English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : November, 1910

The Billiard Monthly : November, 1910
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A Journal of Interest and Value to Amateur Billiard Players
No. 1, November, 1910Price 1/6 per annum to any part of the world. Single Copies 1d

Things that Matter Concerning Billiards


By J. Duncan, M.A., L.L.B., Barrister-at-Law
(Special to The Billiard Monthly)

The law with regard to billiards may be summarized in the following eight propositions:-

(1) Billiards is a “lawful” game.

(2) Any person having a private billiard table may invite friends
and strangers to play so long as there is no charge made for the game.

(3) There is no penalty for betting on the result of the game.

(4) A licensed victualler does not require to take out a billiard
license. (“A licensed victualler” is used here to indicate the licensee of a public house).

(5) Beerhouse keepers and all others require to take out a billiard license.

(6) Billiards may not be played in a public house during prohibited hours, which are after 1 and before 8 in the morning, Sundays, Christmas Day, Good Friday, of any day appointed to be kept as a public fast or thanksgiving. (Guests living in a hotel or bona-fide travellers entitled to refreshment after these prohibited hours are not entitled to play billiards at the same time).

(7) Billiards may be played in beer-houses and all other public
places licensed for the playing of billiards at all time, without restriction. (These other public places do not, as stated in proposition 6, include public houses. Public houses do not require a license (Proposition 4).

(8) There is a penalty for betting on the result of the game or
for arranging for the loser to pay for the game. The loser may pay so long as it is not by arrangement.

What strikes one as unreasonable in the above summary of the law is that billiards, although a lawful game, may not be played on a public billiard table without a license. The same rule does not apply to bowls; the chief difference between bowls and billiards is that the one is played on a green and the other on a slate.

Another anomaly is that guests in a hotel may be served after prohibited hours, but they may not play billiards, whilst a third anomaly is that it is permissible to play all night and on Sundays in a beerhouse, but not in a public-house.

There is more reason for the fourth anomaly that a beerhouse license does not ipso facto carry a billiard license, whereas a public-house or hotel license does-naively, the publican or hotel proprietor is a more responsible person than a beerhouse licensee, but this strikes again at the whole question-why a license should be required at all? A beerhouse may have a skittle alley, but not billiards.

We turn with respect to our legislators to find if possible
the motives which actuated them in passing the present law with regard to billiards, namely, the Gaming Act, 1845. The preamble to this Act reads that the laws in restraint of unlawful gaming have been found of no avail, and it proceeds to repeal the Gaming Act of Henry VIII. (1542), so far as games of skill are concerned- “bowling, coyting, cloyshcayls, half bowl, tennis, or the like,” and then brands billiards for a first (?) time as a game requiring a license, although it had been practised about the year in which the Parliament of 1542 enacted the statute.

It is possible that billiards was included in the term bowls, says Brandt, and that it was originally played on the ground. If that be so, then we have the history and motive for requiring a license. The statute of Henry VIII. was entitled “The Bill for maintaining Artillery and the debarring of unlawful games,” and was intended to secure the military efficiency of the feudal army in bows and arrows at the “butts.” To that end competing pastimes were suppressed.

The raison d’etre for such a law has gone, and it is astonishing that Palmerston, who presided over the Blue Book report in 1844, when we were at peace with all the world, should have continued or introduced the restrictions upon such a harmless and popular game.

Nothing is said of the argument in Hansard, so that in the absence of the Blue Book Report we may address ourselves anew to the beneficial or baneful condition of the law as it at present stands.

The unlawful games-that is, games which are penalized and prohibited-are Hazard, Ace of Hearts, Pharaoh, Basset, Baccarat, and Roly-poly. Skittles and bowls are lawful. The game of billiards is placed in an anomalous and intermediate position.

Croquet was played in the time of King Henry VIII., yet it has been released from all stigma of reproach. Why this slur upon the more skilful and scientific game of billiards? There does not seem to be any reason for differentiating between a game of cricket on a heath and a game of bagatelle in any house, public or private, and licenses should, therefore, be abolished.

There is no reason why guests should not play billiards in a public-house all night and on Sundays in the same way as they may in a beerhouse; indeed, the one place is more respectable than the other, and, therefore, should be endowed with equal, if not greater, privileges.

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