Owen H. Knight

"Gambling and Social Setting within Licensed Betting Offices: An Ethnographic Examination of the Effect of Social Environment upon the Gambling Behaviour of Regular Gamblers."

The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure, 4(1) <http://www.ijull.co.uk/vol4/1/000022.htm>

ISSN: 1465-1270

Keywords: gambling, betting shops, gender, punters, identity



This subjective, ethnographic study seeks to examine the effect that the social setting of licensed betting offices has upon the gambling behaviour within them. The study highlights many themes and processes in terms of gambling as a whole which reinforces much of the current literature, such as the decision making, or risk taking elements in gambling; discussions of that which motivates people to gamble; and more quantitative analyses of who participates in gambling behaviour. It locates all of the above within the unique setting of the licensed betting office. The study identifies the plethora of rituals which exist within this social setting and that influence the manner in which punters, betting office jargon for customers, make their selections, especially with reference to subjective probability and the illusion of control. It suggests that whilst some of the discussions surrounding that which motivates people to gamble bear weight in the context of licensed betting offices, some may not be entirely universal. The study also attempts to identify how exactly the licensed betting office affects who precisely gambles there. The study investigates the manner in which the structures of betting offices come to offer regular punters a particular sense of identity. Lastly, it raises the issue of whether the social dynamic and sense of identity prevalent in LBOs will change due to the recent developments in people's attitudes towards gambling, and if so, which new groups who are likely to become involved in LBO gambling in the future.


A Brief History of Gambling.


The Past


"And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get." (Mark 15:24)


Since the beginning of recorded history gambling has been a prominent feature of many societies. The impact of gambling over the years has ranged from answering questions about the world to rather less grandiose, but still interesting achievements. Tomb paintings from ancient Egypt depict an early form of dice throwing, using the ankle bones of sheep as the die; the ancient Greeks believed that the mighty gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades divided the realms of Heaven, the Oceans and the Underworld between them on the casting of lots; whilst as the above passage relates, the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus Christ resorted to a game of chance to decide who would take his seamless undergarment as a trophy (Bernstein 1998: 1315). In 1654 the Chevalier de Mérér, a well-known gambler, sought the advice of the great mathematician, Pascal, on how best to divide the gains in games of dice. This proved to be a major step on the path to developing the immensely significant theory of mathematical probability (Cohen and Hansel 1956:1). The notion of attaching numerical values in order to give meaning to the probable outcome of a given event is as will be examined later, a fundamental aspect of the betting office dynamic.


The evolution of gambling upon horse racing is characterised by a curious balance of moral crusading and bowing to the demands of those who wished to gamble. Around the time of the industrial revolution gambling was scorned upon by the increasingly influential middle classes. They sought to impose order and control over the lower classes whilst curbing the excessive and frivolous habits of the gentry. The dominant discourse surrounding gambling was one which depicted a ruinous path, comparable to the vices of alcohol and promiscuity and which ran contrary to the rationalistic ideals of the enlightenment (Clapson 1992:2). However, gambling upon horse racing had always been popular among the upper classes. The weight of popular demand led to the passing of the 1853 Betting act which permitted on course betting (only betting with licensed bookmakers on the actual site) at horse meetings (Ibid. 108). A number of "cheating" incidents and other organisational discrepancies led to the gradual departure of the old upper class administrations and an injection of middle class money and personnel into the enterprise of the sport. This brought a more business like approach to the organisation of the sport, which filtered into the legitimate betting industry. By the mid-late nineteenth century, betting had become mass commercialised and the financial mainstay of horse racing (Ibid. 133).


Greyhound racing reached the peak of its popularity in the inter-war years. Originally being the savage pursuit of live bait, enjoyed by the upper classes, the sport became far more humane. The middle class humanitarian league put much pressure on coursing by suggesting that hares were no longer being spent to test the dogs, but rather to facilitate gambling. Meanwhile the RSPCA commended whippet racing, the lower class' answer to hare coursing, as it used artificial quarry. The introduction of the electric hare in 1926 meant that now the greyhounds could be raced in a humane fashion (Ibid. 141-2). In the inter war years the social nature of the night at the dogs fulfilled a dual function: it embodied the sense of relief of the armistice whilst the gambling opportunities served to replicate the risk and uncertainty of the war (Ibid. 143).


The Present


"Within a few years, gambling has changed from a specialised activity, mostly for regular gamblers, to a mainstream pastime." (Mintel Marketing Intelligence 2001:17)


The Betting and Gaming act of 1960 legalised off course gambling in Licensed Betting Offices (hereafter referred to as LBOs). At their inception, moral crusaders were still hailing the ill nature of gambling and consequently great efforts were made to ensure LBOs were uncomfortable and an unattractive place to spend time. Despite this "spit and sawdust" approach, various subsequent acts of parliament have allowed LBOs to improve their facilities such as introducing live television pictures of the day's races; permitting the sale of light refreshments and affording the great luxury of allowing windows to be unblocked. In addition, restrictions on LBO opening times have been lifted to the point where shops can open on Sundays, and during the summer, punters can have a flutter on the UK evening races as well as the daytime meetings. The legalisation of LBOs brought with it a growth in the number of people who would bet off course. Previously, it had been difficult to lay more than one bet per day however, after the inception of the act, continuous betting became feasible as complicated meetings with the bookmaker were no longer required: one could spend all afternoon in the LBO (Downes et al 1976:119). In addition, whilst those who already were engaged in illegal betting would certainly continue to bet, those who had previously wished to participate, but were afraid of possible recriminations, could engage safely in gambling (Ibid. 120). Lastly, in this connection, the situation of an LBO in a high street, public setting attracted passing trade, just like any other shop (Ibid.).


The inauguration of the national lottery in November 1994 had a strangely dichotomous effect on the LBO industry. Whilst the customer base was hit hard with people (initially) favouring the new "dream ticket" over the LBOs, the fundamental ideal behind the lottery served to increase the profitability of betting shops. The idea of the "big win" (vast returns for a minimal stake) became prolific and filtered down into the LBO industry. Consequently many bookmakers noticed a significant increase of full cover bets such as Yankees, Canadians, Patents and so on. These are complicated bets, which can have as many as 247 separate bets within them. Thus if two or three selections come in the punter will gain some small return (usually smaller than the total stake money) whilst should every selection win, the returns are likely to be enormous, a clear example of a "big win." However, as it is extremely rare for these types of bets to come in, they are extremely profitable for the bookmakers (Mintel Marketing intelligence 1998:22). Furthermore, the long-term effect of the national lottery is likely to be positive for the LBO industry as its incredible dissemination has served to soften opinion towards gambling as a whole, whilst the vast number of players has greatly increased the number of regular gamblers in the UK (Ibid.).


