The History Of Gambling In The UK


As those of us in the UK gamble upon our laptops, PCs and using our mobile devices in 2020, consider that the ancient Romans were getting off on the same thrill around 2,000 years ago. It was in 43AD that the Romans conquered London, and accounts have it that they would regularly wager on dice games and sporting events back then.

The UK’s gambling history has taken many twists and turns since, as new betting pastimes have emerged and new ways of placing wagers have opened the market to an ever-growing population. These days you place bets and even play real money games like poker and slots on your mobile devices.

On this page we’ll look into how gambling habits have evolved in the UK, and how the law has evolved with them. Here’s what to expect as your read on:

  • Gambling beginnings
  • Pursuits of the middle ages
  • Horse racing in the UK
  • Dawn of the modern betting age
  • Casinos
  • UK online gambling

Early gambling games in the UK

We’ve already mentioned the dice games played by the Romans two thousand years ago. The invaders would also gamble over a board game called tabula, which would ultimately evolve into the game we know today as backgammon.

long with these games, betting on sporting events was extremely popular during that time in the UK. By sporting events we are talking about pursuits such as chariot racing, gladiator fights and boxing. The participants in such events would typically be convicted prisoners.

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The next wave of UK gambling

The Middle Ages saw a good deal of betting action at what were billed as “tournaments”, featuring events such as jousting. Two competitors would charge each other on horseback, carrying a lance. The winner would be the man who knocked the other off his horse, sometimes inflicting lethal damage in the process.

Those games made way for new betting pastimes and global cultures merged with the introduction of greater travel from the 13th century forward. Soldiers in the Crusades, for example, are said to have returned to the UK having learned new dice games that could be wagered on.

Betting reaches the masses

What followed might be looked back on as the first golden age of betting in the United Kingdom. In the 16th century we see the introduction of three-card brag, a card game that is linked to the development of poker and rose to huge popularity in the UK around the time Henry VIII was in power.

Henry VIII was said to be a big gambler, but he cracked down on regular folks who wanted to play games to avoid the potential distraction for their everyday working lives. The law changed when Edward VI came to power and allowed for such activities as gambling dice games again.

Introduction of horseracing

Horseracing in the UK was recorded as far back as the 1100s, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that we got organised races and betting on races became a seriously big deal. Oliver Cromwell banned the act of betting on races, along with other gambling activities, but all was pronounced legal again when Charles II took the throne.

Around this time we also see accounts of betting on such sports as cockfighting, and the emergence of gambling dens. These might be seen as the precursor to modern casinos, and were establishments were UK punters could play a range of games to win money.

Horseracing gets serious

The next era in UK betting history takes in the first organised racetracks for horseracing. In the late 18th century we also saw the launch of the Oaks, the Derby and the St. Ledger races, which continue to this day and form three parts of the five-race Classic series

The 1,000 Guinea Stakes and the 2,000 Guinea Stakes, which were first run in 1814 and 1809 respectively, complete the five races. The Grand National, the UK’s most famous steeplechase race, was first run in 1839.

Betting hits the high street

Betting had long been available at the track and at other sporting venues, but in the 1960s the UK saw the first betting shops open up on high streets. This meant punters could walk in and place bets easily without having to attend the races. They could also bet on a variety of sporting events such as the outcome of football matches.

Casinos hit the UK

The first casino in the UK opened at the Casino Club Port Talbot in Wales, in 1960. Another followed at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton a year later, as the Government relaxed laws towards gambling establishments in the UK.

The Gaming Act 1968 opened the door further for casino-style venues, and more recently we saw the Gambling Act 2005, which has paved the way for so-called “super casinos” to be set up in the UK’s major cities.

Online gambling takes off

The Internet age ushered in the biggest gambling revolution of them all in the UK, as it became possible to place wagers online and play real cash casino-style games at gambling websites.

The Gambling Act 2005 regulated online gambling in the UK and it is now required that all sites serving UK players must have a license from the UK Gambling Commission. This is also true of online bookmakers who offer odds and bets on sporting events and other markets.

Online gambling sites have opened a whole new world of possibilities for those in the UK. There’s the potential to play a remarkable range of games for money and to place bets on an almost limitless number of markets in every category you can imagine.

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