One of the legal bookmakers on London's high streets.

when i took my first few walks down the main street (or "high street" as it's called here) in my new neighborhood i was, of course, struck by many interesting things.  one of these things i noticed, but haven't written about yet, is the gambling/bookmaking houses.  or rather, the large NUMBER of gambling outfits located within walking distance of my flat.  on one street (King Street for those keeping track) i pass Caesar's World, Shoppers Amusements, Paddy Power bookmaker, Ladbroke's and William Hill bookmaker.  that's five of them in a two-block radius. 

these gambling/betting outfits exist because they are, in fact, LEGAL in England.  this came as a surprise to me, since inside America the only legalized gambling is located inside the cavernous casinos of Las Vegas or Atlantic City or the various Native American casinos dotting the country.  this means that when i hear the word "bookmaker" i quickly envision a large, Italian-American man who works behind the counter of a deli or bar, who also sells imported electronics off the backs of trucks in the alley and takes sports bets over the phone or in the back room. 

you know who i mean -- there's a variation of this man in every American crime drama produced.

well, in London these men don't exist.  in London these men operate legally and lucratively in large, well advertised businesses with extensive websites, expensive signs and trails of (mostly male) customers moving in and out of the places at all times of the day.  some outfits (like William Hill) are actually traded on the London Stock Exchange.  and they don't just take bets on sporting events either.  they have quite an interesting range of offerings.  one spot i looked into, Paddy Power bookmaker, calculates odds and takes bets on everything from who the next American President will be to who will win the reality show "Big Brother" to where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will close on a given day.  no kidding. 

some of these places look a bit...  how shall i say...  "shady."  but some of them look like a young man's fun-house.  slots, bingo, poker, betting -- what more could they want?   all perfectly legal, and open all day.

i will admit that my household currently has a meager wager on who will win the UEFA Euro 2008 football championship in Basel.  i will also admit that we have a tiny amount riding on who will be America's next president, though no one walked into one of those high street bookmaker shops to place the bets.  ours were done quietly online where the whole thing is easier, faster and far less creepy.

no matter how "legal" certain things are, some things will always seem a tad unsavory to me.  bookmaking is a good example.  probably because i know that the reason so many of these businesses exist is because they are lucrative, and they are lucrative because men and women consistently and reliably lose their hard-earned money on shitty bets and bad luck.

why does England view legalized gambling so differently than America?  i'm not sure, and i'm not well-informed enough to speculate. 

what i DO know is that i won't complain if Russia wins the Euro 2008 Cup.