Betting (probably from abet, to aid, to support), the staking of money or some valuable article on the issue of some event or contest. In some form or other it is very ancient; it may originally have had some religious import, and it has been conjectured from a passage in Homer (Iliad xviii. 505) and certain features of early Roman legal procedure that fines in legal proceedings had their origin in the staking of money by the respective parties to prove the truth of their assertions. Horse-racing has been the chief field of betting in England for more than a century. Such betting may be divided into bookmaking and backing. The former consists in laying odds successively against all the horses entered in a given race, or as many as possible, it being theoretically the bookmaker's object to lay an equal sum against each. The latter, which must always be a losing process in the long run, consists simply in taking the odds offered against a certain horse entered for a race. The bookmaker's profit consists in the sums lost by the backers of the losers, minus the sum he has to pay to the backer of the winner; and the former, obviously, tends to be larger the more starters there are - or rather the more of them he is able to back. Could he always lay an equal sum against each, he must win in the long run. Bookmaking arose from the difficulty backers felt in finding anyone to bet with; it has now become a less profitable trade than formerly, there being more bad debts; and the betting on great races not now commencing so long beforehand as formerly, there is less opportunity to lay against a large number of the starters. "Hedging" (laying odds against a horse which the layer has previously backed at longer odds) is a mode of minimising the risk involved in backing. Betting on elections is common enough in the United States (though, at least in some States, its discovery entails disfranchisement) and in parts of England; and various forms of sport have from time to time attracted the professional betting man, particularly yacht racing, sometimes pigeon-shooting, and, it is said, football. Betting is sometimes spoken of as an Anglo-Saxon vice, and certainly betting on horse-races is nowhere so highly developed as in England and Australia. In France, the Argentine Republic, and the United States "the turf" is to a great extent an introduction from England. But it must be remembered that other nations have their own forms of gambling - the lottery, for instance.
English Legislation against Betting. Gambling debts are not recognised by law. Betting houses, where lists of the current odds were exhibited and money taken in advance, were made illegal in 1853 by the Betting Houses Act, 16 and 17 Vict., c. 119. This does not affect private betting, and betting clubs, or bets where the money is not deposited beforehand. It did not extend to Scotland; and on a revival of prosecutions under it in 1869 many betting agencies were opened in Scotland and at Boulogne. In 1874, therefore, an Act was passed extending the former Act to Scotland, and making all advertisements of betting-houses illegal. It is now strictly enforced, but does not reach "tipsters," who advise how to bet. "Welshing," i.e. taking money to bet with and evading payment of losses, has long been carried on by a well-known class of men on English racecourses, but was legally decided to be a felony in 1887.
The pari-mutuel, the French system of betting, was started in 1886. Anyone may back a probable starter for any sum he pleases; the sum he deposits is noted and put into a purse, there being a separate purse for each starter; and at the close, all the money staked (less 10 per cent. for expenses) is divided among the backers of the winner. Recently it has been proposed to levy a tax on the gross receipts, for charitable purposes, and there are indications that this will soon be the only legal form of betting on racecourses in France. Laws have been passed against gambling in several of the United States, but appear to be a dead letter. Great efforts are being made to check it; but it can hardly be reached by legal means.