An essay upon projects, by Daniel Defoe

Of Wagering.

Wagering, as now practised by politics and contracts, is become a branch of assurances; it was before more properly a part of gaming, and as it deserved, had but a very low esteem; but shifting sides, and the war providing proper subjects, as the contingencies of sieges, battles, treaties, and campaigns, it increased to an extraordinary reputation, and offices were erected on purpose which managed 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 pounds.

How it is managed, 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 it a room among public discourse, was some persons forming wagers on the return and success of King James, for which the Government took occasion to use them as they deserved.

I have heard a bookseller in King James’s time say, “That if he would have a book sell, he would have it burnt by the hand of the common hangman;” the man, no doubt, valued his profit above his reputation; but people are so addicted to prosecute a thing that seems forbid, that this very practice seemed to be encouraged by its being contraband.

The trade increased, and first on the Exchange and then in coffee-houses it got life, till the brokers, those vermin of trade, got hold of it, and then particular offices were set apart for it, and an incredible resort thither was to be seen every day.

These offices had not been long in being, but they were thronged with sharpers and setters as much as the groom-porters, or any gaming-ordinary 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 should take guineas and sign polities, till he had received, perhaps, 300 pounds or 400 pounds 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 money, 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 method as effectual to get money as possible, managed with more appearing honesty, but no less art, by which 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 besieged; perhaps at the beginning of the siege the defence 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 wagerer has two or three more of his sort 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 though they seem to hold the same opinion still, yet underhand the office-keeper has orders to take all the odds which by their example was before given against the taking the town; and so all their first-given odds are easily secured, 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 oftentimes take their own money, till they have received 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.

It is visible by experience, not one town in ten is besieged but it is taken. The art of war is so improved, and our generals are so wary, that an army seldom attempts a siege, but when they are almost sure to go on with it; and no town can hold out if a relief cannot be had from abroad.

Now, if I can by first laying 500 pounds to 200 pounds with A, that the town shall not be taken, wheedle in B to lay me 5,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds of the same; and after that, by bringing down the vogue of the siege, reduce the wagers to even-hand, and lay 2,000 pounds with C that the town shall not be taken; by this method, it is plain:—

If the town be not taken, I win 2,200 pounds and lose 2,000 pounds.

If the town be taken, I win 5,000 pounds and lose 2,500 pounds.

This is gaming by rule, and in such a knot it is impossible to lose; for if it is in any man’s or company of men’s power, by any artifice to alter the odds, it is in their power to command the money out of every man’s pocket, who has no more wit than to venture.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/defoe/daniel/d31es/chapter9.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37