Greyhound racing is an adaptation of the ancient sport of coursing, which was flourishing as far backgammon as the fifth century b.c. (When Xenophon, the Greek soldier and ptotégé of Socrates, wrote of it in a manual of hunting).  Coursing is the pursuit of live quarry- usually a hare- by greyhounds; originally the chase was across open country, with judges and spectators following on horses.  For centuries in Europe it was the exclusive pastime of the aristocracy, for only they could afford to keep horses and greyhounds.  But in the 19th century Britain initiated the idea of enclosing the course so that spectators could watch the chase from a covered stand.  The idea met with immediate success not only in Britain but also in Australia and America.  Coursing is still a popular minority sport in all three continents, but its following is regional rather than national, and there is little or no gambling.

But greyhound racing with a mechanical hare, with it was first thought of, received acclaim from people who knew nothing whatever about the finer points of greyhounds people who simple liked to watch (and bet on) races.  The electrical hare now in common use was perfected in America in 1919 by a man named O.P.Smith, and was first tried out on a track at Emeryville, California.  (Actually, a mechanical –clockwork- hare had been used in coursing much earlier in England in 1876,but the idea didn’t catch on; it lay dormant until Mr. Smith brought out his version, which first arrived in Britain in 1927.)
At first, greyhound racing was almost completely uncontrolled, and therefore offered plenty of opportunities for crookedness.  Many phony promoters cheated gamblers out of millions by organizing the doping and substitution of dogs.  But today the various encyclopedia poker games national greyhound associations and the individual state governments are in full control.  In America, to prevent substitutions, every racing greyhound is registered at birth; its paw prints are recorded and it must wear an identity disk.  Also, greyhounds are taken from their owners several hours before a race, and are inspected on the track by a state veterinary officer.  A similar precautionary procedure is enforced in Britain by the National  Greyhound Racing Association.


A camera patrol at work at Canada’s Woodbine Park. It is one of several cameras distributed along the track to detect any unfair tactics among the jockeys.  Far right, a jockey takes a numbered ball from a “keno american table goose”  to find his position in the line-up at the start of the race.

The typical British track has an iron-roofed stand, floodlights illuminating the turf track, and six traps at one end in which the dogs are imprisoned: when the hare is about 10 yards ahead of the traps, the dogs are released simultaneously.  Betting on greyhound in Britain follow very much the same procedure as on horses-tote, bookies, and betting shops.  In America and much of Europe, of course, only totalizator betting is legally permitted.  The standard bet on most American tracks is $ 2.

Automobile racing attracts very little gambling money in most countries, mainly because it has largely become the realm of manufactures who pay highly skilled professional drivers to exploit the possibilities of their machines.  Thus gamblers, reasonably enough, are probably hesitant at the thought that their chances may be affected by mechanical alterations that apply to some machines but not others.  Few bookmakers bother to acquire the knowledge necessary to quote odds on drivers like Graham Hill or Farina; if you want to stake some money on a driver in a car race, you can most easily do it in a private bet with a friend.  The nine biggest races that you can have your personal bets on are the Grand’s Prix of Monaco, Holland, Belgium, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and the United States.

Organized online poker betting is minimal on motorcycle races as well (though these are highly popular as spectator sports).  And as with car and motorcycle racing, so with bicycle racing- at least in the Western world.  There is no organized gambling on Europe’s many bicycle races: The races are sponsored by manufacturers and other advertisers, who pay the prizes.  (The prize money for the most famous European race, the 2750-mile Tournament de France, rarely amounts to more than the equivalent of $ 4000.) The French are the most ardent bicycle-race fans in Europe; the Germans, Belgians, Dutch, and Italians are close behind them.  All four nations have developed the sport with enthusiasm, both on specially built circular tracks with heavy banking on the corners and on ordinary roads.

But in the East-specifically, in Japan bicycle racing is one of the most important sports for gamblers.  Japanese bicycle racing was instituted in 1948 to aid the recovery of the bicycle industry from a post-war depression.  By 1955 sixty tracks had been built; today more than 1,000,000 racing cyclists compete each year, with sometimes a dozen races taking place daily on every track.  The local governments sponsor the races and sell, in one year, over 60,000,000,000 betting tickets.  (A small proportion of these, about 1,500,000,000 are for motor-cycle races.) Twenty-five per cent is deducted from the sale of the tickets by the government; after deducting the costs of building and running the tracks, the sponsors are left with a net profit of nine per cent-the equivalent of about $ 15,000,000.  The remainder is pooled and divided among winning bettors; in 1954 the winnings totaled the equivalent of about $ 163,000,000.


Racing greyhounds round a corner at one of America’s many greyhound tracks.  Yacht racing, like horse breeding, is mainly a pursuit for the rich (since racing yachts can be extremely expensive); and in their time the rich have staked their friends and themselves with big wagers.  Charles II of England started the sport after being presented with a yacht by the Dutch East India Company, and he and his brother, the Duke of York, raced on the Thames for 100 guineas.  The 18th century diarist Samuel Pepys speaks of his colleagues at the Admiralty wagering on the results “as merrily as they do on any gambling dice.”  In 1866 three American schooners raced across the Atlantic in very heavy weather for a stake of $ 90,000 contributed by all three owners, and it was reported in the New York papers at the time that interest was so keen that it was reported in the New York papers at the time that interest was so keen that it was “impossible to enter any gambling saloon without finding a person who would offer you odds on whether the Fleetwing, Henrietta, or Vesta would first arrive at her destination.”  (Henrietta won with a crossing time of 13 days, 21 hours, 5 minutes.)

The dogs are released from numbered “traps” in pursuit of electrical hares . sometimes the greyhounds are allowed  to sniff at a dead hare after the race, as compensation for the deception. Today there is still considerable private betting between members of the various yacht clubs; and recently a remarkable achievement involved such a wager.  In 1960, two yachtsmen, Francis Chichester and H.G. Hasler, had a five-shilling bet on which of them would be first to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic.  Chichester won the race in his yacht Gipsy Moth III, completing the trip in 40 days.

The French bicycle marathon the tennis tournament de France.  As on all European bicycle races, there is no organized betting on the Tournament, though private betting is widespread among the race’s many enthusiastic followers.

Motor-boat racing is another sport that is pursued for glory and trophies rather than gambling victories-except in Japan, where, like bicycling, it has a national betting following. National and local governments sponsor the sale of over 13,000,000 betting tickets a year (not only to the spectators but to anyone who cares to buy them) in tobacconists, pin-table saloons, and cafes.

            The amounts lost and won over the centuries by betting on which of a number of moving bodies would reach a determined point first have certainly been astronomical.  For example, in the 13th century, the affluent Persian Sultan El Naseri paid out the equivalent of $ 250,000 a day for bets on horses.  And in more recent times (specifically, 1961) racing fans in the state of New York bet a total of over $ 1,000,000,000 –the seonc consecutive year in which the state betting total topped the billion mark.  Between these gamblers of the Old and New Worlds one might imagine a valley about as deep as the Grand Canyon, filled with the money bet on racing.  To the people who bet it, however, it was in no sense metaphorical money.  It was very real.