The increasing popularity of football in Britain, especially since the apparent decline in hooliganism and the subsequent post-modernisation of the game, is mirrored in LBOs where football betting is the fastest growing form of gambling in the UK (Mintel 2001:13). The number of different ways to bet are almost endless, ranging from merely guessing the winner, to accurately predicting how many corners each team will be awarded (Ibid.). The new style of betting comes to attract different types of punter, those who are not interested in betting on the horses, but are willing to lay money on football results or the middle classes, among whom especially, the increase in the game's popularity is becoming apparent. The new types of spread betting, a new, complicated system in which the punter bets against the bookmaker's estimate of, for example, number of yellow cards, are becoming more prevalent but do not yet threaten the traditional betting methods. Despite this, however, horse racing continues to dominate the amount of money staked in LBOs with dog racing a distant but significant second.



The Future?


"People's perception of gambling has changed. It's socially acceptable now because it's advertised on T.W' (Gamblers Anonymous spokesperson. The Observer Nov 12 2000)


Despite the improvements made to the facilities of many LBOs and the softening of public attitude towards gambling, it is still difficult for LBOs to attract &new" customers from differing backgrounds. This is due to the lingering persistence of their seedy image (Mintel 1998:25) and the complex rituals surrounding making a bet (Neal 1999). The growth of the inter-net gambling, telephone betting and iDTV (interactive digital television) aids the opening of various new channels of distribution, along with improved accessibility and anonymity: people are now able to sit in the comfort of their living rooms and make bets, without interacting with anybody else. Further, the increase in Internet gambling sites will serve to raise the image of the industry which is likely to facilitate the growth of high street LBOs (Mintel 2001:17). As people from groups who traditionally shy away from the LBO become more comfortable with the idea of betting over the World Wide Web, so they will become less insecure about entering such an environment. The abolition of the 9% betting tax on either stakes or returns, due to be instigated on October 6 2001, is likely to increase the LBO turnover further.


A Review of the Literature.


This literature review seeks to examine some of the prominent theories on gambling behaviour. I feel this examination is necessary as many of these theoretical positions are prominent in my later observations. Further, the vast range of differing ideas and explanations discussed below, will go some way in demonstrating the incredible complexity of the umbrella term "gambling."


Risk and Decision Making.


The study of gambling offers insights into a vast number of sociological concerns, such as the changing nature of masculinities or the role of sport in modem societies (Neal 1999). Risk assessment in everyday life is one such issue which I seek to examine here, as the concept of risk is not only pertinent to LBO gambling, but is also an increasingly important theme in sociology as a whole. Ulrich Beck's (1994) work focuses upon how late-modem society has become a risk society. Whereas in pre-modem times hazards were tangible, the ongoing process of modernity has brought a change their nature. They may be invisible, intangible and respect no borders. Risk becomes a way in which we deal with the hazards and insecurities induced by modernisation (Beck 1994:21). Further, as these hazards and risks become more and more prolific, so people become de-sensitised and ambivalent towards them: "Where everything is a hazard, somehow nothing is dangerous anymore" (Ibid. 36). Thus Beck provides a macro model, whereby taking risks is an insidious practice, leading to the generation of gross hazards which threaten the very existence of humanity, but is an inherent feature of the modernisation process. Lupton (1999), however, presents a micro argument which highlights the positive aspects of risk taking. She discusses the manner in which taking risks at the individual level can be a means to escaping the restraints of mundane everyday life. She suggests that "this discourse rejects the ideal of the disembodied rational actor for an ideal of the self that emphasizes sensual embodiment and the visceral and emotional flights produced by encounters with danger" (Lupton 1999: 149).


The most significant aspect of risk discourses in relation to gambling is the allusion to the possibility of controlling, or foreseeing, the outcome. The notion of taking a risk inherently suggests the weighing up of the situation and making a decision based upon some knowledge. Much psychological research has focussed upon decision-making and risk judgements as a conscious action, whereby a selection is made by concentrating on the reasons which justify this choice over another (Finucane et al 1996: 413). However, Finucane et al (1996) argue that the affect heuristic in judging risks and benefits is equally as important as cognition. The process of making selections which may have positive or negative outcomes is not based solely on conscious, rational choice, but rather on the way a person feels about the decision. They suggest that images which are "marked by positive and negative affective feelings guide judgement and decision making" (Ibid. 415). By approaching decision-making and risk judgements in this way, we can answer a paradox with which a purely cognitive explanation struggles: why people inversely correlate risk and benefit in their minds:


"... the relationship between perceived risk and perceived benefit was linked to an individual's general affective evaluation of a hazard. If an activity was "liked" people tended to judge its risk as low and its benefits as high. If the activity was "disliked" the judgements were opposite - high risk and low benefit." (Ibid. 416)


This approach is closely linked to that of subjective probability. Where mathematical probability represents rational objectivity, subjective probability is the weighing up of probable outcomes in people's minds, based upon imperfect knowledge. The major distinction between the two types is the human inability to judge a series of events as independent outcomes, for example, after a run of failures a success is "bound" to follow (Ibid. p 10, Slovic 1996:11). In terms of gambling, the human incapacity to comprehend outcomes as independent coupled with unpredictability (the very essence of gambling) becomes manifest in discourses of knowledge, luck and destiny (Cohen and Hansel 1956:143). Consequently, when gambling, rational risk assessment is replaced with quasi-rational analysis of form combined with non-rational feelings which guide and inform selections. Winning, therefore, comes to be associated not only with sagacity but also with a sense that this was something "due" to the gambler. Losing, conversely, reflects stupidity and an event which is destined to change in the near future (Ibid: 147). Langer's (1983) work adds to this by suggesting that the close association of skill factors and chance factors in people's minds results in a great difficulty in discriminating between them. She deems the result the "illusion of control" whereby the decision maker (gambler) believes s/he is in control of the situation and can accurately predict the outcome (Langer 1983:34).


Motivations for Gambling Behaviour.


Nowhere in the literature surrounding gambling is the complexity of the issue better highlighted than in the proliferation of explanations and theories about that which motivates people to gamble. Smith and Preston (1984) offer an eleven fold typology ranging from psychological issues of masochism and guilt, to sociological explanations such as escaping the drudgery of daily life (Smith and Preston 1984: 330). Many psychologists have contended that gamblers partake in such activity out of a masochistic desire to lose, based upon a subconscious act of rebellion against those who impressed upon them sound ethics, usually the parents (Dickerson 1984, Bergler 1967). However, it is worth keeping in mind that a great deal of psychological approaches see gambling as a pathology, some kind of malfunction within a person's psyche and not the pursuit of "normally" functioning humans. Whilst this approach offers a possible avenue of exploration, my desire is to examine gambling within a certain social framework and not solely from an individual point of reference. Therefore it is not attended to here.


