Ice hockey is the grand national game of the Canadians, who have adapted it from a British fen-country game called bandy.  A sizable piece of Canada’s gambling expenditure goes on the game, but the amount still isn’t very big- $ 15,000,000 a year being the official figure.  This may well be because there are only six teams in the main leaguer (the National Hockey League) and the bookmakers must quote odds that are in their own favor if they are to stay in business.  Four of the six teams are American, which attracts a few million dollars of American gambling money.  The smaller leagues in Canada, and in the European and Scandinavian countries that lay ice hockey, are usually ignored by bookmakers: Gambling on these games occurs mostly in the form of private betting among the spectators.

Private bets on most spectator sports are usually laid on which team will win, the size of the score, or other side issues.  But in the annals of hockey there is a story of a more out-of-the-ordinary friendly bet, involving two Montreal physicists who were researching into the speed of propelled objects.  One bet the other a dollar that during the course of a specified hockey match the puck would reach the speed of at least 100 miles an hour and at least one of the players would reach the skating speed of 40 mph.  They made arrangements to have the use of the press box at a game between the Montreal and Detroit teams, took along their apparatus with all its complications of photoelectric cells and the like, and carried out the experiment.  The fastest traveling puck they recorded was in a shot to goal of 87.35 miles an hour, and the fastest player’s top speed reached 27 miles an hour.  These two recorded speeds, however, established that ice hockey deserves its reputation for being “the fastest team game in the world.

Another incredibly fast game, jai-alai (pronounced “hi-li” and meaning, in Basque, “merry festival”) is famous for its Gambling.  This game, which is sometimes called pelota (Spanish for “ball”), began its long term of popularity in Cuba at the beginning of this century: Today it is common in most of southern Europe casino , Latin, America, and the U.S.A.  It can be played by two or more players, using a ball slightly bigger, harder, and heavier than a golf ball.  This is hit against the wall of an especially marked court and must bounce in a certain area.  Florida legalized pari-mutuel betting on jai-alai in 1933, and a season at Miami can last over a hundred nights and attracts an average audience of 3,500.  Each program usually features nine separate games, and the bettor places bets as for horse races-for “win” and  “place” – on two players (or two teams ) who must finish first and second in the night’s play for him to win.  The payoff on a $ 2 ticket may be anything up to $ 200.

As for athletics,  or “track and field” sports, there are practically no places where public betting (in the sense of a “book” being opened for backers or atheletes) flourishes to any extent.  Anywhere poker games are held, of course, one can find someone who will offer odds against a particular athlete’s wining an event.  But, in general, bookmakers don’t pay much attention to athletic assemblies, and the rules of the Olympic Games, which are certainly the greatest of such assemblies, forbid their presence.  Anyone connected with the Olympics would be shocked at the insinuation that their fair athletics were being sullied by gambling.  This attitude is most likely due to the mystique left over from classical times, when athletes competed for laurel wreaths and immortality.

All the same, human nature (in terms of gambling) reveals itself today as it probably did in classical times.  According to a contributor to a book called Olympic Odyssey (1956), many athletes today bet on themselves.  And newspaper sports reporters admit that they see a good deal of private gambling among the spectators (and perhaps among themselves).  In the same book, an instance of this kind of gambling is given by Bobby Tisdall, creator of the then world’s record for the 400 meters hurdles at the Games in Los Angeles in 1932:

The Irish athlete Bobby Tisdall winning the 400 meter hurdle race at the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles in 1932.  There is little organized gambling on athletics, and professional bookmakers are banned from the Olympic Games.  But as in any contest, private betting poker cannot be prevented, and spectators (sometimes even competitors) often gamble on the outcome of the Games.

“One day I had the honor of being routed out of my little hut in the Olympic village by Douglas Fairbanks (Senior ) and Will Rogers.  I think they were snooping around the ‘paddock’ for likely winners.  Anyhow I heard later that Douglas won a thousand dollars on me.”

Gambling, in fact, seems to be as indestructible as immortality.

The finish of the 120-yard 1963 “Powder hall” race (so called after the village where it was originally held), which now takes place every New Year’s Day at Newton grange in Scotland as a main future of an annual athletics meeting.  Unlike the majority of other countries, Scotland permits open gambling professional athletics.  Evidence of this organized betting are the stands operated by bookmakers that can be seen in the background, behind the spectators.  (Also identifiable- behind the runner numbered 5 is a “tic-tac” man, who is probably already taking bets on the next race.)  Gambling on athletics is so common and so popular in Scotland that many of the sports pages of newspapers quote the odds offered by bookmakers on competitors in well-known events.

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