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EAUH Conference 2018

Sessions

Session SS04. Gambling and the City: From Rome’s Chariot Races to the Baccarat Tables of Macau (1st - 21st centuries)

Coordinators: Jean-Dominique Delle Luche (jddelleluche@gmail.com), John Hunt (john.hunt@uvu.edu), Jeroen Puttevils (jeroen.puttevils@uantwerpen.be)

Several cities in the world are immediately associated with leisure, entertainment, games and gambling: Las Vegas, for instance. But this ‘Sin City’ is currently surpassed in terms of turnover by another city: Macau. As an autonomous territory within China, Macau’s legal system has fostered the strong rise of an urban economy strongly dependent on gambling and tourism. In the past, other cities have given rise to similar gambling cultures that privilege leisure and entertainment. Indeed, cities, as argued by urban historian Peter Clark among others, were crucial in the development of new types of leisurely activities.
Our session will focus on gambling as a form of entertainment. The appeal of certain cities to draw in tourists and citizens alike rests on the promises of its gaming tables and wagering opportunities. One can wager on the outcome of any event – whether mundane such as the role of the dice, lotteries or football matches to high politics, such as papal elections or battles. These gambling cultures have their own evolution and histories.
City authorities displayed an ambivalent and ever-changing attitude towards gambling within their walls: while it did bring in travelers and revenue through taxation, gambling could be illegal in certain legal systems and often carried a negative moral connotation. Conflicts, violence, drunkenness, criminality and prostitution often went hand in hand with gambling, which has prompted city governments to forbid the practice outright (and by doing so pushing gambling underground), they could construct a legal framework and infrastructure which allowed for monitoring and transparency for the players, or gambling could be limited in time and space.
Papers on the urban history of gambling should focus on one or more of the following elements:
- Sociability of gambling: who played and gambled, what was their gender, their social identity? Were particular types of gambling restricted to particular social groups? How did different players and organizers socially interact with each other? Did different gambling institutions compete with one another?
- Dynamics of tolerance and repression: why and when did urban authorities either allow and even encourage the development of the gambling industry or repress it? What role did transparency and publicity play? Which events or ideas triggered reversals in previous urban regulation of gambling? How does the relation between city and state affect the policing of gambling?
- Locations of gambling within cities and towns: betting could be done in taverns, in underground venues and in specialized buildings such as gambling offices and casino’s. In which neighborhoods were gambling venues located? What does this tell us about the profile of the industry? The type of venue matters as well. Was gambling advertised and if so, how?
We welcome papers from all periods and regions and are particularly interested in comparative work or long-term case studies.
Keywords: gambling; sociability; leisure