Various studies have alluded to the social nature of frequenting bookmaker's shops as a strong motivation to gamble. Zola (1964) describes the friendships and group cohesion which result from punters patronising the same establishment. Similarly, Rosecrance (1986) contends that a major factor in the persistent gambling activity of regular bettors is the sustaining function of the binding social ties formed there. He argues that in off course bookmakers, certain cliques will routinely operate in order to discuss the day's racing and form of the horses, using each other as "sounding boards" for their selections (Rosecrance 1986:367). It is worth keeping in mind that the above conclusions were based on research done in the United States alone. Whether or not they relate to British LBOs will be discussed in chapter five. Fischer's (1994) exploration into the culture of fruit machine playing among British youths identified a distinctly hierarchical social relationship between those players she termed as "arcade kings" and their "apprentices." Here the relationship (as the categories suggests) was one of the educating pupils, the price for such tuition being the running of petty errands for the "king" (Fischer 1994:460). She also distinguishes another important category, that of the "machine beater," a lone gambler to whom no such social ties exist: they merely want to win money and be left alone (Ibid: 462-3). Whilst Fischer's work is not based in LBOs, it was based in the UK (unlike Rosecrance's and Zola's studies). Chapter five will investigate which best describes the social nature of British LBOs.


Common sense would suggest the role of desiring financial betterment would be a prime motivational factor in explanations of gambling behaviour. Staking a bet is an almost identical process to playing the stock exchange, or investing in a business venture; one assesses the chances of success and invests accordingly, hopefully resulting in some returns. Among regular punters, the dream of the big win is prevalent, with punters often compromising their pseudo-rational selection processes in order to select a lively outsider, or "gamble" which will offer better returns for their investment than the favourite (Neal 1998: 588). The inception of the national lottery has compounded this fantasy (see chapter one) with a brilliantly marketed message suggesting that one pound could win you millions (Mintel 1998:22). Further, Nibbert (2000) asserts that in Western societies wealth is prized, labour is devalued and poverty is denigrated. In this context he argues that it is unsurprising that people, especially of lower income groups, invest not only money but also a great deal of emotional energy into such long odds gambling (Nibbert 2000:45).


Closely linked to the idea of economic betterment is the argument that gambling offers an escape from the frustrations of daily life within the capitalist economic framework. In this sense, gambling functions to divert the latent anger of the working classes by offering the opportunity to make money in a fashion which runs contrary to the dominant discourse of having to work to earn it (Smith and Preston 1984:328). From a more psychological framework, gambling can be seen to relieve frustration by breaking down the constraints of reality and allowing the gambler to "...dream luxurious dreams not usually generated by the routine of daily life." (Ibid.) After the wagering has begun, the gambler is transported to a fantasy world, where the constraints of reality cannot impose themselves upon her/him (Ibid.). Similarly, Goffman's theory of action suggests that the conscious subjection to personal risk and uncertainty creates a thrill and excitement which allows the gambler to escape momentarily from the mundane certainties of everyday existence:


'The individual releases himself [sic] to the passing moment, wagering his [sic] future state on what transpires precariously in the seconds to come. At such moments a special affective state is likely to be aroused, emerging transformed into excitement." (Goffman 1969:137 cited in Fischer 1994:449).


Goffman saw action as something positive and enriching within people's lives. It provides positive excitement and variety within the lives of gamblers. Thus, gambling provides a socially useful function for those who, seeking action, choose to stake money on the unknowable outcomes of events (Neal 1998: 582).


Who Gambles?


A recent report, published by the National Centre for Social Research, suggests that over fifty percent of the British population had engaged in some kind of gambling activity in the week prior to responding to the NCSR survey (Inter-net source). Around thirteen percent of the adult population had bet on horse races (Ibid.) but twice as many men than women would pursue this form of gambling activity (Sprotson et. aI 2000:1291). The only gambling pursuit in which women are more likely to engage than men is bingo (Ibid.). This is a long-standing observation as Newman's (1972) work records similar findings (Newman 1972: 74). In terms of off course LBO betting, the distinction is vast with men being over eight times as likely as women to bet in such a way (Downes et al 1976:122).


Filby (1992) examines the highly gendered nature of LBOs in his examination of sexuality within these shops. He firstly notes that the overwhelming majority of punters are men, as are the managers of the shops. However, the cashiers (lowest members are staff) are predominantly female (Filby 1992:25). Within the LBO setting, knowledge is highly gendered. Women, who have traditionally been excluded from this setting, are assumed to have inferior knowledge of LBO products for example, types of bets or what happens when a selection becomes a non-runner. He observed that often punters would raise queries with male staff, completely ignoring the female cashiers (Ibid. 28). Filby argues that, in general, women do not understand the desire to bet. This apathy towards gambling is due to the alleged stereotypical divisions which gambling has been said to introduce into traditional working class families (Ibid. 29).


Fischer (1994) draws upon Goffman's theory of action in a bid to explain the massive discrepancy between male and female gambling patterns. Citing Goffman, she contends that the quest for action is a predominantly male concern: "... action in our western culture seems to belong to the cult of masculinity." (Goffman 1969 cited in Fischer 1994:450). Fischer posits two possible explanations as to why women are less concerned with seeking action. Firstly, she argues that women are socialised into believing that seeking gratuitous action is not appropriate to their gender. Secondly, she puts forward the assertion that action as a concept is relative to the individual. As, historically, women have been subordinated into performing mundane familial and occupational roles, so they seek less dramatic action to relieve the drudgery of everyday life (Ibid.).


Gambling permeates every strata of society, however, one's social class is said to be linked to the type of gambling activity with which one engages. Members of the upper classes tend to prefer casinos whilst the lower classes would prefer 1J30 betting and Bingo (Inter-net source). Downes et al speculate that "the use of betting shops increases as one descends the current class hierarchy" (Downes et al 1976:123). They suggest that where only four percent of the upper and middle classes frequent LBOs, some thirty two percent of the lower working class use them. These figures apart, we must bear in mind the recent developments within the history of gambling (see chapter one). The inauguration of on-line and telephone betting makes it very difficult to know exactly how many people bet whilst rendering any attempts to analyse the class and gender backgrounds of these bettors virtually impossible.


