Betting in the British Isles

Betting shops became fully legal on the British High Street on May 1st 1961.  A lot has happened in the betting landscape since.  

Here’s CashDropBetting’s timeline of events…

The Betting Acts of 1853 and 1874

These acts permitted bookmakers to ‘stand’ at horse tracks and at hare coursing meetings to take wagers ‘on course’.
Many familiar bookmaking names such as William Hill (founded in 1934) and Ladbrokes (founded in 1886) can trace their roots back to this era.

Betting and Gambling Act 1961

This ground-breaking act allowed bookmaking ‘shops’ to open.  Shops had restrictive opening hours, windows had to be blacked out and betting offices were not allowed to show any sporting events live.  Radio commentaries were permitted.

10,000 licenced betting shops were opened within six months and, at one point, there were 16,000 betting shops in the UK.

The opening of betting shops had a detrimental effect on greyhound racing though.  A sport for the working classes with a track in every city and several tracks in the major cities, greyhound racing had thrived between the mid 1920’s and 1960.


Relaxation of laws meant races could be broadcast live in betting shops, there could be limited advertising in shop windows, hot and cold catering with drinks and some complimentary food was permitted.  


The first Sunday horse race meeting took place at Doncaster.  It was free to enter (as charging an admission fee was illegal) and there was no on-course betting.  However bookmaking shops offered betting opportunities the day beforehand.


Betting tax, which was originally levied at ten-percent and then reduced to nine percent was abolished.  This came after Victor Chandler (now BetVictor) moved ‘off shore’ to Gibraltar (in 1999) enabling them to accept wagers by telephone tax-free. Consequently British bookmakers are levied with a 15 percent tax on their profits.

Gambling Act 2005

It was not until 2005 that shops could legally advertise prices in their windows and it remains illegal to allow people from outside a betting shop to see inside.  Primarily the 2005 Gambling Act provided regulation for Internet and online gambling advertising.  Between 2005 and 2012 the number of adverts linked to gambling rose from 0.5 per cent to 4.1 per cent.

2008 Relaxations

Further relaxation of legislation in 2008 allowed shops to open closer together (next door to one another in many instances) and also allowed for more fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT’s).

The FOBT’s allow players to play slot machines, roulette and other casino-style games.  These now generate over 50 percent of shop’s profits. For the first time ever, in 2008, betting shops opened on a Good Friday meaning Christmas Day is/was the only day they are forced to close.

Online and Beyond

But 2008 was the year when online gambling started to thrive. In 2008, 10.6% of UK citizens between the ages of 18 and 34 participated in some form of gambling. That figure rose to 17.5% by 2014 most of the increase is attributed to ‘online activities’.

The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014

Specifically dealing with remote gambling this law meant gambling operators, both local and overseas, must have a UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) licence to offer gambling services to players based in the UK.

A UKGC licence brings regulation and a considerable degree of ‘safety’ to UK players and it also feeds the UK Treasuries coffers as gambling operators who can take wagers from UK punters must pay a 15 percent ‘point of consumption tax’.

Video: A US view on the legalities of gambling

  1. Reply
    Nigel Blowfish at

    Oy! There’s nothing wrong with a game of Uno! Joke apart – interesting story (very serious video)

  2. Reply
    HH no limit at

    Video is from the film ‘Rounders’ (the Matt Damon bit), best Poker movie ever

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