Horse RacingCategory: Sport
Next to Association Football, the chief spectator sport, in English life is horse racing. Partly because of the laws which forbid such activities on Sundays, horse racing is:: organized rather differently in England from other countries. There are many race tracks all over the country, and each of these has from two to about six “meetings” every year, with each meeting consisting of two, three or four consecutive days of racing; most horse racing take place on working days and during working hours. There are totalisators at ? the race courses, but bookmakers are also allowed, and in each spectators’ enclosure there is a long line of bookmakers ft offering their odds against the horses. Associated bookmakers in different enclosures employ “tic-tac men” who communicate - miraculously over the heads of the crowds by making signals according to mysterious private semaphore-type signalling systems.
When, on a particular day, there are races at, for example, Epsom, people all over the country bet on the results with bookmakers off the course. Until 1961 it was illegal to bet by cash off the course, though betting on account was allowed. But most working men like to make their transactions by cash payments, and there was a vast number of illegal bookmakers operating in back streets, and employing agents :- in nearby factories, workshops and offices to collect bets from : the employees and bring them in to the bookmakers’ hideouts before the races began in the afternoon. The illegal bookmakers were usually known by the police and fined from time to time, but the total fines charged were in many cases much less than the expenses of maintaining a proper office would have been if their activities had been allowed by law, and had been conducted openly. In 1961, after many years of argument, Parliament changed the law so as to allow “betting shops”, and to escape from the absurd scandal of the old system, which created opportunities for many abuses.
The whole atmosphere of a race meeting still belongs in some ways to the eighteenth century, and in particular it is pervaded by old divisions between upper and lower people. The difference between the most expensive parts of the course, where people pay as much as to go in, and the cheap or free sections, is very plain to see. Apart from the bookmakers, there are many tipsters and others who hope to make money out of the gullible public. There are also pick-pockets, men who steal field-glasses and men who expect to make their profits by playing cards in the train. Most of the racegoers are just having a day out, and many are missing their normal work in order to do so; but one result of having the races during working hours is that there is quite a large professional element connected with racing.
(Life in Modern Britain by P. Bromhead)