Neal (1998) argues that different types of punter will use the betting shop at different times of the day. He suggests that the morning punters were mostly male pensioners who used the trip to the LBO as part of their routine, often combining it with other tasks such as walking the dog (Neal 1998:592). Lunchtime punters were comprised mainly of low or semi skilled workers who would place accumulated odds or pooled bets as they were unable to view each race and could therefore not enjoy the excitement of betting horses singly (Ibid. 593). Those who were unrestricted by hours of employment would frequent the shops all afternoon, betting "race by race" (placing single bets before each race and watching each event unfold) and achieving the highest amount of excitement (Ibid. 594).


Research Design.


The research was conducted over a ten-week period, from early June 2001 to mid August of the same year, in eight LBOs in and around the city of Leicester. It is important to note that this period was unusual in terms of the LBO industry for a number of reasons. Firstly, as this was the summer period there would be two or three televised night racing meetings broadcast each week. The LBOs would stay open for around four hours longer than they ordinarily would, thus offering punters greater opportunities to lay their bets. Secondly, and most significantly, the foot and mouth crisis had had an enormous effect on British horseracing, with a number of major meetings being cancelled altogether. This, in turn, had serious implications upon the LBO industry which depends on horse races more than any other sport for its income. In an attempt to curb the financial losses the Satellite Information Service (SIS), which broadcast the live pictures to the LBOs, would televise a number of foreign meetings from South Africa, the Middle East, Italy, France and especially from Ireland, in place of the lost British racing (Mintel 2001: 10). In addition, a greater number of dog racing meetings were also broadcast, to supplement the betting chances offered by the foreign races (Ibid.). However, after the foot and mouth scare had subsided enough to permit the re-opening of all British meetings, SIS continued to show much of the foreign racing. This was due to the fact that SIS were soon going to lose the broadcasting rights to the British meetings and were thus "sounding out the punters to see if they would bet on the foreign races even with a full British card. Consequently the punters were provided with far more chances to bet on far more races than usual. These circumstances were unique and may have had implications on the LBO industry, and gambling activity during this period.


The punters that I was most interested in observing were the regular gamblers. Regular is a particularly vague term so here I will stipulate those who I considered to be regular gamblers. They were the punters who would spend at least an hour in the LBO, betting race to race, whom I would see almost every time I worked in their particular shop. They would know most of the staff by name and would often chat to them in a fashion not dissimilar to how a regular patron of a pub may talk to the bar-staff.


The research was conducted covertly with me attaining a job with a leading high street bookmaker’s chain. I took the post as a cashier and worked in eight shops around the district. These shops were all based in residential areas around Leicester except for two, which were closer to the city centre. In another three LBOs, I took the role of a punter in competing high street bookmakers in order to try to get a picture of the social setting from a different perspective, however, this approach was far less successful as the time constraints of the research did not allow me to form the kind of social ties that would allow fellow punters to talk to me about their gambling behaviour. I felt that my approach was justified for a number of important reasons. Firstly, it allowed me instant access to the field without having to depend on the acceptance of punters in order for them to have to interact with me. Punters are often secretive in their strategies for selections, however, as a cashier they would have no choice but to reveal their bets to me as I was responsible for processing them.


Secondly, LBOs are very ritualistic places (Neal 2001). In order to be accepted, one must be well versed in the complex processes of filling out betting slips. One must be familiar with the betting shop jargon especially surrounding the plethora of terms relating to different types of bet, form and prices. It is also important to know the rules of interaction, for example letting someone who wants to get on the next race jump the queue, or knowing how to discuss form "expertly." By entering the field as a cashier, all of the above idiosyncrasies of the LBO were taught to me in a three-day induction course, this meant that whilst I was certainly "green" to begin with, it didn't take too long to be able to engage in conversations with the punters about their betting. Further, in the capacity of a flexi-time cashier, I worked all across the district, increasing the scope of the research considerably.


In carrying out the research in a covert manner, I felt that I would avoid many problems associated with validity. Respondents are often seen to present answers to researchers which may be less than completely truthful in order to make themselves look good, or bad, or whichever impression they are trying to foster. This is closely linked to de Vaus (1993) notion of social desirability, which, he argues, increases with greater personalisation (de Vaus 1993:110). Thus, if the punters were unaware of my position as a researcher, there would be no reason for them to perform in a manner distinct from that which they would in front of any other cashier.


When I first entered the field, I had no specific- question in mind. I felt that it would be best merely to observe the dynamics of the LBO and see how my examination of events tied in with the literature. As the research went on I sought to place the literature in the context of the unique setting of the LBO and compare this with my observations. I felt that this would build upon that which has been written before and would thus go some way to justifying the methods which I employed.


Research Experience and Methodological.




Taking this project on was at once rewarding, yet difficult and sometimes emotionally stressful. The research design which served to eliminate a number of problems associated with access and authenticity led, as is almost inevitable in social research, to a number of other difficulties. Principally, there were issues concerning the practicalities of recording data, subsequent analyses and ethics.


Recording data was very difficult given the circumstances of the project. Being completely covert meant that I had no way of taking down information first hand, in a survey style questionnaire or taped interview. As a result, many of the observations made in the LBOs were noted down on scrap paper, or betting slips and then taken home to be written up in a research journal of the days events. The rest of the day's journal entry would be comprised of events that I had observed throughout the day. Recording what punters would say to me was extremely problematic as I was in no position to take down what they said, due to my role dictating that I be engrossed in the discussion as a real cashier would. Often I would be forced to make some excuse to terminate the conversation (usually a trip to the toilet) so that I could note what had been said whilst still fresh in my mind. Consequently, much of the conversation I had recorded would be more like a "sound-bite" as I could only accurately remember short phrases or dialogues.


The implications of the problematic nature of recording the data were especially significant in terms of my analyses. As everything which I had observed was based upon my own interpretation of events I can make no claims to my conclusions being objective in any way. Anything which the punters had said which was recorded would have only been that which I considered significant. Whilst I disagree with the plausibility of producing any value-free social research, I do find it a regrettable short-coming of this project that the punters could not express themselves in their own words. However, I felt that if I had revealed myself as a researcher later into the research and requested interviews, I would have been unsuccessful as I would have been exposed as a liar and deceiver, and breaching punter - staff social cohesion. Further, in the unlikely event that anyone would have agreed to be interviewed, I would have been faced with the same problems that this approach was supposed to avoid, such as a possible lack of authenticity.


