Explore the History of Gambling in the UK - The Worcester Observer

Explore the History of Gambling in the UK

Gambling is one of the UK population’s favourite pastimes.

From simple dice games on the corner to the ultimate online casino experience, the history of gambling in the UK is interesting, to say the least, and has come a long way from where it all began.

The modern world of gambling has us spoilt for choice. From the best local and international online casinos, one can play thousands of games from the comfort of their home. The options are endless, offering fun and enjoyment for all. However, modern regulations can be strict, which often has many UK players looking for a casino not on GamStop. Techopedia author Kane Pepi explains these sites are licensed and registered internationally, and don’t fall under the UKGC’s GamStop scheme. However gamblers choose to play, the modern gambling scene offers something for everyone and has come leaps and bounds from where it began.

From Kings making gambling illegal for one day a year to modern regulatory bodies pushing for tightened gambling laws, let’s explore the history of gambling in the UK, giving you some of the biggest events in UK gambling history.

Humble Beginnings

Before 1190, gambling in the UK was unregulated, with many taking to establishments and street corners to get in on the fun. While we don’t have specific dates, it’s safe to say that gambling in the UK has been around longer than the written history of the country.

While there were no regulations, establishments generally had their own house rules, ensuring that things ran as smoothly as they could for a time when indoor plumbing didn’t even exist. As the popularity of gambling increased, particularly for those in high society, nobility and higher-ups began regulating gambling, starting with King Richard the Lionheart in 1190.

The gambling regulations set out by King Richard declared all those in society ranking lower than a knight were not permitted to gamble, and those that did, could not spend more than 20 shillings a day. Conveniently, the King was excluded from this ruling.

Roll the Dice

Dice was one of the most popular ways to gamble in the UK before the 15th Century when cards became available. Dice gambling was simple and quick, meaning players could get in on a quick game before heading to their daily tasks.

Even after the rulings from King Richard I, everyday people were gambling daily. In step, Richard II was adamant about putting a stop to dice and other gambling pursuits. In 1397, Richard II banned gambling during the working week.

Ace Up Your Sleeve

While dice continued to be popular, it wasn’t until cards were introduced in the 15th Century in Britain that a host of gambling card games became the absolute must-try for everyone from the cook to the King.

Brought over by tradesmen from Spain, playing cards turned the world of gambling in the UK on its head. Latin decks were quite different from what we know today, with symbols, including clubs, swords, cups, and coins. Still, card games left their mark, with the games upping the ante for those of nobility.

In fact, things got slightly out of hand, forcing the parliament of Edward IV to stop the importation of playing cards altogether. However, in 1470, the French card decks arrived in the UK, bringing us the beloved cards we know today (clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds).

So, while illegal, the jig was up, with playing cards spreading like wildfire. Edward IV was so adamant about stopping this, he made dice and playing cards illegal for anyone other than aristocrats, except over Christmas. But let’s be honest, who’s going to hide their cards away until Christmas?

Off to the Races

Gambling at horse races had been around since the 1500s, but not in the way we know it today. It was more of a win/lose situation without odds or favourites. This all changed in 1790, when the first known bookie established itself in London, starting the world of horserace betting as we know it.

By the middle of the 1800s, there were over 100 “bookies” around London, growing horserace betting into one of the top ways to gamble in UK history.

The Swinging 60s

By the time the 60s rolled around, governments had no choice but to finally acknowledge that gambling in the UK wasn’t going anywhere. The people loved it and throughout history broke laws just to get their bets in for a roll of the dice.

The Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 saw the loosening of laws and regulations, making gambling legal in the UK to all those who wanted to participate. While a great move in terms of not prohibiting the public, it did unfortunately see an increase in crime rates.

That’s where the Gaming Act of 1968 took hold, meaning all gambling establishments had to be licensed. This didn’t prohibit the public from gambling, rather looked to take regulations seriously, establishing the Gaming Board for Great Britain.

Online Casinos

The modern-day online casino has changed everything about gambling. It’s no longer about heading out, finding parking, and struggling to get a spot. Players can now play a massive range of games from the comfort of their own homes.

In 2005, a new regulatory body, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) was established and to this day oversees the laws regarding all gambling, including online.

So much has changed since 2005, with a 2020 review of regulations seeing a tighter grip on affordability reviews and casino operators. However, online gambling remains one of the most popular online activities in the UK. From 2022-2023, online gambling had a £4 billion in total gross gambling yield.

Additionally, more recent years have seen crypto gambling become available and boom in popularity in the UK as well. Cryptocurrencies are fast becoming one of the most popular currencies across the globe, offering quick and secure payouts for players.




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