which roguery pays so well, and is so little liable to adequate punishment. If a man cheats at cards, he can be detected past all doubt or explanation ; and if he is detected, he is for the rest of his life a hopelessly ruined man. It is next to impossible, on the contrary, to prove a robbery on the turf. You may suspect that a " ring " knows accurately which horse will win, its members having "squared" every formidable com- petitor—that is, having bribed his owner, or his trainer, or his jockey, or his attendants—or you may believe that a horse has been run up to preposterous odds by artistic lying ; but what is the value of the suspicion ? Nobody dare peach, and unless somebody peaches, to obtain evidence requires almost super- natural acumen. Horses constantly run " in and out " with- out any blame attaching to anybody, and who is to tell why on one particular day an animal as delicate as a fine lady, and with perhaps six separate tempers, and three marked degrees of willingness, ought to have been in first-rate con- dition, but was not. As to riding, not one in a thousand of all present at a great race can tell if a horse has been properly ridden or not, and the most experienced and most honest experts, when catechised as to a charge of "pulling," will flatly, and in the most perfect sincerity, con- tradict one another. Indeed, to speak plainly, we doubt, if a racer could be photographed over every yard of the course, whether the perfect honesty of a jockey could always be made certain. There is a mental relation between the horse and his rider, and the beast knows as well as the man whether the latter means him to do his utmost, and unless determined, as often happens, to do it for his own vainglory, loses the race without any inartistic " pulling." Just look at the present trial, and the kind of acuteness it takes to suggest guilt, let alone proving it ; while as to proving innocence, all the jockeys in the world could not do it except by winning. The task of enforcing honesty on the turf is too difficult except for a few experts, and even the Jockey Club, with all its experience, and all•its extra-legal authority, and all its acknowledged interest in upholding its code, has not succeeded in an attempt con- • tinned pretty steadily for sixty years. The truth is, the task itself is next to an impossibility, while the temptation to be dishonest, a temptation constantly falling on men who are necessarily ignorant and bred in an atmosphere of demoralisa- tion, is often terribly heavy. Macaulay said he would not trust even English politicians if office still meant a salary of a hundred thousand a year ; and selling a race may mean a fortune to a jockey, and salvation from ruin to his employer, or to the bookmaker who has been sure that the horse can never win. Does anybody in his senses except a turf-man trust a sharp stable-boy 'to carry 25,000 in gold to a bank ? Yet the confidence placed in a jockey is precisely of that kind. And finally, as if the difficulty-of proof were not sufficient, the law practically offers no help at all. The dislike to recognise gambling as an allowable practice is so great, that the gambler on the turf, let him do what he may, unless he injures or kills a horse, never does get penal servitude, not even if he has stolen money as obviously as any pickpocket. A forger, when caught, is certain of his doom ; but a man who gives deliberately false " information," costing the receiver more than any balance he is likely to keep in his bank, escapes

all legal retribution. It is his chance of immunity which makes a rogue of the turf-man, and we confess we do not see, if it is wise of the Legislature to make gambling in itself illegal—and we think it is wise—how that chance is to be much diminished. Everybody cannot pay for a Court of his own, and, as we are now seeing, in any difficult case it takes a separate Court with special know- ledge even to institute a sufficiently careful investiga- tion. We feel little hope of the turf growing clean, and can only advise those people—there are some—who do not like playing against loaded dice, to bet on the jumping of frogs, or the running of drops of dew down the window-pane. One frog, the Americans say, was unfairly handicapped once, to the infinite laughter of all who have read the story ; but the dewdrops can hardly be "pulled," and have no tempers to be fretted into false starts.