The practical difficulties in conducting this research were, as indicated above, significant. The ethical dilemmas, which presented themselves, however, were of even greater importance. Covert research is often a very touchy subject within sociology. Treweek and Linkogle (2000) have implicated the barbarous medical experiments, conducted by the Nazis in the second world war in a shift from an emphasis placed upon the researcher's right to discover information at any cost, to today's prevalent perception that any research must first and foremost guard the rights of the subject (Treweek and Linkogle 2000:17). This includes attaining informed consent, by which the subjects are aware precisely of that which the researcher is investigating and only take part if they so desire. Covert research clearly denies this opportunity to the research subjects. However, there are occasions where the researcher may be unable to gain access to the field unless s/he conceals her/his true motivations from their subjects. For example, Calvey (2000) contends that he would have been unable to produce his study of nightclub doorman had he chosen any other method than an undercover approach. I feel that I was justified in using a similar approach as I could not have gained access to the number of LBOs, nor attained an authentic picture of LBO dynamics any other way.


Despite rejecting the plausibility of conducting the study through informed consent, I feel that this research still protects the punters at the core of its findings. I have made certain that all parties remain anonymous, and have further made sure not to include any comments or quotations which may disclose the identity of the punter. A great deal of the research focuses on the way gamblers behaved within the context of the LBO, which also goes some way in de-personalising the study, as it tends not to concentrate on a single punter.


Many commentators have objected to the way in which covert research hinges upon deceit and false presentation of oneself. O'Connell-Davidson and Layder (1994) argue that when researching covertly, the researcher must continually reproduce the deception of subjects in order to maintain their acceptance, and consequently, ensure that access to the field is not disrupted (O'Connell-Davidson and Layder 1994:171). This clearly puts a great deal of strain upon the researcher as the entire project comes to depend upon this process. In terms of this research, the deception of the punters was easier to bear than that of my colleagues. Often punters would only ever discuss their bets or certain races. The staff however, were much more interested in things outside of work and would often ask questions about my personal life. Whereas they were aware that I was a student, they never knew about the research. As many of the staff had become friends it was an emotional strain to actively have to lie and deceive them on a daily basis.


With reference to the above-mentioned ethical considerations, the value of the research is often called into question. Various studies in the past have become benchmarks for how not to conduct social research. Burgess (1984) cites Warwick's (1973) fierce criticism of Laud Humphrey's now infamous The Tearoom Trade in which Humphrey's covertly investigated homosexual activity in public conveniences, by posing as a "watch queen," a voyeur who kept guard:


"Should every social scientist who feels that he [sic] has a laudable cause have the right to deceive respondents about the nature of surveys, engage in covert observation and resort to other kinds of trickery?" (Warwick 1973 cited in Burgess 1984:188)


Whilst this is a well-supported comment, there are occasions where covert methods are justified. This research may not be groundbreaking, yet it has value in that it provides some kind of insight into an area of society, which has not been investigated to the same extent of other facets of society. However, the study of gambling opens up a host of other channels of enquiry and thus, if the research is constructed so that it protects its subjects, it is worthwhile. Further, as Bronfenbrenner duly observes:


"The only safe way to avoid violating principles of professional ethics is to refrain from doing social research altogether." (Bronfenbrenner 1952, cited in Burgess 1984:207).


Clearly, this project was rife with ethical and practical problems, none of which I pretend to have superseded. However, by acknowledging the shortcomings of the project it retains some credibility in terms of a subjective ethnographic analysis of a much neglected yet important facet of society.


The Study.


"He had the idea that this was a science rather than luck, that in some way he was more skilled than the average punter." (Wife of a compulsive gambler in The Guardian 27 February 1996).


The most striking feature of all the LBOs in which I worked, or visited as a punter, is their uniformity, not just in terms of corporate colours or staff uniforms, but in a way which transcends the nuances of different companies. On entering any LBO a punter is bombarded with information as seemingly every square inch of the shop is utilise in order to maximise the customer's capacity to check form or the anticipated/actual state of the betting market. Each wall is covered by eye-level display pages from the day's edition of the Racing Post. These sheets detail the vital information for the day's horse and dog racing meetings such as best time, recent placings, age, weight, who is the designated jockey, who is the trainer and so on. The bigger meetings, or important races, are printed in colour to depict the silks each jockey will be wearing but in the otherwise plain surroundings this also has the effect of catching the eye. There is a brief summary of each runners chances followed by the "verdict" which puts forwards the best selections and likely winner. The state of the ground is given, as is a brief weather report. There are data banks, best "placer" selection chances and even a small plan of the course. No detail is left un-described.


These pages were the staple information source of the regular punters, particularly of those who would come in before the afternoon racing began, make their selections and leave soon after for work or other appointments. Punters would scrutinise these displays as if they somehow held the key to unlocking the guaranteed winners of the day. Different punters had different strategies for decoding the information provided, or would concentrate on distinct snippets of information, but almost invariably these pages were the regular punter's first port of call in the ritual of making a bet. For example, one punter was adamant that the "time to first bend" section for the greyhounds was of great importance:


"There's always a couple you don't fancy and always a couple you do so I check out the bend times and see which is most likely to get fucked over on the first, then 1 put the money on the other one."


Other punters would be far more concerned with their selection's previously proven ability over the course of an entire race.


I always look at the previous race times over that distance because it tells you what the horse can do, I mean, you wouldn't expect it to do more than it has in the past, even if its been improving."


The form guides, as the major source of information, were clearly the key factor in the punters' quasi-rational assessment of each horse's likelihood to win. However, the types of conclusion drawn from the same information sources were as varied as if people hadn't bothered consulting the form at all. As the guides offered a plethora of facts, figures and statistics it became increasingly apparent that punters were only really being truthfully guided by their instincts or that which they had subjectively concluded as the best method for predicting the outcome of the race. Often punters would choose a "system" for picking winners which would rarely change, regardless of whether or not it had proven itself to be successful or not. Thus I was increasingly convinced of the affective state, or subjective probability being played out in the decision making process through these form pages. This impression was strongly reinforced by a glib comment from one of my colleagues to a punter who had been discussing with me favoured methods for picking a winner:


"You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but you'll never bloody win."


The other major influence on the decisions made by the punters was the monolithic bank of television screens, common to all but the smallest LBOs, which seem to occupy entire walls whilst showering the punters with constantly updated information. They show the live broadcasts of the day's racing; they depict race times and runners; they highlight numbers game results (games provided by the broadcasting company based on random number selections) and the latest betting opportunities as they become available. The latter function, specifying the state of the betting market before the off of a race, was by far the most significant in terms of selections made. The price (odds) of a runner winning the race are not only compiled on the basis of the bookie's assessment of its form, but also on how well it is being backed by the punters on course, once the betting becomes available. Often, a well-backed selection will see its price contract at a great rate. For example, a horse may start betting as a 20-1 outsider, yet the more money that punters back it with, the shorter the price will become so the bookie stands to lose less money should it come in. Consequently it would become 16-1, then perhaps 10-1, 9-1 then may have its starting price, the odds offered at the off of the race, at 17-2. This horse would then become a "gamble" which would stimulate a dash to lay a bet down before the price contracts any further. Being able to read the market (in a more complex manner than suggested above) was a skill which often earned the successful punter a great deal of kudos and often, when betting on a gamble, punters would make casual references to what they were doing:


I'll take sixes (6-1) before it gets any shorter."


