Popular gambling and English culture, c.1845 to 1961
The years 1853 to 1960 constituted a period of prohibition for off-course cash betting on horses. Despite this, and in the face of a vocal anti-gambling lobby, the working-class flutter flourished as the basis of a commercialised betting market. Over this period, gambling changed from the informal wagering between friends and associates which characterised pre-industrial society, to the commercialised forms, supplied by bookmakers and leisure entrepreneurs, in which, ostensibly, the punters were mere passive consumers. By 1939, the three most popular forms of gambling were off-course betting on horses, the football pools, and betting at greyhound tracks. Beyond this was a hinterland of friendly but competitive petty gaming with coins and cards, and on local sports, which remained relatively untouched by commercialisation. A study of popular gambling tells us much about the relationship of the state to working-class recreation, and about the nature of working-class recreation itself. The unifying theme of this thesis is that the predominant forms of betting which had developed by 1960 were a testament to the moderation and self-determination of working-class leisure. Betting had become central to a shared national culture which defined itself only apolitically in class terms, and more in terms of `sportsman' or punter versus `faddist'. Those who berated gambling were un-English. The law was ignored by those who enjoyed, as they saw it, a harmless flutter. The state eventually came round to this viewpoint.