Scotland's most famous bookmaker, the Glaswegian John Banks, was in no doubt about the value of being on the high street, however: "Betting shops are a licence to print money. Not all of them wanted to embrace the world of mass betting, partly because of the capital investment required. One of the godfathers of English bookmaking, William Hill, who had started his business in , wanted nothing to do with betting shops, only buying into them in The other source of the reluctance was Rab Butler's insistence that betting shops should have "dead windows", blacked-out or shuttered with no visible enticements to prospective punters.
Butler noted in his memoirs that "the House of Commons was so intent on making betting shops as sad as possible, in order not to deprave the young, that they ended up more like undertakers' premises". A small personal narrative kicks in here. He left me in the car for a moment as he went inside, carrying a small bag. I saw more cars pull up and more men go inside. Moments later, a scene reminiscent of the Keystone Cops ensued, as men fled from the pub, with many of them jumping out of windows.
I never did find out exactly what had happened that night but my best guess is that a delivery of punters' money was taking place to a bookmaker when tax officials decided to make a raid. I had clearly been used as a decoy, as no one would suspect a man with a small child in tow of such skulduggery. The fact that one of dad's best friends at the factory left to set up two betting shops, and for whom he went to work as a settler the person who works out the winnings of a bet on Saturdays, convinced me that they had been in cahoots as runners inside English Electric.
I should also add that there wasn't a family holiday that didn't take in a trip to a racecourse en route. What clinched the case, however, was my dad's objection to having a betting shop open about 10 yards from our house. I can remember him saying: "I know the sort of people who'll be in there This element of seediness was assigned to betting shops at birth, some of it wilfully imposed by authorities, some of it inevitably inherited from the association of betting with rough behaviour and fecklessness.
No wonder many bookmakers opted for the euphemism "turf accountant". Inside, the betting shops of the s were no brighter than their front windows. A mesh grille would guard a Formica counter, behind which the bookie would sit, smoking. And somewhere would stand the "board-man". It was his job to mark up the results, and also the prices for races as they drew close to the off, so that punters could "take" a price if a horse's odds were shortening.
The board-man, and everybody else for that matter, got their information from "the blower", a wire service from Extel, which relayed the prices from the racecourses and added a commentary. Once the "off" was called, punters stared up at the speaker, imagining themselves to be out of their dull, urban world and away in the fresh air of a countryside racecourse. The commentaries from the blower were nothing like the frenzied, breathless accounts we get in betting shops today when, ironically, we can now see what is taking place, but rather bland, staccato bursts of information, without any hint of drama or emotion — perhaps that was another secret directive from government: don't get the punters excited.
It wasn't until that further gambling legislation allowed betting shops to be "improved" — the provision of hot drinks, albeit from a machine; brighter interiors, with seats for comfort; and, best of all, television pictures from the racecourses.
By this time, four major firms had grown to dominate the betting-shop market — William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Mecca. The Tote, the state-owned on-course pool-betting facility — about to be put up for sale by the Government — was also buying shops in the high street. Such was the success of these operators that they became the subject of corporate mergers and takeovers, the sort of event that happened to industrial or retail companies.
Mecca, owned by Grand Metropolitan, merged with William Hill in , while Ladbrokes' chief executive, Cyril Stein, was making a name for himself as an aggressive, almost renegade City operator. Ladbrokes would eventually tie up with Hilton Hotels.
In , William Hill was acquired by the film and leisure conglomerate Brent Walker. Less than 40 years on from the world of "rickety wooden stairs", betting shops had become a seriously big business. I even invented a method of writing up an 'in-running' commentary on the race itself for my customers before I became a settler, and then a manager.
This was a job I enjoyed for two or three years before moving into the PR and media side of the company. Graham Sharpe's journey from the boards to being the most high-profile of all bookmaking PR men he hosts and sponsors the annual William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards, and produces a regular list of wacky bets for the public to nibble on reflects the assimilation of betting shops into our culture and also the way their employees could rise into management from the shop floor.
Mr Sharpe, and his counterpart at Ladbrokes, Mike Dillon, are smart enough to have succeeded in any business, and they are both well-enough respected to have the ear of racing's authorities. They could probably seek high office, but both love the daily rough and tumble of betting, having cut their teeth in the shops. On another occasion a manager came back from a long lunch, slightly on the woozy side, to find a crowd of punters wanting payouts from unsettled bets — he promptly started a cake-throwing fight with them!
