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Bookmakers, betting offices and the business of gambling in independent Ireland, 1926–31

  • Liam O’Callaghan (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

The Betting Act 1926 legalised cash betting in Ireland and led to the appearance, for the first time, of the legally regulated and licensed betting office. The introduction of this legislation was a pragmatic step, designed to eradicate the undesirable practice of street bookmaking. This article seeks to examine the operation of the legislation over the entire period of its enactment before it was superseded by the Betting Act 1931. What follows focuses on the bookmaker, their social background, geographical distribution, clientele and business practices. The industry, as it made its transition from its illegal to regulated forms, was characterised by both continuity and change. How bookmakers were perceived in the context of the puritanical atmosphere of the Free State is also considered. Attitudes to bookmakers depended on the scale of their involvement in the business, where they conducted their business, and who they conducted it with. Debates featuring these issues were spliced with contemporary concerns about class, gender and youth.

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Corresponding author
*Department of Health Sciences, Liverpool Hope University, ocallal@hope.ac.uk
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1 1926/38 [I.F.S.] (28 July 1926).

2 1931/27 [I.F.S.] (23 July 1931).

3 For a useful overview, see Pašeta Senia, ‘Censorship and its critics in the Irish Free State, 1922–1932’ in Past & Present, no. 181 (2003), pp 193198 .

4 Finnane Mark, ‘The Carrigan Committee of 1930–31 and the “moral condition of the Saorstát”’ in I.H.S., xxxii, no. 128 (Nov. 2001), p. 519 .

5 Connacht Tribune, 18 May 1912.

6 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926, and the law relating to the business of bookmaking together with proceedings of the joint committee, minutes of evidence and appendices (Dublin, 1929), p. 95 (henceforth cited as Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926).

7 Kelly James, Sport in Ireland, 1600–1840 (Dublin, 2014), pp 152, 197–8, 299–300.

8 Ibid., p. 334.

9 Munting Roger, An economic and social history of gambling in Britain and the U.S.A. (Manchester, 1996), pp 2225 .

10 Street Betting Act 1906, 6 Edw. VII, c. 43 (21 May 1906); Ready Money Football Betting Act 1920, 10 & 11 Geo. V, c. 52 (24 Mar. 1920).

11 For its early antecedents, see Kelly, Sport in Ireland, p. 336.

12 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926, p. 2.

13 Limerick Leader, 6 June 1925.

14 Ibid.

15 Irish Times, 25 Apr. 1924.

16 The home address provided for William McConnell on the ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’ matches the 1911 Census in which Walter McConnell is entered as a male relative. See: ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences issued and of premises entered in the Registry of Bookmaking Offices up to and including the 7th February 1927’ (copy available in Sheppard Warlock Library, Liverpool Hope University), p. 30.

17 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 30.

18 See, for example, Limerick Leader, 13 June 1925.

19 Freeman’s Journal, 19 Nov. 1924; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 10.

20 Irish Times, 12 May 1923.

21 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 23.

22 Nenagh Guardian, 13 June 1925; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 36.

23 Irish Times, 25 Apr. 1924; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 7.

24 Irish Times, 6 May 1925.

25 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 34.

26 Freeman’s Journal, 8 Nov. 1924.

27 Ibid., 26 Sept. 1923; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 38.

28 Dáil Éireann deb., xvi, 1564 (22 June 1926).

29 ‘A new basis of taxation, c.1925’ (N.A.I., TSCH/3/S4233).

30 Ibid.

31 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 2.

32 Dáil Éireann deb., xvi, 1523 (22 June 1926).

33 Dáil Éireann deb., xv, 167–168 (21 Apr. 1926).

34 Dáil Éireann deb., xxiii, 1–2 (18 Apr. 1928).

35 Huggins Mike, ‘Betting, sport and the British, 1918–1939’ in Journal of Social History, xli, no. 2 (Winter, 2007), pp 287288 .

