GG Archives Website - Link to Homepage

Parimutuel Betting Pools on a Steamship - 1910


There are two kinds of pools on the ship's run, which are made up in the smoking-room. The simpler variety is known as "Hat Pool" because the drawing is done from a hat or cap.

The smoking-room steward prepares papers like a ballot numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. Ten take part in the pool by paying ten shillings or $2.50 each.

This entitles them to draw a number from the hat. The one who draws the number which coincides with the last figure of the ship's run in sea miles at the time when the log is taken at noon the next day gets the entire sweepstakes.

Thus if the run was 568 miles, the one who drew No. 8 would win $25.00. It is customary for the winner to give ten per cent. of his winnings to the smoke-room steward who arranges the details of the drawing.

The "Auction Pool" is more complicated. It is more interesting in a way, as the players really hid against the actual run. Twenty people get together and pay twenty shillings for the privilege of drawing a number blindly from a hat, the numbers running from say 540 to 560, or in other words, from 540 to 560 sea miles based on the captain's calculation, which is asked from him by courtesy.

After the first drawing has been done by the original members of the pool, each number is auctioned off by some one who is appointed as auctioneer. Each of the original members of the pool who have paid their twenty shillings must enter the competition if they wish to retain their number.

They can also compete for any other number. The bidding is apt to be brisk and when the number is knocked down, one-half of the money paid goes to the original member of the pool who drew the numher which was contained in the hat. and the other half goes in the pool.

If the original owner of that number bids his own number back he has to pay one-half of his bid to the pool. When all the numbers have been auctioned off they put to auction what are called the "high field" and the "low field."

The "high field" includes all the numbers above the highest number which has been auctioned in the pool; thus, to go hack to our 560, everything above 560 should he in the "high field." The "low field" includes all the numbers below the lowest number of the pool; thus, 539 would belong to the "low field."

These two fields, high and low, usually sell for a high price at the auction. The pool is always arranged for the evening before the run of the ship at the time when the log is made at noon. The captain's calculations may be correct provided the conditions of weather, etc., remain the same as when the guess was made.

Here. however, comes in the element of chance: if head winds, heavy seas or fog are encountered, a low field would be run : but if clear weather, fair winds should predominate. the result would he entirely different and the ship might run ahead of the sea miles which the captain guessed.

The successful holder of the winning number is entitled to the entire pool, which is always a matter of hundreds of dollars, and it is not unusual for the pool to be worth as much as $5,000. Sometimes a certain percentage of this is given to charity for the widows and orphans of seamen of the line.

Return to Top of Page

1910 Travel Guide by Scientifc American

Travel Guide Topical Index

Updates and Social Media