Essays upon several projects: or, effectual ways for advancing the interest of the nation.:
Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.

Of WAGERING.

WAGERING, as now pra|ctis'd by Polities and Con|tracts, is become a Branch of Assu|rances; it was before more properly a part of Gaming, and as it deserv'd, had but a very low esteem; but Page  172 shifting sides, and the War providing proper subjects, as the contingences of Sieges, Battles, Treaties, and Campaigns, it encreas'd to an extraordinary Repu|tation, and Offices were erected on purpose which manag'd it to a strange degree and with great Advantage, especially to the Office-keepers; so that as has been computed, there was not less Gaged on one side and other upon the second Siege of Limerick, than Two hundred thousand Pound.

How 'tis manag'd, and by what trick and artifice it became a Trade, and how insensibly Men were drawn into it, an easy Account may be given.

I believe Novelty was the first wheel that set it on work, and I need make no reflection upon the power of that Charm: It was wholly a new thing, at least upon the Exchange of London; and the first occasion that gave Page  173 it a room among publick Discourse, was some Persons forming Wagers on the Return and Success of King James, for which the Government took occa|sion to use them as they deserv'd.

I have heard a Bookseller in King James's time say, That if he wou'd have a Book sell, he wou'd have it Burnt by the hand of the Common Hangman; the Man, no doubt, valu'd his Profit above his Reputation; but People are so addicted to prosecute a thing that seems forbid, that this very practice seem'd to be encourag'd by its being Contraband.

The Trade encreas'd, and first on the Exchange and then in Coffee-houses it got life, till the Brokers, those Ver|min of Trade, got hold of it, and then particular Offices were set apart for it, and an incredible resort thi|ther was to be seen every day.

These Offices had not been long in Page  174 being, but they were throng'd with Sharpers and Setters as much as the Groom-Porter's, or any Gaming-Or|dinary in Town, where a Man had nothing to do, but to make a good Figure and prepare the Keeper of the Office to give him a Credit as a good Man, and though he had not a Groat to pay, he shou'd take Guineas and sign Polities, till he had receiv'd, perhaps 3 or 400 l. in Money on condition to pay great Odds, and then Success tries the Man; if he Wins, his Fortune is made; if not, he's a better Man than he was before, by just so much Mo|ney, for as to the Debt, he is your Humble Servant in the Temple or Whitehall.

But besides those who are but the Thieves of the Trade, there is a Me|thod as effectual to get Money as pos|sible, manag'd with more appearing Honesty, but no less Art, by which Page  175 the Wagerer, in Confederacy with the Office-keeper, shall lay vast Sums, great Odds, and yet be always sure to Win.

For Example:

A Town in Flanders, or elsewhere, during the War is besieg'd; perhaps at the beginning of the Siege the De|fence is vigorous, and Relief probable, and it is the opinion of most people, the Town will hold out so long, or perhaps not be taken at all: The Wa|gerer has two or three more of his fort in conjunction, of which always the Office-keeper is one; and they run down all discourse of the taking the Town, and offer great Odds it shall not be taken by such a day: Perhaps this goes on a Week, and then the Scale turns; and tho' they seem to hold the same opinion still, yet under|hand the Office-keeper has Orders to Take all the Odds which by their Ex|ample Page  176 was before given, against the taking the Town; and so all their first-given Odds are easily secur'd, and yet the people brought into a vein of Betting against the Siege of the Town too. Then they order all the Odds to be Taken as long as they will run, while they themselves openly give Odds, and sign Polities, and often|times take their own Money, till they have receiv'd perhaps double what they at first laid. Then they turn the Scale at once, and cry down the Town, and lay that it shall be taken, till the length of the first Odds is fully run; and by this Manage, if the Town be taken they win perhaps Two or Three Thousand Pounds, and if it be not taken, they are no Losers neither.

'Tis visible by experience, not one Town in ten is besieg'd, but 'tis taken. The Art of War is so improv'd, and our Generals are so wary, that an Ar|my Page  177 seldom attempts a Siege, but when they are almost sure to go on with it; and no Town can hold out, if a Re|lief cannot be had from abroad.

Now if I can by first laying 500 l. to 200 l. with A, that the Town shall not be taken, wheedle in B to lay me 5000 l. to 2000 l. of the same; and after that, by bringing down the Vogue of the Siege, reduce the Wagers to Even-hand, and lay 2000 l. with C that the Town shall not be taken; by this Method, 'tis plain,

  • If the Town be not Taken, I win 2200 l. and lose 2000 l.
  • If the Town be Taken, I win 5000 l. and lose 2500 l.

This is Gaming by Rule, and in such a Knot 'tis impossible to lose; for if it is in any Man's or Company of Men's power, by any Artifice to alter Page  178 the Odds, 'tis in their power to com|mand the Money out of every man's Pocket, who has no more Wit than to venture.