36 See Chinn Carl, Better betting with a decent feller: a social history of bookmaking (London, 2004), pp 194195 .

37 Irish Times, 22 Apr. 1926.

38 Ibid., 23 June 1926.

39 This was replicated in Britain. See: Huggins, ‘Betting, sport and the British’, p. 286.

40 Dáil Éireann deb., xxxvi, 1142 (10 Dec. 1930).

41 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 6.

42 Ibid., p. 5.

43 Kiernan T. J., ‘The national expenditure of the Irish Free State in 1926’ in Journal of Social and Statistical Inquiry Society of Ireland, xv (1933), p. 22 .

44 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 89.

45 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’.

46 Figures derived from ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’.

47 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, pp 3–4.

48 This figure is derived from a statement made in the Dáil by the minister for Finance. See: Dáil Éireann deb., xxxiv, 805 (10 Apr. 1930).

49 There were two from Clonmel and one each from Carrick-on-Suir, Mountmellick and Athy. The city dwellers comprised one each from Dublin, Cork and Galway. Figures derived from ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’.

50 Any settlement with a population of greater than 2,000.

51 According to the 1926 census, the population of Dundalk was 13,996. See: Census of population 1926. Volume I (Dublin, 1928), p. 16.

52 See: McGarry Fearghal, Eoin O’Duffy: a self-made hero (Oxford, 2005), p. 186 . See also: McElligott Richard, Forging a kingdom: the G.A.A. in Kerry, 1884–1934 (Cork, 2013), pp 357358 .

53 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, cross-referenced with Thom’s Dublin and county street directory 1925 (Dublin, 1925).

54 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’; Thom’s directory 1925. This becomes apparent when betting office addresses are compared with the densely populated working-class areas of Dublin identified in Connor Dylan, Mills Gerald, and Moore-Cherry Niamh, ‘The 1911 census and Dublin city: a spatial analysis’ in Irish Geography, xliv, nos. 2–3 (July–Nov. 2011), pp 245263 .

55 Huggins, in his study of interwar British gambling, has asserted that most bookmakers were generally honest and respected businessmen. See Huggins, ‘Betting, sport and the British’, p. 292.

56 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 28.

57 Ibid., p. 110.

58 Irish Times, 13 May 1927.

59 Ibid.

60 ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, pp 38–9, 43.

61 Kildare Observer, 23 Dec. 1933; Leinster Express, 27 Feb. 1937.

62 Nationalist and Leinster Times, 27 Feb. 1937.

63 Ibid.

64 Munster Express, 6 Dec. 1946.

65 Irish Press, 14 Feb. 1934; Anglo-Celt, 30 Mar., 8, 15 June 1935; Ballina Herald, 27 May 1933; The Kerryman, 19 Dec. 1936.

66 Nenagh Guardian, 20 Feb. 1937.

67 See, for example, Irish Independent, 20 May 1932.

68 Irish Times, 1 Nov. 1926.

69 Coleman Marie, The Irish sweep: a history of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake, 1930–1987 (Dublin, 2009), p. 5 .

70 Irish Times, 16 Mar. 1929.

71 Coleman, The Irish sweep, p. 7.

72 Irish Times, 5 Nov. 1935; Irish Independent, 5 Nov. 1935.

73 Deduced from ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’.

74 Twenty-five out of 166 Dublin licence holders listed in the ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’ operated more than one premises.

75 Irish Times, 13 May 1927.

76 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 11.

77 Ibid.

78 N.A.I., Census of Ireland 1911, household returns (available online at: www.census.nationalarchives.ie) (12 Dec. 2014). Some occupations were gleaned from the cross referencing of bookies’ addresses with Thom’s Directory 1925.

79 Irish Times, 14 May 1907; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 25.

80 Both were quick to acknowledge undesirable practices within the profession. See: Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, pp 66–77.

81 N.A.I., Census of Ireland 1911, household returns (www.census.nationalarchives.ie) (12 Dec. 2014); Thom’s directory 1925; ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’, p. 3.

