The peoples of theworld spend the colossal sum of $23 billion every year on accountable forms ofpublic gambling and an immense additional amount in private wagers which cannotbe traced. That is the finding of a unique SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey, whichreturned impressive confirmation that the urge to gamble is one of thestrongest of human instincts. It may well be the strongest of the drives whichcome after those devoted to sustaining and reproducing life. It is an urgewhich has often led to degradation; still, life in many of its facets is acalculated gamble which cannot be avoided. Philosophy apart, man is odds-on togo right along having an occasional flutter as long as he and his fantasticvariety of gambling outlets exist. The minority which cannot summon up themoral discipline to resist enslavement to gambling will, it seems, troublecourt and clergy ad infinitum.
Sports Illustratedutilized its worldwide news-gathering resources to amass the statistics onthese pages; they are derived from the reports of almost a hundredcorrespondents, who checked official records and pressed authorities forcareful estimates where audits were unavailable. The figures are not intendedto represent the absolute amount wagered in any country. Vast untraceable sumschange hands in private betting. It was discovered, moreover, that anaccounting of the three principal outlets almost invariably covered allsubstantial public gambling for which reliable figures were available in agiven country. The figures, then, represent each country's three major gamblingoutlets. The only exception is the U.S., whose estimated $2 billion in publicbetting outside the big three (horse racing, numbers games and slot machineplay) is too large to be omitted.
Horse racing'srank as first in American betting popularity reflects a worldwide trend. Thefact is that the world annually bets upwards of $10.7 billion on the bangtails,and this is far and away the biggest slice of the $23 billion melon. Lotteriesrank next at $1.4 billion; then football (soccer) pools, $453 million; andcasino tables, $370 million.
The United Statestakes the biggest national flyer—to the tune of $15 billion a year. Australiansare the heaviest plungers—about $160 per person each year, compared with $90for Americans, $52 for New Zealanders and $30 for Britons. Clearly theEnglish-speaking peoples are prodigious "punters." Indeed, theAmericans, Britons and Australians are the only billion-dollar bettors onearth. The other nations are in there trying, though, except Communist China,which seems unable to reconcile the ways of Marx with mah-jongg. Strictantigambling laws and zealous informers have driven gambling far underground.The U.S.S.R., on the other hand, permits horse betting and has recently startedan ambitious state lottery. All in all, $8.40 is waged yearly for every man,woman and child in the world.
The survey pointedup the widespread respectability of gambling in some form or other. Rare is thestate which does not tap racing or lotteries for a fat chunk of revenue, rarerstill the country which bars local raffles.
To be sure, manylegislators and churchmen are outraged by the existence of legal gambling intheir dominions. "A squalid raffle!" shouted opponents of HaroldMacmillan's lottery bonds—introduced in England in 1956, when the PrimeMinister was Chancellor of the Exchequer. By means of "Harold's LittleFlutter," Englishmen may buy government bonds that are innocent of interestbut return large lottery prizes to a lucky few.
"Moralcynicism!" cried Australian Protestants when a Roman Catholic orderannounced the other day that it would raffle off a $425,000 hotel to raisefunds for its training college. A Catholic leader spoke of the remarkablenumber of Protestants observed at Catholic bingo games and suggested that mostProtestants did not share their clergy's austere view of gambling. By anyyardstick, that $425,000 is a nice round sum, but perhaps not exceptional in acountry whose $1.42 billion yearly gambling stake is almost half the $2.98billion national budget.
Whoever wins thathotel, by the way, is very likely to be an average man, unaccustomed to wealth,who will undergo agonies deciding what to do with it. In a reportedly gentlerday the folk heroes of gambling were famed for their shrewdness and impressivebehavior—men like Edward Pendleton, the suavely elegant gent who fleecedofficial Washington in his anti-bellum faro hell, the Hall of the BleedingHeart.
Nowadays a fewpennies staked on a series of numbers or hunches on a week's soccer scores canreturn staggering amounts to a man whose chief preparation for gambling is asimple yearning to get rich quick. Once quickly rich, he faces a hundredtemptations, and not infrequently the result is insanity, a broken family orchronic bad nerves.
The winners onpage 11 haven't done badly, considering the pitfalls, but it is doubtfulwhether the gloomy young German who no longer dares to take a drink has reallygot his 50 pfennigs' worth.
The respectabilityenjoyed by some gamblers is not, of course, shared by others, for while agovernment is paying off one group it is chucking another group into the coolerat the same time. For example, a wager on salark kin bang, the nationallottery, is perfectly legal in Thailand, but playing the numbers game calledsalark kin ruab is decidedly not. This ambiguity, which exists virtuallyeverywhere, tends to produce a cynical outlook that is a sore trial toantigambling moralists.
