Page images


Gambling on Race Courses-E.O. tables-Description of Race Courses-Evidence before the Committee-Description of the betting-rooms at Doncaster in 1846-Beginning of tipsters and betting-rooms.

THIS system of gambling on race courses began the previous century. In Canto I. of The Gambler's, A Poem, Lon. 1777, we read:

"But, chief, we see a bricking, sharping sort,

Span farthing, Hustle Cap, their joy and sport;
The sport of infancy! 'till riper age
Mature the man, and call him to the stage.
In each shoot forth the dawning seeds of vice,
The growing Jockey, or the man of Dice.
Some prick the Belt, self tutor'd, young in sin,
Anxious to take their wond'ring fellows in.
Here, a surrounding groupe of little Squires,
As chink the brazen belts, Chuck farthing fires :
While Sçavoir-vivres early signs betray
Of bold adventures, and the rage of play.
These, haply shall some future bard engage,
The hopeful Kelly's1 of the rising age.
But, when maturer years confirm the sin,
And opening minds suck the dear poison in,
Adieu, Span farthing! Hustle Cap, farewell!
With nobler passions, nobler views, they swell:
Dice, tennis, Cards, inferior sports succeed,

And the gay triumph of the High bred Steed."

Complaints of racecourse gambling began early in the present century. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1801 (p. 327) we read: "Mr Urban-As the quarter sessions will take place in most parts of England in the course of the

1 Capt. Kelly, owner of Eclipse.

present month, I wish, through the medium of your extensively circulated Magazine, to submit to the serious consideration of the County Magistrates, the absolute necessity for adopting some vigorous measures, in order to check the career of those infamous swindlers, who are in the constant habit of attending our fairs and races with E.O. tables, &c. It is an alarming fact that there is scarcely a fair, or a race, of the least celebrity, which is not infested with these villains, many of whom clear £500 annually by plundering the unsuspecting rustics, who attend such places, of their property."

Goldsmith, in his life of Beau Nash, tells us that E.O. was first set up at Tunbridge, in the reign of George I., and was introduced into Bath by Nash: and, as the game was a very popular one, I give the following description of it, as found in Rice's History of the British Turf:

"The E.O. table was circular in form, and, though made in various sizes, was, commonly, four feet in diameter. The outside edge formed the counter, or depôt, on which the stakes were placed, and was marked all round with the letters E.O. from which the game took its name. The interior of the table consisted of a stationary gallery, in which the ball rolled, and an independent round table, moving on an axis, by means of handles. The ball was started in one direction, and this rotary table turned in the other. This part was divided into forty compartments of equal size, twenty of which were marked E. and twenty O. The principle was pretty much as that of roulette without a zero; but the ingenuity of the proprietors appears, at an early date in the history of these tables, to have supplied this defect. At first the game was played on the same terms as hazard then was, viz., whoever won, or threw in three times successively, paid, when gold was played for, half a guinea to the proprietors of the table. ever, as might have been expected, was too unsophisticated a method of procedure to last. The game was too fair; but, as it was very popular, it must be made

This, howsimple and

profitable to the man of business, who could not be expected to travel from race meeting to race meeting all over the country, for half guineas in cases of exceptional luck. Accordingly, he became obliged to take all bets offered either for E. or for O., and made two of his forty spaces into 'bar holes.' The name sufficiently explains the utility of the device to the keeper of the table. If the ball fell into either of these 'bar holes,' he won all the bets on the opposite letter, and did not pay to that on which it fell. Unfair tables, having the compartments of one letter larger than another, abounded; but there seems to have been little necessity to cheat at the game, as, with a proportion of two in forty, or five per cent., in his favour, the keeper should have reaped a heavy harvest of profit from his venture. The gentlemen who had played the game at the time when the occasional half guinea was thought enough to remunerate the proprietor, could hardly have liked the innovation, regarding the five per cent. 'pull' against them as 'a circumstance which, in the long run, would infallibly exhaust the Exchequer' much more than the breeches pockets of the young squires.

The booths at Ascot Heath, and the taverns in Windsor, were, at race time, great haunts for the keepers of the E.O. tables, some of whom were respectable men in their calling, and might be trusted to give twenty, or even more, shillings for a guinea; but the majority, gambling for twopenny pieces and sixpences, were little, if anything, better than the thimble-rig and prick-the-garter gentry of that, or the three-card practitioners of our own, time. Ascot, indeed, was, then, a race meeting of the first importance, and the week was a fair of the most attractive character to the Berkshire landlords and their tenantry. The Oatlands Stakes was transferred to Newmarket from Ascot, after a memorable race, when a hundred thousand pounds changed hands; and we read that the Turf was a barren and dreary prospect for the losers. 'Horses are daily thrown out of training, jockeys are going into mourning, grooms are be

coming E.O. merchants, and strappers are going on the highway.'"

[ocr errors]

In the Quarterly Review for 1834, a description is given of gambling at races, as it then was. Doncaster, Epsom, Ascot, Warwick, and most of our numerous race grounds and race towns are scenes of destructive and universal gambling among the lower orders, which our absurdly lax police never attempt to suppress; and yet, without the slightest approach to an improperly harsh interference with the pleasures of the people, the roulette and E.O. tables which plunder the peasantry at these places, for the benefit of travelling sharpers (certainly equally respectable with some bipeds of prey who drive coroneted cabs near St James's), might be put down by any watchful magistrate."

The Commons Select Committee on Gaming in 1844 tells us a great deal about the gambling at Doncaster, during race meetings. A Mr Richard Baxter was the

witness, and he said:

"The extent to which gambling has been carried on, both upon the course, and in the town of Doncaster, has varied at different periods. Twenty years ago, in 1824, was my first acquaintance with the matter: I went, as a stranger, to live in Doncaster, and I found that there were 40 or 50 houses, and men stationed at the doors, and passing up and down the streets, not only, by word, inviting the passers by to go into those houses, but putting into their hands cards (one of which I have here)

[blocks in formation]

-explanatory of the game that was going on there, and, without any secrecy, or reserve, stating the name of the party at whose house the game was carried on.

[ocr errors]

Being a stranger in the town, I went into almost all the houses, and found them playing, in some with dice, and in some with balls, at the different games, the names of all of which I do not know: but gambling was going on to this extent, and no check to it, whatever, was put by the local authorities. At the same time, upon the race course, the thimble men were in hundreds, with their tables, as well as by the roadsides on every approach to Doncaster, playing, and cheating the people out of their money, as fast as they could induce them to play. As I was a stranger in the place, I did not think it becoming in me, at that time, to interfere; and, for two years following, I did no more than speak upon the subject to the mayor and the magistrates, and the gentlemen of the town, urging them to take some means to repress this systematic gambling; but, in the year 1827, which was the third year, finding that the authorities would take no notice of it, I laid an information against one of the gambling houses, against Henry Oldfield, who is a very noted character in gambling. I brought the owner of the house, who is a very respectable tradesman in the town; I brought the sister of the owner and his servants; I brought the man who attended at the door, and invited people publicly, 'Roulette and Hazard going on upstairs'; I brought a gentleman, a respectable surgeon of the town, who had been in the room, and played there. Those parties I brought before the magistrates, they were examined upon oath. The owner of the house denied all knowledge of the object for which the room was let; the gentleman, who had been present, owned that he had played, but denied his knowledge of the name of the game at which he played; and, the result was, that the magistrates refused to convict. No further step was taken in that year; but, in the following year, without again speaking to the authorities, I represented the matter to the neighbouring gentry, and the present Lord

« PreviousContinue »