For centuries, sports betting has been an integral part of the United Kingdom. And, whereas casino gambling has become a rather more popular form of gambling, betting shops still exist, attracting thousands of punters each day. At present, we seem to take sports betting for granted – there are about 8,500 betting shop all over the country, and hundreds of online bookmakers reign over the web.
Less than a century ago, however, betting on sports was a shady activity, performed on the streets. In order to understand how sports betting grew from a disreputable enterprise into one of the UK’s most profitable industries, we need to delve into the history of sports betting in the UK.
Gambling was popular in the UK until the 1800s, when an anti-gambling movement emerged as a response to several high-profile betting frauds and corrupt lotteries. Parliament passed several acts in 1845 and 1853, which prohibited commercialised gambling. Punters could still bet on horses, but the enterprise was largely reserved for the wealthy. Consequently, gambling was taken to streets and back alleys.
The Inception of Legal Sports Betting
Sports punting remained an unregulated activity reserved mainly for the rich until the 1960s. In 1960, Parliament passed the 1960 Gambling Act, and the first betting shops were established in May 1961. According to data, as much as 10,000 bookmakers opened shop within the first six months.
Big-time bookies also opened shop, taking advantage of the legislation that eliminated their back alley competitors. Not all famous bookies followed suit, though. For example, the godfather of sports betting in the UK who recently became the father of sports betting in the US—William Hill—steered clear from betting shops, opening one as late as 1966.
In the following decade or so, it was bookies like William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral which dominated the UK sports betting market. The market only became a little more hospitable in the 1980s, and below you will find out why.
Parliament introduced changes to the 1960 Gambling Act in 1986, which permitted bookmakers to transform their design and interior. The year remains a landmark in UK bookmakers’ history, as from then onwards bookies were no longer shabby and grim. Thanks to the 1986 legislative changes, bookies could serve drinks and provide seating for punters. But that was not all – they were also allowed to paint the walls and even install televisions.
One thing remained unchanged, though – who controlled the market. Established in the early 1934, William Hill managed to remain on top of competition, as did Ladbrokes. But new names also joined the club of big-time bookies, and those were Coral and Mecca.
It was thanks to these four brands that the government tax charged on individual bets was finally abolished in 2002, after many years of unsuccessful attempts. The tax was imposed on all winnings and amounted to 10%.
The Impact of Premier League
In 1992, the English Premier League was established, changing the sports betting landscape within the country. First of all, the creation of the Premier League made possible single match betting, thus making football arguably the most popular sport for punting on UK territory.
Secondly, Premier League helped bookies expand. Initially, only UK punters could put money on Premier League, but when the rules got relaxed, fans flooded in, leading to an increased demand for spots betting shops.
Additionally, the Premier League made the football betting market as diverse as we know it today. In the beginning, punters could not wager on yellow cards, corners, or the minute of scored goals, but when the Premier League was established, the market began to diversify.
The Shift To Virtual Spots Betting
1996 is another landmark in the history of UK sports betting. This is the year when the first online bookmaker opened shop in the UK virtual space. This was Intertops, licensed and regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.
Today, there are some sites where you can bet on football and, whereas Intertops still exists, its old-time flamboyance has disappeared.
Further Legislative Changes
In 2005, Parliament introduced additional changes to the Gambling Act. As a result, bookmakers and betting sites had to obtain a license in order to operate in the UK. More importantly, however, the 2005 Gambling Act gave a green light to TV advertising of bookmakers, which boosted the industry like no other Act ever did.
The most recent development of the UK sports betting industry is that it crossed the ocean, arriving in the US. In May 2018, Supreme Court legalised sports betting in the US, and just a few months later, William Hill betting shops could be found in New Jersey.
Nowadays, sports betting is about 40% less popular than it was back in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it remains a vital part of UK culture, generating more than £3.2 billion in revenues.