Sports Betting: Law and Policy. A UK Perspective

By Gordon, Genevieve | The International Sports Law Journal, July-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Sports Betting: Law and Policy. A UK Perspective


Gordon, Genevieve, The International Sports Law Journal


Gambling and Sport

Gambling or betting and sport have almost been inseparable and gambling has been subject to considerable regulation by the State. Gambling has close links with the general commercialisation of sport and with corrupt practices in sport which can be illustrated by such affairs as the Hansie Cronje Affair, 2020 cricket issues surrounding Alan Stamford and other cases such as Bradley (1) in horse racing. With two very distinct issues in discussion in this paper we will be looking at the laws governing the gambling and betting in the UK combined with a number of social policy issues detailing measures to regulate betting for the benefit of society. The National Lottery will not be expanded on other than to say an independent study, British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling 2008-09, is the only British underage research of its kind and was commissioned by the National Lottery Commission to test the effectiveness of Camelot's child protection measures. The survey of nearly 9,000 children aged between 12 and 15 in England and Wales was conducted by Ipsos MORI and the Centre for the Study of Gambling at the University of Salford. (2)

A Brief History of Sports Betting in the UK

Gambling has always been a part of the modern sporting world, although the public response to it has varied from one period to another. Gambling was endemic in the 18th Century Britain, but before 1850 a puritanical reaction had begun, aimed at working class betting. The greatest achievement of the anti-gambling lobby was probably the Street Betting Act 1906, but it remained a powerful and influential opponent certainly up until the second Royal Commission on the subject in 1949. Since then gambling on sport has been increasingly raided by governments to provide income for the State and has also played a crucial role in the financing of the major sports of football and horse racing. (3)

Betting had always been part of rural sports, both those involving animals and those involving contests between men. Pedestrianism (4) probably began in the 17th Century.

Betting on horses was also commonplace, often taking the form of individual challenges between members of the landed gentry. Betting added another dimension of excitement to the uncertainty of sport itself and it was excitement, which the leisured rural classes were especially seeking, particularly in a countryside whose range of more conventional pursuits soon began to pall in the eyes of the young, married, leisured males.

Cricket was another rural pastime that the landed bucks found attractive. With money at stake it was important to reduce the chances of disagreement by drawing up a body of rules and regulations by which both sides would abide.

Football was a very attractive proposition both to the bookmakers and punters, before 1900 some newspapers had offered prizes for forecasting the correct scores as well as the results of a small number of matches and early in the 20th century a system of betting on football coupons at fixed odds had developed in the north of England.

Newspapers began publishing their own pool coupons (until the Courts declared the practice illegal in 1928) and individual bookmakers offered a variety of betting opportunities. By the end of the 1920's, the football pools, and particularly Littlewoods (5) under the entrepreneurial guidance of the Moores brothers, had begun to thrive. The pool for one week in 1929-30 reached [pounds sterling]19,000. (6) By the mid-1930's the firm was sponsoring programmes on Radio Luxembourg which broadcast the results of matches on Saturdays and Sundays. In 1934 those companies founding the Pools Promoters' Association had a turnover of about [pounds sterling]8 million which had increased by 1938 to [pounds sterling]22 million of which the promoters retained a little over 20%.

By the mid-19th century betting and sport were firmly established.

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