The Complete History of Football Betting
The history of football is interesting and shrouded in mystery and the question of when did football start has been posed by many a scholar. There is much evidence that ancient civilisations played some form of football. Balls made from linen or animal intestines have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, along with leather balls stuffed with feathers in Ancient China. It was not until the 19th century in England that football began to take on its modern form, with rules being introduced. As the UK is being considered the birthplace of football, let’s have a look at how football betting evolved through the last century.
The story of football betting is equally enthralling. Above we’ve provided a timeline, but carry on reading for the thrilling account of the rise of wagering on the sport throughout time, right through to the online betting sites that most of us know and love today.
The Origin of Football Betting
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect history of football betting. When did football betting start is as good a question as when did the sport itself start. It’s safe to assume that betting in some form was going on throughout the history of the sport. But, ultimately, before the 1960s, betting on football was illegal and done in the streets or in criminal safe houses.
The Football Pools
Bookmakers like Littlewoods were among the first to offer football pool betting outside Old Trafford in 1923. The pools were very different to how we bet as standard now. There were multiple scoring systems, with one of the most popular awarding points for each home win, draw and away win guessed correctly.
The one alternative was to take part in the weekly pools. These were first introduced by Littlewoods in 1923 and proved popular. The pools still exist today, but are very different from the football betting online that most of us know and love. This was typically a points based scoring system, where punters would get points based on how close their guesses of the result of up to 12 games was to the actual score.
The early 20th Century also saw some of the biggest online bookmakers establish their companies. William Hill and Coral followed Ladbrokes, which had already opened in 1902, but at that time, were still focused almost entirely on horse and dog racing. Outside of the pools then, football gambling during this period would have had a seedy element to it, with punters likely forced to place their bets with criminal gangs.
The Rise of Football Betting
All this was soon to change however. After the 1960 Gambling Act legalised gambling, betting shops began to spring up all over the country the following year. From this point, football fans could legally bet on football in other ways than just the pool bets. This was a hugely important step in the history of football betting and a crucial time in the history of bookmakers’ betting shops.
Betting and Gaming Act 1960
The 1960 Act legalised gambling in the UK. From May 1961, betting shops were allowed to open, which paved the way for wagers on the sport to extend beyond assocation pool betting. Betting shops opened in abundance all over the country from this point, though some did take a few years to catch on.
Of course, it was only possible in betting shops and these were hardly glamorous places. In fact, politicians pushed for betting shops to be as dark as possible, with blacked out windows and no visible advertisement to potential customers. All this, along with the up till recent illegality of gambling, meant that football gambling still had a seedy element to it throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
The major operators capitalised on their new-found legitimacy and football wagers started to take off however. William Hill, Coral and Ladbrokes dominated the UK sports betting market. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that betting shops became a little more hospitable. New legislation in 1986 meant that betting shops could now feature brighter interiors and even televisions to show the action live.
Punters betting options were still limited however. The minimum trebles rule meant that throughout this period, a game must be shown live on TV, for a punter to bet on it. Bets placed on non-live games would have to be placed alongside two other selections to be valid.
Stepping out of the Shadows
Throughout the 1990s, football betting started to step out of the shadows and enter the mainstream through the increased exposure football had, which opened the market to millions of new customers. The key to this was Sky Sports acquiring the rights to screen the Premier League in 1992 and showing multiple games each weekend. Since the industry was still highly regulated and a match had to be shown on TV for punters to bet on it, showing more games meant more games were eligible to be bet upon.
Sky Sports Buy the Premier League Rights for the First Time
In 1992 Sky Sports bought the rights to screen Premier League fixtures for the first time. This brought football to a bigger audience than ever but it also allowed for the first form of in-play betting, since punters could bet on a TV game as it was happening. This was a very important point of change in the way we bet on football.
Bookmakers themselves stepped out of the shadows a little too. Marketing material for football bets was now stocked instore and in the shop windows, while the betting shops became increasingly brighter and cosier. An innovation was also made during this time. Bookies began to take bets from customers while a game was running that was being shown on TV. This was the precursor to what we now know as in-play or live betting and it first developed offline in the 1990s. For most of the decade though, betting on football was mostly done offline. But towards the end of the decade, that was all about to change.
The Birth of the Online Operators
The birth and subsequent explosion of the internet at the end of the 1990s truly revolutionised the way we bet on football. The new school bookies, such as Betfair and bet365, began to pop up in abundance, offering an entirely online operation. A whole new world of bet types suddenly opened up to football betting fans. Things that would have seemed impossible just a few years prior, such as betting on corners, yellow cards or penalties, suddenly became available to anyone with an internet connection. Punters could now bet on football from the comfort of the own home.
Betting Tax Abolished and Minimum Trebles Rule Dropped
In 2001 the betting tax was abolished. The rules around gambling on the sport specifically are also further relaxed, with the ‘minimum trebles’ rule dropped in 2002. Before, if a game was not currently playing when you made a bet, it would have to be bracketed alongside two other selections. Punters can now bet on single matches rather than the minimum of 3 as before.
There were a few other key developments alongside the birth of the internet that really enabled the online operators to flourish. The betting tax was abolished in 2002, so punters could gamble tax free, with the tax instead moved to the bookies’ gross profits. The minimum trebles rule was also abolished, which meant that single bets could be placed on any match and bet type.
A Snapshot of Contemporary Football Betting
Nowadays wagering on the sport is completely different from how it looked just 20 years ago. Online operators take bets from customers all over the world on a wide and varied range of betting markets. The birth of the internet and online bookies has meant that anyone can bet on any game, at any time, from almost anywhere in the world. Check out our in-depth look at football betting in 2021 if you need bringing up to speed.
Betting on football has emerged from what was originally seen as a seedy or criminal activity of the working class to having betting shops on each corner and online betting sites screening adverts on to TV screens nationwide. It has been a gradual development, but over the last century, everything about football betting and how it is perceived has completely changed.
Some experts predicted that betting shops would be all but done away with after the explosion of the internet and online betting sites. This hasn’t been the case however. Betting shops are still going strong, though it’s fair to say that they have declined significantly. Most of the money changes hands online, as punters prefer to bet from the comfort of their own homes. The football pools are still going however, almost 100 years later, albeit with new ownership. Their popularity is nothing like it was: one in four people played the football pools back in the 1960s, whereas nowadays, an average of 350,000 play the pools each weekend.
Innovation after innovation came after the new millennium. Functions like live betting, cash out and the multitude of new bet types mean that football betting is completely different from how it was in the past. From having to bet illegally on street corners to being able to bet from your own home with the click of a button, the history of football betting has been a thrilling ride, that has more twists and turns to come.
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Is Betting on Football Legal?
Wagers on football matches are completely legal. Nowadays, bookmakers are well regulated and must hold the proper licenses, to ensure that punters can bet safely and responsibly. Betting on the sport is not necessarily legal everywhere however. In many countries, it is still illegal and punters that live in these countries may try to use other countries bookmakers to take their bets. This is also illegal in many cases.