A Short History of Gambling in Scotland

Scotland: there’s no place quite like it. It’s got a rich cultural heritage and vibrant (albeit bloody) history that’s second to none. With its strong sense of identity, welcoming people, stunning landscapes and scenery like none other, the country is a jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom. 

And, the Scots are well known for their love of fun, too. Whether it’s sprucing up the Duke of Wellington or pouring batter over just about any foodstuff, the Scottish sense of fun is an important aspect of what makes Scotland, well, Scotland. This is nothing new, however, with gambling being one of the most popular forms of entertainment for centuries.

One famous Scottish figure known for his love of gambling was John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792). Admittedly, he is far more widely recognised for – supposedly – inventing the sandwich, he was also known to be rather fond of gambling. Legend has it that he was so engrossed in gambling that he would request his meat to be placed between two slices of bread, allowing him to continue playing without using utensils or getting greasy fingers on the cards. 

Another notable Scottish figure with a penchant for gambling was John Law (1671-1729). As a Scottish economist and financial innovator, Law was a big old player in the economic and financial affairs of France during the early 18th century. He was not only involved in economic policies but the man also had a keen interest in gambling, and his gambling exploits continued in both his rise and fall from power.

These two historical figures certainly aren’t on their own. It’s said that just over two-fifths of the population place a bet or two today, and that’s excluding those folk who play the National Lottery, hoping to win big on a Wednesday or Saturday evening. Today, we have more choices than ever. From high-street bookmakers to online casinos that accept Cash App, Apple Pay, and even cryptocurrency, gambling has come on leaps and bounds since the 1700s! And thankfully, today, these methods of betting are well-regulated so you know you, your personal information, and your money are safe, but, of course, it wasn’t always like this. 

With that, let’s begin our journey into the history of gambling in Scotland with a trip back to slightly more primitive times…

Humble Beginnings 

The roots of gambling in Scotland can be traced back to traditional games that were deeply embedded in the country’s social fabric at the time. Games such as shinty – which is similar to the Irish field game of Hurling, and resembles a mix of hockey and lacrosse – often involved friendly (or not so friendly) wagers among the spectators, which, of course, would only add that extra layer of excitement to the events. It says something about the spirit of competition and camaraderie that’s been fostered by these early forms of gambling which laid the foundation for a positive approach to games of chance in Scottish culture.

An Elite Pastime 

As time progressed, however, the various forms of betting and gambling started to become more structured and organised. The 18th century saw the rise of social clubs where the elites of Scottish society gathered to engage in games of chance. These clubs, such as the Select Society and the Poker Club, were not only places for gambling but also served as intellectual and cultural hubs: Scotland, after all, was the birthplace of The Enlightenment. The positive atmosphere within these clubs would reinforce friendships, and encourage intellectual exchange and even philanthropy, as members would contribute to charitable causes.

As the march of time wheeled in the 19th century, gambling in Scotland soon revolved around horse racing and it quickly gained popularity across the country. The country would soon establish prestigious racecourses like Ayr and Musselburgh, which would attract enthusiasts from Scotland as well as south of the border. 

Betting Shops’ Beginnings

By the latter part of the 20th century, there was to be a significant milestone with the introduction of legal betting shops in Scotland. The Betting, Gaming, and Lotteries Act of 1963 allowed licensed betting shops to operate, providing a regulated and safe environment for individuals to enjoy betting on various sports and events. This legislation helped curb illegal gambling activities, ensuring more fair play and consumer protection.

A New Millennium 

The positive impact of legal betting in Scotland continued into the 2000s with the establishment of casinos in Scotland. In 2007, the Scottish government introduced the Gambling Act, which allowed for the licensing of casinos and other forms of gambling entertainment. The ultimate aim of this legislation was to strike a balance between fostering a fun and exciting gambling culture and ensuring gaming practices are well-regulated and as safe as possible for players.

Today, Scotland has a truly vibrant casino scene and it offers lots of choice, whether you live there or are simply visiting. What’s particularly interesting is that casinos have become much more than mere venues for gambling; they are now hubs of entertainment, often featuring live performances, fine dining, and a jovial social atmosphere that’s hard to beat. 

In recent years, Scotland has also fully embraced the booming online gambling trend, so players can enjoy their favourite games from the comfort of their homes. This technological advancement has further expanded the positive aspects of gambling, providing convenience, accessibility and excitement while maintaining a solid regulated environment. And, as mentioned, payment methods are evolving rapidly as time goes on. Players no longer have to use cash to place their bets: when playing online, just about any payment method is accepted. From payment apps and eWallets to cryptocurrencies, it’s all possible. Although, regulation is still murky when it comes to crypto casinos, and these can’t yet obtain a UKGC licence. 

The positive impact of the gambling industry on tourism and the economy is undeniable. Casinos contribute to job creation, stimulate local businesses, and attract visitors from around the world. The revenue generated from gambling activities supports various community projects and initiatives, showcasing the industry’s positive role in contributing to the public good. 

The figures, however, are a little hazy, largely due to the fact that the revenue created from gambling in the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is obviously a part, goes directly to Westminster and not the respective devolved governments. Therefore, it’s difficult to find exact figures for how much Scotland generates. But, in the 2023-24 financial year, the UK government estimates to collect £3.5 billion from totalled duties, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Final Thoughts

The history of gambling and casinos in Scotland is, ultimately, a story of positive cultural integration, economic development, community enhancement, and, that word again – fun. From traditional games of chance to modern casinos, Scotland really has successfully navigated the world of gambling with a strong focus on responsible gaming and societal benefit. The impact on tourism, the economy, and community projects is only further proof of the positive relationship between Scotland and the thrilling world of gambling.

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