Matters were not so frivolous in betting shops when the National Lottery, and its attendant scratchcards, started in Those who had two or three quid bets in the shops hoping to win 10 back could now bet for jackpots of over a million pounds.
The lottery created hysteria for a while, with people who had never placed a bet in their life queuing up in their corner shops before the Saturday-evening deadline. Indeed a recent government survey on gambling revealed that among people who bet, 57 per cent still use the lottery, and 20 per cent buy scratchcards, with 17 per cent loyal to horseracing. In the past decade, several measures have been taken to rebalance the nation's gambling instincts. Tax on betting-shop wagers was cut from 10 per cent to 9 per cent creating a live Sudoku puzzle for punters and settlers alike , and then eventually abolished in , in favour of a tax on the bookies' gross profits.
Rules regarding betting on football were relaxed — the "minimum trebles" stipulation, whereby punters had to include at least three matches on their coupon, was dropped, allowing bets on single matches. Clients such as these usually have huge deposit accounts, from which the firm draws their stakes, and they deal directly with the bookmakers' trading rooms, not with their shops.
If you look in most betting-shop windows now, the advertising they display mostly features odds for football games. More recently, betting shops have been allowed to install what the trade calls FOBTs fixed-odds betting terminals and what some would still call fruit machines, or more graphically, one-armed bandits. And then there is "racing" from such computer-generated courses as Portman Park a gag, I guess, about Portman Square, former home of the Jockey Club to fill time before the real racing starts.
By the turn of the century, the betting shop had developed a cyber-twin as most of the big bookmaking firms began to realise the potential of online betting, and the betting exchanges — Betfair, Betdaq — opened up. Victor Chandler, the smartest of British bookmakers, both sartorially and intellectually, had been at the front of the march into the digital age. His wholesale move to Gibraltar, rendering his clients' bets offshore, and therefore tax-free, forced the Treasury into their adjustments on betting duty.
The volume of telephone business was soon matched by trade on the internet — Mr Chandler went on to sell 41 of his betting shops to Coral but at the same time, invested heavily in two up-market "betting lounges", all marble-floors and leather chairs, one off Park Lane in London, the other in Dublin.
But could Mr Chandler's underlying instinct be right? There is a new generation of punters who only know web, electronic or telephone betting. They sit up all night gambling on distant tennis matches, or playing online poker, or jousting in a cyber-casino. To these guys, a betting shop is a relic of a former age. Who needs cash in a cashless society? When their money counts most, when they reach executive positions, will the betting shop be finished? The figures suggest not — the four biggest companies still seem strongly committed to betting shops.
William Hill currently runs more than 2,; Ladbrokes has 2,; Coral owns 1,; and totesport manages And there are groups of expansive firms showing no loss of appetite for shop-based betting. Betfred won the bid to have several units inside the new Wembley Stadium. Perhaps the biggest mover on the scene is Paddy Power. In terms of betting, Tatersalls was formed to make sure that they were able to control how betting occurred and who with. For all the time leading up to the institutions inclusion in , people would simply bet on a 1 to 1 basis.
By the turn of the 19 th century they had been able to assign betting posts where people would congregate to bet and also arrange specialist marquees where betting took place as well. Sweepstake betting was another format of betting to really take place around this period, allowing punters to enter a pool for a bigger prize at the end, not to dismissal to how the Tote works, which we take about later in this article. They also allowed punters to bet on races weeks or even months in advance to combine several bets for bigger payouts, much in the same way that Ante Post betting occurs today.
The main reason for this is because horse racing had moved away from head to head racing and started to include races with much larger fields. This was the first time that bookmakers moved away from offering odds on odd horse and then the field and more into being able to offer individual pricing on all horses within that race. The art of bookmaking back then was much harder than it is today and bookies had to work out quickly what their exposure on each eventuality would be. If they needed to attract they would lengthen their odds and if they needed to detract they would shorten their odds, just as they would today.
Whilst horse racing has been at the main forefront of the gambling boom at the end of the 18 th and turn of the 19 th century, in the background other sports were all getting a piece of the action. Punters were now looking for anything that they could bet on from endurance racing, time races, the speed in which they could build houses, coin tosses, pub games, nine pins, cock fighting, dog baiting, bear knuckle boxing and foot races.
