The British have long enjoyed different forms of gambling. In fact, if we look back at the history of wagering in the UK, we can see that this country has played a key role in the evolution of gambling over the centuries.
Up to the 17th Century – horse racing and lotteries
The most popular type of betting here at this time was on horse races. In fact, the Kiplingcotes Derby that is held in Yorkshire is said to the oldest horse race still being run each year. It started in 1519 and is run over four miles of countryside. The 500th race was celebrated in 2019.
One of the first horse racing bets that we know – about was placed by King James I. He is said to have established Newmarket as a royal resort in the 17th century. It is reported that he bet £100 on a race between horses owned by Lord Salisbury and Marquess of Buckingham, in 1622. One of the world’s oldest horse racing trophies – the Carlisle Bells – dates back to Carlisle in 1559.
Meanwhile, the much-loved British pastime of lotteries began in 1569. This is when Queen Elizabeth I decided to raise funds for the much-needed refurbishment of London. A child drew the winning ticket out of an urn in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. However, with fewer than 40,000 tickets sold out of the 400,000 anticipated, it wasn’t a great success.
Several other lottery attempts were made in the following decades. It wasn’t until 1694 that the first state lottery was organized. Known as the Million Lottery, the government created 100,000 tickets at £10 each, storing them in secure chests with 18 locks. The idea was to raise money for the Nine Years’ War. It proved to be so successful that many other lotteries followed it.
The 18th and 19th Centuries – more rules are introduced
During this period, the need for greater control of the betting industry was increasingly evident. To this end, the Gaming Act of 1845 made a wager unenforceable as a contract. The Betting Act of 1853 attempted to tighten the law further to deal with a large number of bookmakers.
According to Charles Dickens, bookies had “sprung up on every street” by this time due to the immense popularity of gambling. Plush gaming houses and clubs offered the wealthy places to wager in more stylish surroundings.
The English State Lottery that started in 1694 finally ended in 1826. The final draw was made at Coopers Hall. By this stage, the money raised in this way had paid for Westminster Bridge and the future British Museum, among other schemes.
In horse racing, most of the classic races still run in the UK today were established in this period. These include the St Leger Stakes, run in Doncaster, which started in 1776, and the Epsom Oaks in 1779. The Epsom Derby then began in 1780. A total of nine horses ran the mile at Epsom Downs, with the favorite Diomed winning the top prize.
The 20th and 21st Centuries – More freedom to bet
The Second World War marked a turning point, as games like housie and poker were introduced to many new players. The latest technology also allowed people to make bets from anywhere and find out the results almost immediately.
Off-track horse racing was still illegal by the mid-20th century, but the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 finally legalized something that had been commonplace for a number of years. Within a year, there were more than 13,000 licensed betting shops in the country. Bingo halls and casinos also began to appear. The Casino Club Port Talbot in Wales was opened in 1961, as the UK’s first legal casino. The UK Gambling Commission reported the gross yield of remote gambling for April 2018 to May 2019 as £5.3 billion, as the internet changed the way we play. Modern online casinos typically offer the likes of blackjack, roulette, and slots. We can see at certain online casino platforms that a live dealer section uses video streaming to allow players to see the dealers’ work in real-time.
1993 also saw the return of a state lottery. The National Lottery etc. Act 1993 introduced the framework for gambling on a lottery with 25% going to good causes which are decided by Parliament. To date, the biggest win on this lottery was claimed by David and Carol Martin, who earned £33 million in 2016.
A Look to the Future
The rapidly-changing face of technology could be the key factor that determines the future of gambling in the UK. Just as Amazon has changed shopping and Netflix has given us a new way of watching television, the process of placing wagers will carry on evolving.
As we have seen, many of the most popular types of gambling have been favorites of British players for centuries, so their taste for wagering is unlikely to disappear any time soon.