Gambling is agreat stronghold of superstition, among supposedly sophisticated as well asbackward nations, and dreams are everywhere thought to be the key to wealth andease. Counterparts of the "dream books" so dear to American policyplayers are widely used abroad. In Italy, the most popular books are the Cabalaand the Smorfia. If you dream of white oxen leaping in a field or of kissingyour mother, the Smorfia lays it down that you must play number 8.
Less book-minded,Malayans often consult magical trees, among other things, and conceive ofwinning numbers through offerings to the trees accompanied by prayer. Thegovernment dynamited one such tree in 1953 because the crowds seekingrevelations had become a nuisance.
An example ofirrationality tempered with logic occurred at the Monte Carlo Casino a fewyears ago. An American G.I., having observed that all gamblers are motivated bya desire to win, and that nearly all lose over the long run, applied reversepsychology. He promptly hired an amiable Frenchman at a flat fee, gave him astake and promised him a bonus if he could lose it all in 20 minutes. TheFrenchman could not lose to save his life; in two nights of steady endeavor heconsistently won, and the G.I. departed with the winnings. This lesson has notbeen taken to heart by patrons of the Casino, who seem intent on winning asthey drop upwards of $5 million on its tables each year.
The grip ofsuperstition is not unnatural considering the tremendous odds most bettorsface, especially in lotteries. Skill is meaningless, and even the most honestlyrun government lottery rarely returns more than 50% of the intake. WestGermany's lottery, Zahlenlotto, claims 50% for taxes and social services. Oneconsolation is that if you go broke playing Zahlenlotto you may have helped payfor the relief handout you now need.
Despite its earlyhistory of public lotteries—Manhattan's Columbia University was founded bymeans of one, and Ben Franklin organized another—the U.S. now officially shunsthe lottery, although Representative Paul A. Fino of New York works hard for itin Congress.
This has notinterfered noticeably with the U.S. gambling splurge, the world's largest.Americans will bet on anything, but mostly on horse racing. A government sourceestimates that at least $4.5 billion is wagered illegally each year. This is inaddition to the more than $2.5 billion sent legally each year throughpari-mutuel machines in the 24 states which allow on-course betting atThoroughbred and harness races. Obviously the states could realize addedrevenue if that illegal flow could be diverted into legal, taxable channels.Proponents of legal off-track gambling point to England and France for examplesof workable systems. In England bookmakers accept wagers on a credit basis andrecords are kept for government inspection. In France there are off-trackpari-mutuel bureaus.
Forces whichoppose off-track betting counter with these arguments: any system which mightstimulate gambling is to be deplored (the shock generated by the Kefauverinvestigations and the basketball scandals of the early 1950s is still adeterrent to relaxing standards); bookmaking is in the hands of the criminalelement, which would be hard to weed out of any legal off-track system.
In any case,Tallulah Bankhead spoke for most of her countrymen and, indeed, of the world,for better or worse, when she said: "I'm still going to gamble, legally orillegally, and you can quote me."
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
HOW MUCH IS $23 BILLION?
•As much as the total cost to the U.S. of World WarI
•500 limes the annual budget of Lebanon
•$2 billion short of the combined budgets of France andGreat Britain
•450 times the UN budget
•Five times the annual U.S. expenditure on foreignaid
•Eight times the value of the Middle East's yearlycrude oil output
16 NATIONS ANNUALLY BET $100 MILLION OR MORE
Each square represents $1 billion
Each square represents $100 million
ENGLISH-SPEAKING NATIONS dominate the world gamblingsweepstakes. Brazil, a surprising fourth, does virtually all its reliablytraceable betting on horse racing. Incalculable millions more go into anillegal numbers game called bicho. India's biggest outlay is on a numbers gamebased on trading figures of the New York Cotton Exchange. Their dailypublication in India greatly stimulates newspaper circulation.
HORSE RACING IS WORLD'S NO. 1 GAMBLE
HORSE RACING $10,738,589,000
FOOTBALL POOLS $452,864,000
primarily Baccarat and Roulette
SPORT OF KINGS is king of gambling sports from HongKong to Hialeah. Wealthy U.S. shows the way, but action is fast in smallercountries, and the Ceylonese are said to be the keenest racing fans in all ofsouthern Asia. They get down $2 million yearly.
AUSSIES ARE HEAVIEST PLUNGERS PER CAPITA
UNITED STATES $90.
NEW ZEALAND $52.
GREAT BRITAIN $30.
SOUTH AFRICA $12.
SPORTS-MINDED AUSTRALIA leads the U.S. by a wide marginin per capita betting expenditures, with its down under neighbor New Zealandthird. Sweden pops up in fifth place through its devotion to lotteries, horseracing and football pools, all legal.
HOW THE BIG THREE WAGER THEIR BILLIONS
PACE-SETTING NATIONS share a passion for horse racing,but diverge in secondary outlets. Britain's influence is strong in Commonwealthcountries, which contribute to the big football pools and support bookmakerswho lay odds on English horse races.