A History Of Betting Shops In Britain

Before betting shops were legalised in the UK, possibilities of gambling were quite limed. Betting took place in back alleyways and secret rooms inside pubs. It was a sordid little affair that people spoke about in hushed, excited whispers. Everyone knew the promises of gambling and betting on big races. It was the chance to change your stars with both fame and fortune. It wasn’t until 1961 when betting shops were opened that gambling on events became an accepted part of society. Yes, there are many who still see it as a scourge in cities. But there are also plenty of punters who head down a shop over the weekend with the hope of winning big.

When betting shops were legalised, the industry didn’t stumble forward unsure of what this new development would bring. It surged on like a horse racing around the tracks, with ten thousand shops opened in the first six months.

There were those who were reluctant to indulge in this new experience of course. William Hill certainly didn’t catch onto the idea straight away. He wouldn’t open his first betting shop until five years after they were legalised. Though, his concerns were certainly warranted. Despite betting shops being legalised, there were strict restrictions. Windows were supposed to be blacked out to ensure punters wouldn’t be captivated and pulled from the streets by the promise of a big win. It was the familiar cry of, won’t someone please think of our youth? Hill resisted this idea for quite some time, comparing the new shops to funeral parlours. Still, as we now know, even Hill couldn’t resist the new possibilities betting shops brought to the industry for too long.

Those Early Days

Blacked out windows weren’t the only issue with the first betting shops. It didn’t offer the most lively atmosphere around. Bookies had a hard time transitioning from completing undercover deals in public urinals to offering a place of entertainment. Indeed, while races were described to punters, it didn’t happen with the thrill and excitement that you’ll find in a betting shop today. The mood was dreary, the tone monotonous and due to this, it’s amazing betting shops took off at all. But take off they did, and that was largely due to new legislation that arrived in 1986.

In For The Bet, Stay For A Drink

In 1986, a new legislation allowed bookies to provide hot beverages for the punters. It wasn’t the only change that was welcomed with comfortable seating and television screens. Punters no longer had to rely on a blind description of the race. Instead, they could watch it for themselves on small, fuzzy screens. Although you would have a hard time believing it today, tech slipped into the world of betting slowly. Yet, the punters embraced any tech that was offered and they were thrilled to finally be part of the action. You have to remember what the betting shops were back then. It wasn’t just the chance to win some cash. It was the possibility of experiencing something that the upper class took part in firsthand. Those who could afford it would bet at the race track. It was only the working lads who slipped into the shop to place a quick bet. With new tech, it became more possible for them to feel like they were really experiencing the thrill of the race.

Small Bets, Big Business

The bets placed at these shops were nowhere near the amounts being wagered at the stalls of the race track. But, that didn’t stop the shops becoming big businesses. Mergers occurred, business deals were made, and the industry began to grow at a phenomenal rate. Rickety chairs and shoddy lighting disappeared replaced with luxury, lavish venues that offered more than the chance of winning a few pounds. The growth in betting even attracted support from the government with council owned shops quickly opening. Of course, this wasn’t the end of the changes for the betting shops. No sooner had large investments been made, the digital revolution began.

Online And Always On The Go

Many would argue that online betting should have signalled the end of the betting shop. There is no doubt that the ability to bet online has led to a decline. However, the shops are still open as the place for a punter to socialise and share a drink or two. Some old school punters love to place their bets with a bookie rather than on an app. So it’s unsurprising then that events like the Grand National bring in a total of £300 million, mainly from betting shops. While they may have declined as of late thanks to the new tech, they are still going strong today and a major part of the UK betting industry.

Are UK betting shops in decline?

According to recent reports, UK betting shops are in decline, with the number of betting outlets closing down. PWC, a Big Four auditor, has highlighted the plight of UK betting shops, which continue to suffer closures, while their British high street counterparts appear to be experiencing a period of cautious recovery. The coronavirus pandemic has directly impacted these numbers, with the period when Covid-19 was on the rise and forced the closure of several physical establishments in the gaming and betting segment.

The UK’s most deprived areas have more than 10 times the number of betting shops than the most affluent parts of the country, according to a report by The Guardian. Betting shops in Great Britain are on a decline, but the gambling sector is thriving, with a 29% increase in gross gaming income in the online market, in addition to a 7% growth in active accounts. Deloitte UK has also reported that the betting and gaming industry faces further uncertainty, with spending intentions historically seeing little change with consistent steady growth. However, in the second quarter of this year, UK consumer activity dropped significantly and only picked up when the lockdown was lifted.

In conclusion, UK betting shops are in decline, with closures continuing to occur. The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on these numbers, with physical establishments in the gaming and betting segment being forced to close. However, the gambling sector is thriving, with a significant increase in gross gaming income in the online market.

when did betting shops become legal in the uk?

Betting shops became legal in the UK on May 1, 1961, following the enactment of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which allowed licensed bookmakers to open shops across the country. Prior to this, betting was largely restricted to horse and greyhound racing, with bookmakers operating illegally in backstreets and alleyways.

The Betting and Gaming Act 1960 allowed for the establishment of licensed betting shops, which were required to be members-only clubs and had to get their take from membership fees and charges rather than as a percentage of the entry fees. The introduction of the act was a significant moment in the history of UK gambling, as it brought previously illegal bookmakers into the mainstream and helped to reduce the stigma associated with betting.

Today, there are still thousands of licensed betting shops across the UK, although the industry has faced challenges in recent years due to increased competition from online gambling and a decline in the number of physical establishments.


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