Gambling

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Charles James Fox sat up playing hazard (forerunner of the modern game of craps) at Almack's, his club, from Tuesday evening on 4 February 1772, till five in the afternoon of Wednesday 5 February. An hour before, he had recovered pounds 12,000 that he had lost, but by dinner, which was at 5pm, he had ended up losing pounds 11,000. He spoke in the House of Commons (on the Thirty-Nine Articles), went to dine at 11.30pm, proceeded to White's, where he drank till seven next morning; thence to Almack's, where he won pounds 6,000; and between three and four in the afternoon he set out for Newmarket (where hazard tables were set up indoors).

I am indebted to Russell Barnhart, a noted scholar of gambling, resident in New York, for research on the origin of craps. Charles James Fox certainly knew about gambling from the inside, which prompts the hope that in the ranks of New Labour there may also be one or two people who have experience of gambling, as players. Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, is said to be fond of horse-racing. The wires are somewhat crossed: new legislation is the responsibility of the Home Office, but the National Lottery comes under the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (formerly Heritage), while the Treasury, which funds the Gaming Board separately, in fact rakes in tax from the lottery.

The state of play on gambling in Britain has become so churned up by the enormous success of the lottery that it needs a fresh look. Instead, change is done piecemeal - on betting shops, bingo halls, horse-racing and greyhounds, casinos, and so so on - without an overview. The salient fact is that the public dislikes the way the lottery is being run, while loving the gamble. The Government believes "something should be done". It certainly needs to think the whole thing through.

As for Charles James Fox, did he get an honest roll from the dice? Lord Egremont, recalling the earlier portion of the reign of George III, told Charles's older brother Stephen, also a big loser, that he was convinced there was some unfair play. So there may be something to be said for official regulation.

The Invention of Craps is available from Russell Barnhart, 440 W 119th St, New York 10027, United States.

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