Gambling: What the Nobility Has to Say

Without the money or publicity lent to the activity by the great titled gentlemen of England, gaming in America remained less of a business proposition during the eighteenth century.

British culture in the Augustan age was both more aristocratic and more capitalistic than colonial culture.

Gambling represented the commercialization of sport, in a way, as people invested in horses or cocks and hoped for capital gains.

But English gaming increasingly came to be organized as a business, too.

The emergence of professional gamesters and the rise of commercial establishments that profited from sponsoring games of chance provided two manifestations of the growing enterprise of gambling.

Since the early seventeenth century, monied Englishmen had worried about cardsharps, and the problem only seemed to grow larger in the next century.

Aristocrats who gambled at White's attested to the problem by converting the public house into a private club, largely in order to eliminate sharpers from their games.

Other Englishmen were less fortunate and often found themselves 'taken' in what had seemingly begun as innocent games.

There is virtually no evidence to suggest that Americans had the same problem to such an extent.

With their preference for private games and smaller stakes, they offered less opportunity to professional gamesters.

Eighteenth-century colonists also failed to reproduce the commercial milieu in which so much English gaming took place.

Each occupation in the metropolis had its own set of establishments. At the top of the commoners' scale, financiers, merchants, and brokers patronized respectable coffeehouses, while at the bottom of the most unsavory sharpers lurked in disreputable taverns.

Even had professional gamblers not worked out of these public houses, gaming would still have been somewhat entrepreneurial in the clubs because so many places sponsored commercial games like roulette and faro, and furnished a banker to protect the house's interest.

Following the nobility's example, Englishmen developed a stratified network of public gaming shops, providing a milieu for betting that suited the larger society.

Eighteenth-century Americans had no such public and commercial setting in which to gamble. More dispersed throughout the land with little cash at hand, colonists did not develop an urban hierarchy of public houses in which gaming could flourish.

In cities and along roads stood taverns where customers found recreations that included betting, but these establishments were less stratified and less specifically devoted to gaming or any other pastime.

Taverns served the colonists more at all-purpose places for all classes.

Moreover, though individual patrons might make private wagers on backgammon, cards, or billiards, more commercial games like faro and roulette generally remained unpopular in English North America, and gaming houses as such never really prospered.

In the colonies, the business of gambling simply lagged behind its development in the more thoroughly mercantile culture of England.

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