Englishmen are less susceptible to gamble by solely relying on luck.In pubs, cribbage, whist or rummy are the most common games. They are as likely to be played for drinks as for pennies.The same is true of darts and ten-pin bowling in those regions where it is played.
The casino games – roulette, chemin de fer, and the like – are played for very high stakes on occasions, but the players are almost entirely confined to the British equivalent of cafe society.Before currency restrictions were imposed in 1939, they gambled in a similar way in the European casinos.
From the end of the war until the passing of the Betting Act, there was widespread evasion of the anti-gambling laws in this small section of British society, with ‘floating’ chemin de fer games analogous to the ‘floating’ crap games as described by Damon Runyon in New York.
Besides their attraction for addicted gamblers, such games supply an opportunity for the socially ambitious newly rich to mingle on equal terms with their social superiors.Serious gambling, like most other forms of socially disapproved -of-pleasures, tends to override class differences.
The only gambling game of pure luck which is widespread in Britain is bingo – and its Army equivalent, ‘housey-housey.’ Bingo players are predominantly middle-aged housewives, who traditionally have no knowledge of or interest in sport.Housey-housey is mostly played in wartime, when sporting events are suspended, or by troops in peacetime garrisons out of touch with daily sporting events and unable to contact professional bookmakers.
For British men in civilian life and increasingly, for British women, gambling is a technique for demonstrating their continued interest in and knowledge of ‘sport.’It is an important component in maintaining the national delusion that Britain (with Belgium, the most crowded country in the world) is predominantly rural.
The race course on the other side of the hedge, as seldom visited by its devoted as the lane itself, carries the same message, preserves the same delusion.Sporting events, together with the weather, television programs and for many men, gardening, also supply safe subjects of conversation for a nation tongue-tied with shyness.
‘Sports’ can spend easy conversational hours discussing yesterday’s and tomorrow’s runners or soccer matches without saying anything they will be sorry for later, without making personal remarks, getting emotionally involved or allowing an awkward silence to mar the conviviality of social life.
A spot of gambling makes the whole world kin. Theoretically, it should be possible to maintain this interest in sport without gambling.