Horse racing betting is second only to football betting in the UK, and it continues to contribute millions of pounds per annum to the UK’s economy. But, as you wander around online searching for the leading horse racing friendly sports books and horse racing odds comparison sites, have you ever considered just how horse racing betting became so popular?
While horse racing had been around since the middle ages, it wasn’t really until the establishment of Newmarket as a royal resort by King James the First in the early 1600s that horse racing became popular, but only among the landed gentry. It certainly was not a pastime for the hoi polloi, whom did not possess the necessary wealth to gamble anyhow.
In 1711 Queen Anne ordered to be built a new racecourse close to Windsor Castle. The racecourse was called Ascot and of course ‘Royal Ascot’ remains an important part of the horse racing calendar. The first race at Ascot each year is the Queen Anne Stakes.
Other races were soon added to the annual list of classic flat races: The St Leger (1776), The Oaks (1779), The Derby (1780), The 2,000 Guineas (1809) and the 1,000 Guineas (1814). The country’s leading steeplechase, the Grand National, was first run in 1839.
Pretty soon hundreds of thousands of people were interested in horse racing betting, which created an issue. At the time, the only place it was legal to bet was at the racecourses themselves, an issue that gave rise to illegal betting syndicates.
In 1928, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, passed the Racecourse Betting Act. This established The Tote, which was created as a safe alternative to illegal, off-course bookmakers and also ensured that some of the money generated by betting was fed back into the sport, and of course the government’s coffers.
The next major step for horse racing betting was the introduction of the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 and the Betting Levy Act of 1961. This paved the way for licensed betting shops to open, and moved the majority of horse racing betting away from the racecourses. It also established horse race betting as a perfectly acceptable pastime for all and sundry, and ‘betting on the nags’ became as common a gambling pastime as filling in a football pools coupon every week. All bets placed were subject to a betting tax, but this was scrapped in 2001 when instead the bookmakers themselves were taxed on their gross profits.
Betting shops remained as the number one place at which to wager until the mid 2000s when online bookmakers genuinely became a suitable alternative. The first licensed site had been created as early as 1996, but it took a while for online sports books to become established. Their place in the betting world was cemented in 2014 when the government set up the UK Gambling Commission to oversee all online gambling activities, and to charge online bookmakers a fifteen percent point of consumption tax.
It’s been a long and sometimes troubled history, but horse racing betting is still immensely popular, and thanks to the advent of online sport books, it’s a pastime that’s never been easier to perform!