The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims
Andrew Steinmetz

Part 6 out of 6

were exempted from the operation of this statute, so long as the
sovereign was actually resident within them--which last clause
probably showed that the entire Draconian enactment was but a
farce. It is quite certain that it was inoperative, and that it
did no more than express the conscience of the legislature--in
deference to _PRINCIPLE_, `which nobody could deny.'

After the lapse of many years--the evil being on the increase--
the legislature stirred again during the reign of George
II., and passed several Acts against gaming. The games of Faro,
Basset, Hazard, &c., in fact, all games with dice, were
proscribed under a penalty of L200 against the provider of the
game, and L50 a time for the players. Roulette or Roly Poly,
termed in the Act `a certain pernicious game,' was interdicted,
under the penalty of five times the value of the thing or sum
lost at it.

Thus stood the statute law against gaming down to the year 1845,
when, in consequence of the report of the select committee which
sat on the subject, a new enactment was promulgated, which is in
force at the present time.

It was admitted that the laws in force against gaming were `of no
avail to prevent the mischiefs which may happen therefrom;' and
the lawgivers enacted a comprehensive measure on the subject.
Much of the old law--for instance, the prohibition of games which
interfered with the practice of _ARCHERY_--was repealed; also
the Acts of Charles II., of Queen Anne, and a part of that of
George II.--Gaming houses, in which a bank is kept by one or more
of the players, or in which the chances of play are not alike
favourable to the players--being declared unlawful, as of old.
Billiards, bagatelle, or `any game of the kind' (open, of
course, to legal discussion), may be played in private houses, or
in licensed houses; but still, in the case of licensed houses of
public resort, the police may enter at any time to see that the
law is complied with. `Licensed for Billiards' must be legibly
printed on some conspicuous place near the door and outside a
licensed house. Billiards and like games may not be played in
public rooms after one, and before eight, o'clock in the morning
of any day, nor on Sundays, Christmas Day, Good Friday, nor on
any public fast or thanksgiving. Publicans whose houses are
licensed for billiards must not allow persons to play at any time
when public-houses are not allowed to be open.

`In order to constitute the house a common gaming house, it is
not necessary to prove that any person found playing at any game
was playing for any money, wager, or stake. The police may enter
the house on the report of a superintendent, and the authority of
a commissioner, without the necessity of an allegation of two
householders; and if any cards, dice, balls, counters, tables, or
other instruments of gaming be found in the house, or about the
person of any of those who shall be found therein, such
discovery shall be evidence against the establishment until the
contrary be made to appear. Those who shall appear as witnesses,
moreover, are protected from the consequences of having been
engaged in unlawful gaming.'[151]

[151] Chambers's Cyclopaedia, Art. Gambling.

The penalty of cheating at any game is liability to penal
servitude for three years--the delinquent being proceeded against
as one who obtains money under false pretences. Wagers and bets
are not recoverable by law, whether from the loser or from the
wager-holder; and money paid for bets may be recovered in an
action `for money received to the defendant's use.' All betting
houses are gaming houses within the meaning of the Act, and the
proprietors and managers of them are punishable accordingly.

The existing law on the gaming of horse-racing is as follows.
Bets on horse-races are illegal; and therefore are not
recoverable by law. In order to prevent the nuisance which
betting houses, disguised under other names, occasioned, a law
was passed in 1853, forbidding the maintenance of any house,
room, or other place, for betting; and by the new Metropolitan
Traffic Regulation Act, now in force, any three persons
found betting in the street may be fined five pounds each `for
obstructing the thoroughfare'--a very odd reason, certainly,
since it is the _BETTING_ that we wish to prevent, as we will
not permit it to be carried on in any house, &c. These _LEGAL_
reasons are too often sadly out of place. Any constable,
however, may, without a warrant, arrest anybody he may see in the
act of betting in the street.