82 Addresses provided in the ‘Record of bookmakers’ licences’ cross-referenced with Thom’s directory 1925.

83 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, p. 91.

84 See, for example, the evidence of Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy in Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, pp 1–8.

85 Royal commission on lotteries and betting 19323: final report, 86–87 [Cmd 4341] H.C. 1932–33, xiv, 468–9.

86 Irish Times, 2 June 1927.

87 McKibbin Ross, ‘Working-class gambling in Britain, 1880–1939’ in Past & Present, no. 82 (Feb. 1979), p. 170 .

88 Irish Times, 10 Oct. 1927.

89 Ibid., 9 May 1928. This discourse was similar to that of the various Protestant denominations in Britain. See: Huggins, ‘Betting, sport and the British’, p. 287.

90 Ferriter Diarmaid, A nation of extremes: the Pioneers in twentieth-century Ireland (Dublin, 1999), p. 101 .

91 Ibid., pp 90–5.

92 Luddy Maria, Prostitution and Irish society, 1800–1940 (Cambridge, 2007), p. 197 .

93 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, p. 58.

94 Ibid., p. 110.

95 Ibid., p. 48.

96 Irish Times, 23 Jan. 1929.

97 Report of the special committee on the Moneylenders Bill, 1932, together with the proceedings of the special committee and minutes of evidence (Dublin, 1933), p. 21.

98 Moneylenders Act 1933, section 11, 1933/34 [I.F.S.] (1 Jan. 1934).

99 See, for instance, Ernest Blythe’s contribution to Seanad Éireann deb., vii, 926 (9 July 1926).

100 Joint committee on the Betting Act 1926, pp xi–xv.

101 Dáil Éireann deb., xxxvi, 1146 (10 Dec. 1930).

102 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926, pp 99, 105, 110.

103 Dáil Éireann deb., xxxvi, 1168 (10 Dec. 1930).

104 Dáil Éireann deb., xxxvii, 516 (20 Feb. 1931).

105 Betting Act 1931, 1931/27 [I.F.S.] (28 July 1931).

106 Eoin O’Duffy, for instance, strongly encouraged this. See: Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, p. 12.

107 Horgan J. J., ‘Prohibition in practice’ in Studies, xiv, no. 56 (Dec. 1925), p. 446 .

108 For Garda regulation see Ferriter, A nation of extremes, pp 106–7; Luddy, Prostitution, pp 232–3.

109 McGarry, Eoin O’Duffy, p. 158.

110 Report of the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926, pp 2–3. For other examples of this rhetoric, see McGarry, Eoin O’Duffy, pp 156–62; David Fitzpatrick, ‘“Unofficial emissaries”: British Army boxers in the Irish Free State, 1926’ in I.H.S., xxx, no. 118 (Nov. 1996), pp 206–32.

111 See: Luddy, Prostitution, pp 209–27.

112 Data from Luddy, Prostitution, p. 210, cross-referenced with ‘Register of bookmakers’ Licences’.

113 Crowley Una and Kitchin Rob, ‘Producing “decent girls”: governmentality and the moral geographies of sexual conduct in Ireland (1922–1937)’ in Gender, Place & Culture, xv, no. 4 (Aug. 2008), pp 355360 .

114 Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, 194951, report, p. 64 [Cmd 8190], H.C. 1950–51, viii, 625.

115 Chinn, Better betting, p. 240.

116 Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, 194951, report, p. 71.

117 Chinn, Better betting, p. 226; McKibbin Ross, Classes and cultures in England, 1918–1951 (Oxford, 1998), p. 377 .

118 For the early history of greyhound racing in Ireland, see Toms David, ‘The electric hare: greyhound racing’s development in Ireland, 1927–58’ in Ir. Econ. & Soc. Hist., xl (2013), pp 6986 . The author wishes to thank Professor Mike Cronin of Boston College and Dr David Doyle of Maynooth University for reading earlier drafts of this article and offering insightful suggestions that have strengthened it significantly.

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Irish Historical Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-1214
  • EISSN: 2056-4139
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