Further, there were occasions where the emergence of a "gamble" would clearly prompt punters to bet on a horse that they originally were going to reject.


"Might as well have fifty p each way on that one, its come right down from twenty fives (25-1)."


However, there were also a number of punters who would bet on runners whose prices had remained static since the start of betting. Theirs was the logic that although no one seemed to be backing the horse, no one was betting against it either. In addition, some punters would try to "hedge their bets" by betting on a favourite, but also staking a lesser amount on a gamble or outsider, "just in case."


SIS, which provided the live pictures of the day's races, also provided the commentary and a pre-racing programme dedicated to expert analysis of the race cards, ultimately leading to a specialist making a number of likely selections. The analysis programme did not appear to have a great effect on the punters, as it would rarely suggest any outcome other than that which was already printed in the Racing Post. Further, most punters who would come in for the afternoon races and bet race to race, would enter the LBO at around one o' clock to one thirty, by which time most of the analysis had finished. On many occasions, it appeared that punters were more interested in the actual personalities who presented the show, rather than the tips they had to offer. Often they would make comments about how the- "fool" on the TV didn't have a clue what he was talking about or about how "attractive" they found certain female presenters to be. I never heard a punter suggest that the exposition had informed his choice, and rarely heard any praise for the tipsters. The punters generally seemed to believe that they knew more than the specialists.


The incessant commentary, however, seemed to have a much more pronounced impact on influencing the punters' selections than the pre-racing programme. In a manner similar to the bank of television screens, commentators would constantly barrage the airwaves with statistics, facts and figures when not describing the races. They would announce the selections that were being well backed; they announced showcast prices which offered the punters odds on forecast (correctly predicting first and second) bets before a, race, (which was unusual as forecasts were usually based on dividends decided after the race, based on how well backed the runners were); and they would even assess the "form" of the balls in the numbers games such as 49s (SIS' answer to the national lottery) a twice daily draw of six numbers followed by a "booster."


"Red number thirty is in scorching form at the moment, it’s been out in three of the last four draws."


Often, despite many punters acknowledging the near absurd notion of a randomly generated number having "form," they often would be interested to hear of so called "unlikely" outcomes. In one shop, the lowest ball (1) was followed by the highest ball (49) amidst murmurs of "what are the chances of that?" Although no punters ever told me that they had decided to back a certain selection due to the commentary, there would regularly be a number of punters who would bet on a gamble, or a showcast only after the announcers had disclosed it.


The unrelenting exposure to facts and figures play no small part in reinforcing the punter's illusion of control. The fundamental message reproduced by the LBOs (and on-course gambling) is that there exists some kind of science to the game, with which punters can realise their fortunes: they give the impression, always, that there is a specialised knowledge which when gained will allow the customers to "beat the book." The proliferation of such statistics suggest a rational path through which placing a bet becomes a measurable risk, rather than a pursuit of chance. However, despite this discussion of form studying, there exists a major paradox in the culture of the regular punter concerning the prices of selections. Often punters were reticent to take short odds on favourites, or even selections they fancied, as such a price was not going to earn them what they deemed sufficient returns. On many occasions, punters would request a price only to be disappointed at that which 1 could offer them:


“Odds on?! What's the fuckin' point in betting it?"


“Its not worth it, not at that price."


Thus, a punter who may have spent a considerable amount of time studying form would come to reject the selection as its likelihood to win were considered so high that any returns would be small relative to the stake. Often punters would try "price pinching," stipulating on their slip a better price than was currently offered, in the hope of it being processed at those odds. This behaviour could have been due to a desire for the big win, or even out of the psychological explanation of masochism. Whatever the reason it was interesting to witness such a strange contradiction when the ceremony of making a selection was undermined due to the apparent correctness of the punter's prediction.


One such example was a punter who on the three occasions we met would always discuss with me two very good horses (at the time of writing), Galileo and Fantastic Light. He suggested that he would always back Fantastic Light in any mile and a half race, so long as Galileo wasn't running. However, when the two horses went head to head at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes he continued to back Fantastic Light because at 7-2 it was "great value" whereas the 9-4 Galileo was not. Galileo won.


The Gamblers.


Not only do the LBOs rituals and set-up seem to exert influence over the choices the punters make, it also tends to reflect who gambles there. The notion that women are far less likely than men to bet on horse and dog races, especially in off course LBOs, would be strongly supported by my observations. The LBO is rife with a sense of traditional masculinity: its physical appearance is bare and functional, providing only what the punters need to select their bets. There are no attempts to brighten the space up; the walls are plain save for the occasional bright promotional poster to draw the eye. The space is perfectly utilised to balance the seating requirements, places to write and sufficient space for punters to wander from form guide to counter and back again. Quite simply, the LBO is laid out to allow the smooth operationalisation of the betting ritual.


Every LBO is permitted to have two Amusement With Prizes (AWP), or fruit machines. These often have different themes in order to differentiate the almost identical technical principles behind them. Such themes were: "king kebab" which depicted a stereotypical Greek kebab shop owner, with "Donna' his young female assistant (wearing a short skirt and fishnet stockings); "revolver" in which the player takes on the guise of an international super spy; and "cashanova" upon which the player would follow a "trail of love" (augmented by female moans of orgasmic pleasure) to the strains of Spring from Vivaldi's Four Seasons on her/his way to the jackpot. Thus it appeared that even the AWP machines were appealing to a traditional sense of masculinity, with dominant men and subservient women, or incorporating traditional "boys own" fantasies.


Finally, in this connection, interest in SIS' flagship numbers game, 49s, had gradually been diminishing. During this research period a new game, hatrick, was launched. The promotion of this game featured three young women, all donning knee high boots, hot-pants and a "hatrick" top, which was strongly based on a football shirt. It was clear that these girls were being used to try to attract the male "race to race" punters into playing the new game, as it was women who most often played the numbers game, yet it did not seem at all out of place with the rest of the social environment.


