What is the favourite topic of conversation among all kinds of people up and down the country? Not the political conferences, that's for sure. Not television, celebrity love-affairs, nor even OJ. The answer is obvious from any bus queue: the lottery.

Among manifold side effects, the fundamental impact of the lottery has been to change the culture of gambling in Britain. We talk about it, think about it, in a word accept gambling as part of daily life. The British have always loved to gamble. Horse-racing takes place nearly every day of the year and brings together the whole social spectrum, from the Queen Mum, with her reputed 10 bob each way on her daughter's horse, right down to the cloth-capped punter in the street-corner betting shop. Football pools were, in effect, our national lottery before Camelot took over. Now the public is spending some pounds 100m a week on this pastime. And most popular papers fuel the craze by promoting their own scratch cards.

But although almost everyone in Britain gambles now, very little is known and understood about gambling. So a short, comprehensive guide to gambling would be handy. This has now arrived in the shape of a paperback, Gambling, by Julian Turner, which at pounds 6.99 (published by Fourth Estate) should repay its modest cost price many times over. Hard to recall that the Guardian newspaper, in deference to its non-comformist roots, did not publish racing results until the mid-1960s. Yet the guide appears under its imprint. Almost everything the aspiring and perplexed gambler needs to know is here, including the newest form of gambling, sports betting. The time is soon coming, in this electronic age, when punters will be able stay at home and bet on a huge variety of sporting events worldwide, beamed live to their screens via a credit account activated by a touch of the telephone. Indeed, that time is already here.

The indefatigable Graham Sharpe, of William Hill, has produced an amusing book of gambling quotes, titled The Essential Gambler, Robert Hale, pounds 7.99. Sample: "You don't gamble to win. You gamble so you can gamble the next day." - Bert Ambrose, band leader.

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