You name it, they were betting on it! For many betting was seen as a class thing, especially for the upper and even middle class. They were able to show off how much money they had by being extravagant with both what they bet on and how much they bet. For the working class it was often seen as something much distant to that. It was a way to get away from their industrial based jobs in mine pits and huge factories and instead get a buzz of excitement from the few times that they would actually win.
As gambling continued to grow, so did the social backlash. Many of the middle class were complaining of gambling running lives in terms of losing money, but also of the calibre of folk it attracted to sporting events, mainly the working class. Often events would be ruined due to drinking and gambling. In this triggered anti-gambling groups to try and aid those in need and outline the detrimental affects of gambling. Issues such as betting frauds, publication of anti-gambling literature and highlighting the mass losses that some people had incurred as a result.
The pressure on the government to act finally came to head when these problems were escalated to the House of Lords. They in turn set up their own committee to govern gambling in and the first Gaming Act was brought about a year later in The original act was set up to almost remove the government from any individual losses and even stated that those foolish enough to wager should suffer the consequences if things go wrong.
But, the act also targeted the upper class as well by removing their power within a court to essentially sue companies in relation to gambling losses, something that was very common within the 19 th and early 20 th century. As betting continued to be popular, the number of betting shops were starting to flourish, with one report stating they were on every street corner in England.
Whilst a bit of an exaggeration, it did underline just how many shops were opening and the popularity that came with the pastime. In order to deal with this, the Betting act of was issued in order to outlaw these exact betting shops. They would reprimand any owners or tenants of betting shops accordingly and essentially ban them from accepting bets within their stores. However, a workaround for most was soon achieved by providing these betting shops as private members clubs, similar to that of a casino, allowing people to bet as long as they were a part of the club.
Another issue that arose from this was that of street betting, which became just as, if not more popular than betting shops, which if anything, escalated the issue further. The bookies were always one step ahead of the law when it came to betting and instead of operating shops, they used to use private houses and even had runners who would take bets on the street and then return wagers or winnings to and from the house.
It also coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which at that time meant that people were earning more money, had excess income even the working class and were able to see gambling as a recreational activity, increasing the number of bettors year on year. A long time protestor to gambling were that of the National Anti-Gambling League, who were one of few organisations that had managed to gain some power in the fight against illegal betting operations.
In they were able to get a committee formed within parliament who were able to outlaw street betting. In fact, they were able to go one step further and try to outlaw that of all forms of betting that were accessible to the vulnerable and the working class. Two key proposals were initially rejected, but alter introduced:. The fact of the matter is, that even with the best interests of the local public, street betting continued and the powers that be were almost powerless to stop it due to its increasing size.
The number of arrests for illegal bookmaking grew exponentially, but even they continued to grow in a long drawn game of cat and mouse between them and the law. The understanding of how gambling worked was increased and as a result moved from a prohibition to regulation, a huge step for the industry. The government in turn were then forced to work out ways in which it could limit the exposure of the interaction between the punter and the bookmaker, which they saw to be the biggest catalyst in the gambling addiction issue.
To solve this they introduced postal betting, where boxes were set up in towns and cities for punters to post their bets. The years during the war saw little change in any regulations within the industry and understandably so given what was going on.
It was the Commissions role to see if they could come up with a resolution about gambling and more importantly, to see how people were reacting to the measures that were already in place. To their surprise, many people were feeling much less infuriated by the whole situation with gambling, which led the Commission to believe that with proper regulations in place there was a potential to make money from it.
But, instead of chasing betting companies about safe gambling, it was now to do with money, money that the government wanted and were duly owed. But, companies found a loop hole in the system that meant they could move off-shore and pay no tax whilst still providing operations for the UK market. The online era made this rule difficult to enforce once again, with many setting up abroad and merely offering online services from countries such as Malta and Gibraltar, with massively reduced tax rates.
But, in the government once again fought back, ensuing that any bookmaker or gambling site offering services to UK punters would be liable to pay UK tax rates. The online system allowed millions more punters to access sports betting and casino games, which erupted the industry. But, the same struggles that the industry saw in the 18 th and 19 th century started to rear their head once again.
People were gambling beyond their means and social issues were cropping into the industry. Cue the Gambling Commission. The Gambling Commission was set up along with the Gambling Act, but instead of making sure that the companies paying their own way, they were instead designed to support the consumer more.
They made licensing compulsory within the UK and forced companies to adhere to laws and regulations before they were able to offer their services.
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