The lack of female punters I observed in LBOs during the research would seem to concur with the literature. I cannot suggest that the LBO causes this major discrepancy, but I would confidently asset that it reinforces it. Throughout the entire district, there were less than ten women who I would consider regular punters, in terms of the frequency of visits and duration of stay. These were the only ones who engaged in the form assessing processes, knew about market movers and "gambles," and would bet race to race. Interestingly, these women staked less than their male counterparts, rarely exceeding two pounds. The clear majority of women bet on the numbers games, especially 49s and the Irish lottery, and spent little time in the shops. The most frequent pattern 1 observed was that a woman would enter the shop with a number of pre-filled betting slips, pay for the bets and then leave. Often, the trip to the LBO was combined with other tasks such as doing the grocery shopping. An additional common occurrence would be placing a bet (pre-written) for a husband or partner whilst they were out. Regularly, if I asked if they'd like to take the price on a certain horse they would retort words to the effect of. 'I don't know, he never said." Otherwise they would have been instructed in advance:


"He wants the price on Orientor is it? Oh yes (pointing to selection on slip) that's the one."


All but two of the LBOs in which I worked were located outside of the city centre in residential areas. All but one of these was situated in predominantly working class areas. The LBO which was situated in a more affluent working class to middle class area was, interestingly, the smallest and least profitable in the district. Consequently, the bulk of the punters were of working class backgrounds. A number of regulars were unemployed (at the time of writing) and would consequently have more time at their disposal. The only punters who seemed to spend more time in the LBO than the regulars who were currently unemployed, were those who had retired. Among the other regulars were those with jobs which required them to move from place to place and would spend some time laying bets between jobs. Others would come during their lunch hour and after work, and a few were self employed within the vicinity and would come and go as they pleased. Patterns of betting were very similar to those observed by Neal: pensioners would come mainly during the morning, staking small specialised full cover bets; lunchtime punters who were on a break from work would spend an hour or so in the shop, again laying full cover or accumulator bets, whilst the majority of those who bet "race to race" were punters unconstrained by working hours.


Generally, the amounts the regulars would stake were relatively low. Many would bet one or two pounds per race, others might stake thirty pounds. The size of a large bet was anything from fifty pounds upwards. My employers would "log" customer betting amounts of one hundred pounds or over per race irrespective of which LBO s/he was patronising. This was a good indicator of the expected affluence of any punter, and that the LBOs were set up in similar areas of similar income groups. On the occasions where 1 took substantially larger bets, for example a £1,000.00 single bet, people would quickly become interested, often berating the punter for being foolish for staking so much. This again highlighted the relative uniformity of the stakes made by regulars.




The LBOs clearly presented themselves as places where money could be won. The terminology, statistics form guides and so on all served to promote the idea of betting, as discussed above, as a calculable science. Often, when I asked punters why they chose to come to the LBOs, they would retort with some sarcastic comment such as "why do you think?" Other times they would be more hopeful, such as "you've got to try." In short, when asked directly, they would almost always refer to some kind of financial gain. Despite this, there were occasions when they would almost contradict themselves, or be completely inconsistent with the motivations they had consciously cited previously:


"I don't care what anyone says. No one could ever make a living out of this, not really."


"No-one beats the bookie, no-one."


"I'm the best loser in this shop. Ain't that right 'Ethel'"


The overwhelming impression imposed on me by my observations would tend to support the discourse surrounding gambling activity as a means of escaping the drudgery of everyday life. As the literature suggests (which concurs with this study) it was mostly lower class men who would spend time betting race to race. Whereas there was obvious pleasure, and a lot of banter with staff, when winnings were collected, especially when they were significantly larger than the stake, the tension in punters during races was immense. The punters seemed to experience a plethora of emotions all in the space of a few minutes (or seconds in the case of the dogs), from hope, to despair, from seeming defeat to victory. Punters would shout at the screen, willing their selections on, even twitching with the tension. Losing was usually followed with some profanity, screwing up the slip then making another bet. Winning however, brought with it not just financial returns, but the satisfaction of winning. In this context punters would present themselves in a manner, which suggested that whilst they were in this LBO, they were a winner. In a manner which would concur with Goffman's theory of action, the thrill of watching the outcome of the race provided escapism from boredom and routine, the thrill of winning provided a sense of being "someone," a phenomenon which does not often happen in daily life. Other punters would react to the winners in a number of ways. Members of the same clique (if s/he was in one) would often enter some banter about being “Iucky," or words to the effect that "you should have accidentally won by now anyway." Punters outside of the winner's particular clique would often become briefly interested, yet from a distance. They would regularly maintain an air of cool indifference, as if assessing the winner's skill relative to their own. Rarely would congratulations be offered by anyone other than staff or group members.


When the punters did lose they had a tendency to head straight back to the betting slip dispensers. Although it could be argued that they would merely be trying to make up their losses, which probably is the case in many cases, the speed with which punters forgot their losses suggested that it was not solely the losing of money, but the losing feeling they wanted to dispose of. Further, punters would remember big wins for, literally, years, often relating the tales of their winning as if they were some kind of fabulous military victory. Thus, I felt that the feeling of winning was the key to cherishing big returns.


The LBOs were paradoxically accommodating for the social and leisure aspect of gambling, whilst simultaneously ideal for the lone gambler. Most LBOs had large tables around which a group of punters could sit and discuss the day's racing. One of the bookmakers chains had seating which was strongly reminiscent of football stadia, with rows of plastic chairs facing the television wall, with the back row resembling the leaning posts found in the old terraces. Although not licensed to sell anything more than hot drinks, fizzy pop, chocolate and crisps, many of the larger shops would offer these facilities, almost adding a pseudo-bar aspect into the environment. In one shop, a group of betting shop friends would do "rounds" for coffee.


There were a number of groups who would always meet up in the LBO and enjoy the betting together, discussing form and so on. Often there was a "leader" whose opinion was slightly more respected than the others in the group. However, these groups only regularly came together on Saturdays. Often the visit to the bookies would follow a trip to the pub to where they would return after the afternoon racing. During the research I never noticed such a gathering taking place in the week. In addition, despite debates within the clique about which was the form horse, and despite the regular presence of a leader- group members would rarely all back the same selection.


Most of the regulars I observed were not particularly interested in the social side of LBO betting. They would be in the shops most days, and would know each other but would rarely manage more than a nod and some casual small talk. Sometimes there would be a brief chat about the chances in the next race but primarily they were there to bet alone. For these regulars, the staff were much more the focus of any sociability, but this would invariably be limited to banter about prices or the time it took to settle a bet, or discussions surrounding the events within a race.


"D'ya see that Owen, the fucker's lame!"