The laws relating to horse-racing have undergone curious
revisions and interpretations. `The law of George II.'s reign,
declaring horse-racing to be good, as tending to promote the
breed of fine horses, exempted horse-races from the list of
unlawful games, provided that the sum of money run for or the
value of the prize should be fifty pounds and upwards, that
certain weights only might be used, and that no owner should run
more than one horse for the same prize, under pain of forfeiting
all horses except the first. Newmarket, and Black Hambledon in
Yorkshire, are the only places licensed for races in this Act,
which, however, was also construed to legalize any race at any
place whatever, so long as the stakes were worth fifty pounds and
upwards, and the weights were of the regulated standard. An
Act passed five years afterwards removed the restrictions as to
the weights, and declared that any one anywhere might start a
horse-race with any weights, so long as the stakes were fifty
pounds or more. The provision for the forfeiture of all horses
but one belonging to one owner and running in the same race was
overlooked or forgotten, and owners with perfect impunity ran
their horses, as many as they pleased, in the same race. In
1839, however, informations were laid against certain owners,
whose horses were claimed as forfeits; and then everybody woke up
to the fact that this curious clause of the Act of George II. was
still unrepealed. The Legislature interfered in behalf of the
defendants, and passed an Act, repealing in their eagerness not
merely the penal clauses of the Act, but the Act itself, so far
as it related to horse-racing. Now, it was supposed that upon
the Act of the thirteenth of George II. depended the whole
legality of horse-racing, that the Act of the eighteenth of
George II. was merely explanatory of that statute, which, being
repealed, brought the practice again within the old law,
according to which it was illegal. By a judgment of the Court of
Common Pleas it was decided, however, that the words of the
eighteenth of George II. were large enough to legalize all races
anywhere for fifty pounds and upwards, and that the Act was not
merely an explanatory one. Upon this basis rests the existing
law on the subject of horse-racing. Bets, however, as before
stated, on horse-races are still as illegal as they are on any of
the forbidden games--that is to say, they are outside the law;
the law will not lend its assistance to recover them.'[152]

[152] _Ubi Supra_.

The extent to which gambling has been carried on in the street by
boys was shown by the following summary laid before the Committee
of the House of Commons on Gaming, in 1844:--

Boys apprehended for gaming in the streets--

Convicted. Discharged.
1841 .. .. 305 .. .. 68 .. .. 237
1842 .. .. 245 .. .. 66 .. .. 179
1813 .. .. 329 .. .. 114 .. .. 185
---- ---- ----
879 278 601

Only recently has any effectual check been put to this pernicious
practice. It is however enacted by the New Gaming Act, that--
`Every person playing or betting by way of wagering or
gaming in any street, road, highway, or other open and public
place to which the public have or are permitted to have access,
at or with any table or instrument of gaming, or any coin, card,
token, or other article used as an instrument of gaming or means
of such wagering or gaming, at any game or pretended game of
chance, shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond within the true
intent and meaning of the recited Act, and as such may be
punished under the provision of that Act.'

On this provision a daily paper justly remarks:--`A statute very
much needed has come into force. Persons playing or betting in
the streets with coins or cards are now made amenable to the 5th
George IV., c. 83, and may be committed to gaol as rogues and
vagabonds. The statutes already in force against such rogues and
vagabonds subject them, we believe, not only to imprisonment with
hard labour, but also to corporal punishment. In any case the
New Act should, if stringently administered, speedily put a stop
to the too common and quite intolerable nuisance of young men and
boys sprawling about the pavement, or in corners of the wharves
by the waterside, and playing at "pitch-and-toss,"
"shove-halfpenny," "Tommy Dodd," "coddams," and other games
of chance. Who has not seen that terrible etching in Hogarth's
"Industry and Idleness," where the idle apprentice, instead of
going devoutly to church and singing out of the same hymn-book
with his master's pretty daughter, is gambling on a tombstone
with a knot of dissolute boys? A watchful beadle has espied the
youthful gamesters, and is preparing to administer a sounding
thwack with a cane on the shoulders of Thomas Idle. But the race
of London beadles is now well-nigh extinct; and the few that
remain dare not use their switches on the small vagabonds, for
fear of being summoned for assault. It is to be hoped that the
police will be instructed to put the Act sharply in force against
the pitch-and-toss players; and, in passing, we might express a
wish that they would also suppress the ragged urchins who turn
"cart-wheels" in the mud, and the half-naked girls who haunt
the vicinity of railway stations and steamboat piers, pestering
passengers to buy cigar-lights.'



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