Watching other people play games has been one of man’s favorite leisure-time occupations for a long while.  For one thing, we all enjoy the thrills of battle and conquest;’ but most of us would prefer to get this kind of enjoyment vicariously rather than by facing a fighting bull in a Spanish bull ring or a heavy-weight champion in a boxing ring.  Also, of course, any kind of athletic contest offers many an opportunity for gambling.  The spectator has no control over the game (unless he has “fixed” it by, say, bribing the players).  So from his point of view the game’s outcome can depend almost as much on chance as on the players’ ability.

Horse racing, of course, is the undisputed favorite of gamblers who prefer the onlooker’s omnipotent view to the participant’s role.  And Chapter 8 will show just how big a gambling “industry” the race track is.  My concern in this chapter is with some of the principal sports aside from racing that attract gamblers’ money –and with a few well-known sports that, for reasons that will emerge, don’t. As an indication of the importance of sports events in the gambling world, it has been estimated by one authority that Americans gambling more than $ 10,000,000,000 annually on sports other than racing.
One reason for the wide popularity of gambling on sports events is that the process is so uncomplicated.  You don’t need to learn a number of complex rules of play or betting procedures, as you do in most casino poker games or in card and dice games.  Your basic need is only the address or telephone number of a bookmaker, some cash to put in his hand, and the knowledge of what athletes or teams are competing.  It might help you to know something about the nature of the game, but it isn’t necessary in order to bet.  If the bookmakers’ where-about are unknown to you (as might be the case in countries where the law says that bookies are criminals), you can always have a friendly bet with a fellow spectator.

The crowded grandstand at Forest Hills, New York, during a tennis tournament.  Millions of people enjoy watching sport; and for many spectators, gambling on the outcome adds an extra edge to the excitement.

In fact, this is undoubtedly the way most betting on spectator sports is done.  Sports fans, who may never have seen a casino and who may not know poker from mah-jongg, will often demonstrate their faith in the athlete or team of their choice by betting and gaming with the opposition’s followers.  The bet itself may be small, perhaps for only a drink; but temporarily the fan is a gambler.

Fighting is probably the oldest spectator sport (aside from racing); and of the various kinds of fighting that still draw audiences today, wrestling is undoubtedly the oldest.  There are both Egyptian and ancient Chinese pictorial records of wrestling from 2000 b.c., which show that the sport must have been as graceful a form of mayhem as could be found.  Many elements of grace survive in the kind of wrestling , called sumo which could be called the modern Japanese national sport.  But the grace that has survived can often be obscured by the bulk that has been created –surprisingly in a people of small physical stature –by generations of marriage between the sons and daughters of different families of sumo wrestlers, which has resulted in the evolution of increasingly powerful physiques.

The ancient scribes of the Far East make frequent references to wrestling.  In the first century b.c., for example, a Korean wrestler named Kehya boasted that no man could match him and appealed to the emperor to put his strength to the test.  In those days, of course, a wrestler who issued such a challenge was gambling house not only with his prestige but with his life.  Another wrestler, Shikune by name, accepted the challenge and defeated Kehaya, following up his triumph by kicking the vanquished man in the ribs and breaking the bones in his body one by one until he died.  Upon which Shikune was promoted to high office.

In the year a.d. 858 the throne of Japan was staked on the outcome of a wrestling match.  The Emperor Buntoka had two sons, Koreshito and Koretaka, both of whom aspired to the throne.  Their claims were decided in a wrestling match fought for them by two profession wrestlers, Yoshira (for Koreshito) and Natora (for Koretaka).  Yoshira was the victor, so Koreshito ascended the throne.

From the time of ancient Greece (where wrestlers fought naked, their bodies smeared with oil as an anti-per spirant and sprinkled with sand to afford a good gripping surface for the opponent )until early in this century, wrestling was a respected sport.  But its recent history has been a history of decline.  In the professional wrestling ring today, enormous men perform well rehearsed and often comic antics for the entertainment of spectators who are mostly at home in front their television sets rather than at the ringside.  These contests are no more elephantine acrobatics, with the “winner” allegedly scheduled matches; nor would any bookmaker accept such a bet.
Amateurs have to some extent maintained the classical style of wrestling as a sport under the sponsorship of the International Amateur Wrestling Federation.  But while you could readily see an amateur match in, say, France, Britain, or Germany, you would find it difficult to place a bet on it (except with a friend).  Bookmakers, it seems, just aren’t very interested.

Nor are they particularly interested in judo, a special form of wrestling developed in Japan during the last years of the 19th century. But in this case the absence of Gambling isn’t due to a decline in the integrity of the sport.  Quite the contrary: so much honor is attached to the practice of judo-which is claimed to be a philosophy fostering moral qualities like respect, kindness, self-control, and sincerity, as well as an art that gambling is never mentioned in the same breath.  Anyway, not by the international array of judo enthusiasts.  Sports reporters will tell you that some private betting does occur at judo matches in Europe and in Japan, but not enough to make the bookies interested in studying the sport, working out odds, and so on.  It seems that bookmakers have a better chance of making a profit in the big sports that attract large followings and therefore more gambling money sports like boxing.