"Look at that there, look at the way he's coming across him (illegally crossing in front of another horse) there, that's fuckin' criminal that is!"


Regular punters were also very secretive and guarded in their selection processes. Nowhere did this become more visibly apparent than in the LBO custom of receiving a bet face down, and placing the processed copy on the counter in the same way, or folded in half, in order that only the punter and the staff know the selections on the slip. Thus I felt that these regulars were far more interested in their own betting to help others, or talk to others.


These observations run contrary to the strong emphasis placed on sociability as a motivation to gamble proffered by Rosecrance and Zola. However, the "leaders" within certain cliques bore similar characteristics as Fischer's "arcade kings" whilst the non-social gamblers were akin to her "machine beaters." One of the older punters was especially well respected by members of his own clique and by lone punters due to his ability to read the market. He would often accurately predict when a horse's price was going to ease or contract by observing the changing prices of the other horses. Consequently he would often pick a horse at the highest price available and many others would wait for him to place his bet before they would.


The LBO and Identity.


The findings of this research are rife with undertones of a specific identity and culture, which exists in LBOs, that determine rules of interaction and behavioural rituals within them. Burkitt (1995) contends that there is no such thing as a pre-given or innate personality coming from within us, but rather that identity is to be found in the social relations which exist between individuals (Burkitt 1995:189). Further, as these relations occur within certain material environments, the setting too becomes important in defining identity. LBOs are a unique social environment, which contain structures that help to maintain the culture and identity of the punter. Punters are overwhelmingly working class men and within the LBO this identity becomes manifest in a number of ways.


The traditional sense of masculinity within the LBO serves not only to keep women out of the betting shops, but also to attract new punters with similar traditional masculine ideals. Not only are the shops physically uninviting to stereotypical feminine sensibilities, there exists a specialised knowledge which is considered to be exclusively male (Filby 1992:28). Whilst there was never an occasion where punters would raise queries with me over my female colleagues, there were certainly occasions where they would refer directly to the male manager over all of us. This I felt was due to punters realising that I was new to the job and probably not well versed in product knowledge. There were, however, numerous occasions where punters would enquire to me directly (before female colleagues) questions about results, or even my opinion, of races or other sporting events. Often there would be remarks such as "no point asking her, she won't know."


The thrill associated with laying a bet is extremely attractive to the working classes. It allows not only the dream of economic betterment in a fashion which defies everything that people are taught about how one "should" make a living, whilst concurrently offering the kind of excitement Which breaks up the monotony of daily life. Further, success in the LBO is accompanied by a sense of competence and skill, which is often lacking in everyday routine. The reticence among punters to make small talk or discuss their work and daily routine is an intrinsic part of what it is to be a punter. Aspects of daily drudgery are left at the door of the LBO, where the overwhelming majority of conversation revolves around betting, form and key moments within races.


LBOs foster an impression upon their regulars that there is an exact science behind betting upon races, which becomes manifest in discourses concerning knowledge of how to read the form guides, understand them and demonstrate sagacity in terms of the selection(s) made. Punters, whether consciously or not, reproduce this myth of science through the very act of studying these sources of information. The practice becomes ingrained in the culture of the LBO until it comes to be a quasi structure, separating punters from other, more casual gamblers. In order to be a successful punter one must conform to this ritualistic evaluation and understand all of the complexities which go with it. If a person were to win, consistently, who selected runners based upon things other than the information presented in the Racing Post displays as being relevant to the outcome of the race, such as the colour of the jockey's silks, they would not represent a credible punter, but rather someone who merely has incredible luck. The complex nature of entering this world keeps those kinds of people who would disregard information in this way excluded from the culture of the LBO.


Whilst I do not wish to suggest that gambling in LBOs is some kind of Masonic club, exclusive only to certain members, 1 feel there is a close connection between the structures which govern its interaction, the kinds of influences is exerts over gambling behaviour and the punters who most regularly use them. LBOs influence gambling behaviour, and who gambles there through their physical layout, through the ritualistic processes, which have become an inherent structure within LBO culture and by providing the dream of financial gains. All of this serves to favour a dream of escape shared by many working class men and it is no surprise that they are the chief patrons of these establishments.




This research has investigated the manner in which the social setting of the LBO has an influence over the gambling behaviour of its punters. LBOs, appeal to a particular sense of masculinity; they proffer the dream of financial gain whilst simultaneously offering escapism, fantasy and the all too rare feeling of victory and competence. The knowledge required to be a credible punter is rigorously specialised in terms of knowing how to fill in a betting slip; to understanding form guides; to reading the market and so on. They play on the punters' subjective comprehension of probabilities yet simultaneously lure punters from their quasi-rational approach. All of this serves to produce and reproduce a dominant identity within the LBO, that of a working class male who, through his specialised knowledge, seeks to escape financial subordination and the drudgery of daily life.


The continued dominance of this particular identity is gradually coming under attack. The impact of Internet gambling, iDTV and telephone betting are all yet to be discovered. Suggestions that such new channels for gambling behaviour may come to raise the profile of betting and increase the number of regular gamblers may be well founded, but this does not necessarily mean that new groups and new identities will begin to take over LBOs. Why, if people become comfortable with internet betting, will they not stick rigidly to this medium? The impact of football betting has yet to reach its summit whilst being the fastest growing area of LBO gambling, it is still among the smallest as a percentage. It is therefore too early to predict whether or not football really is going to affect the mainstay of betting, horses and dogs, and consequently those who gamble in LBOs. Traditional gender roles may be gradually being dissolved but there still exist strong structures concerning the "place" of women in society. It is unlikely that these will change dramatically in the near future and thus LBOs will probably depend upon men for the bulk of their patronage for some time yet.


All these factors apart, it is, as one of my older colleagues told me, an exciting time in the world of bookkeeping. Whilst there is no real threat to the dominant punter identity at present, the changes taking place within the industry are bound to have some kind of affect upon the constitution of LBO regulars. Perhaps LBOs present a last lingering, glimpse into a culture that may be soon to face its end; perhaps they will remain as they are for some considerable time yet. Whichever eventuality (if any) comes about in the future, what is clear is that at present, LBOs demonstrate a great ability to reproduce themselves as hives for escapism within a working class male context.


Gambling is one of the oldest activities known to humankind, embroiled as it has been throughout history with the promise of gain. The thrill and excitement attached to betting on ultimately unknowable outcomes, especially in what amounts to an unfair and oppressive (in terms of intangible structures) society goes far beyond the quest for economic gain. As long as we continue to live in a society that prizes wealth and material possession yet distributes them unequally then there will always be a place for gambling.




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