Abstract

The paper argues that over the interwar period attitudes to betting were in the process of slow but steady change. Broader changes in attitudes to leisure, including increasing secularization, led to an increasingly widespread acceptance of moderate betting across all classes. Between 1920 and 1938 estimated legal gambling expenditure as a proportion of total British consumer spending rose from 1.3 per cent to 5 per cent of a much higher total consumer expenditure. The money spent on other illegal but widely popular betting on sports such as horse races further swelled such totals. Yet betting divided Britain, and a powerful stigma was attached to it in some circles. There were complex and (sometimes) contradictory social and cultural meanings attached to sports betting, and these engendered debates, disputes and divisions across the classes, churches, and political parties. Despite the range of arguments it employed, the power base of the anti-gambling groups was in decline. New betting forms were emerging, with increased impact over time. Greyhound racing and football pools betting were able to overcome their initial opposition and became legalized and widely accepted. Various locally and nationally organized sweepstakes on major horse races, whilst remaining illegal, became tacitly accepted. Even the attempts by the British government to limit the popularity of the Irish Hospitals' Trust Sweepstakes had only limited success. The only major new betting forms to fail were the British urban tote clubs, popular largely only amongst the working class, which had few powerful defenders.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 283-306
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-23
Open Access
No
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