A Bit of a Flutter

Mark Clapson looks at how Victorian morality drove the pleasures of betting underground, and relates the various devices that enabled the working-classes to sustain the reputation of a nation of gamblers.

The Licensed Betting Office, popularly known as the betting shop, is a common sight on the shopping streets of British towns. Yet legal off-the-course outlets for cash (ready money) betting were introduced only quite recently, in May 1961, following the Betting and Gaming Act passed by the Conservative government in the previous year. This ended over a hundred years of prohibition of off-course cash betting on horses, initiated by the 1853 Betting Houses Act, and reinforced by further legislation in 1874 and 1906. It is a fascinating but underexplored aspect of social history, how ready-money betting became commercialised at a time of prohibition, and in the face of an alarmist campaign which misunderstood the reality of English working-class gambling.

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