When was the last time you watched a football match from start to finish without seeing a single betting brand? Whether you watch at home or in the stadium, you’ll have seen one somewhere. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is open to interpretation and who you ask.
It used to be that placing a bet on a football team to win required a trip to a betting shop on your street. Now, you can bet on when you think a specific player will score a goal in a match (within a 10-minute range) without leaving your house. Football betting has evolved into live betting, known as In-Play betting, and if you can take your money out if you don’t like an event is going (called Cashing Out). It’s akin to wagering at a roulette table and leaving when you’ve had enough – a sense of control over your own financial destiny.
But how did football betting get so popular? What caused the rise and evolution? This article will investigate the history of football betting and pinpoint key moments of change.
The Football Pools
One of the first major practices in football betting were the football pools. There was already a history of football match predictions before the football league had even started. A year before the Football League was formed, a “one guinea prize” was given to whoever predicted the results of four football matches*. Then in 1923, the Littlewoods Football Pools was founded. Its popularity lead to more pools being created over a 23-year period. Jackpots increased and the first million pound winners came from a syndicate in 1986. But the creation of the National Lottery hampered the Pools with its larger jackpots. Littlewoods Pools was sold for £161 million in 2000, along with Zetters and Vernons in later years, re-branded as The New Football Pools. Although they aren’t as popular as they were, a man from Scotland won the highest pools jackpot to date in 2010, winning £3,001,511.
Changes To Gambling Law In The UK
In 1960, the government passed the Betting and Gaming Act. The main purpose of the law was to “take gambling off the street”. Fans of Peaky Blinders may have seen young men running around to collect money from punters and that’s what they wanted to stop. This allowed betting shops to open.
Before that, Ladbrokes was established by Mark and Cyril Stein. Once the law was passed, they used their profits to open shops and began revolutionising football betting. They became the first bookmakers to introduced fixed-odds betting on football matches. This differed from parimutuel betting where the payout wasn’t decided until the end. Punters could figure out what they’d win and make better decisions on what to bet. Ladbrokes grew in popularity and stature, adding stakes in casinos, hotels, and bingo halls.
The Gambling Act 2005 relaxed laws on betting even further, allowing betting companies to advertise on radio and television. Yet another door opened for the sports betting industry.
As betting shops grew, the biggest change in football betting behaviour took place in 1992. Greg Dyke (who was then the chief executive or LWT and later became chairman of the FA) met with representatives from Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to propose a breakaway from the Football League. The proposal was incentivised with lucrative TV deals. Sky Sports was formed in 1991, starting as The Sports Channel in 1990.
British Sky Broadcasting had already created Eurosport in conjunction with the European Broadcasting Union (celebrating their 30th birthday this year) and had a healthy sports programming market before the Premier League started. It was that clout that helped form the league and in return, they won rights to cover matches in the UK. But for viewers, it was the chance to experience exciting football from their sofas and place bets at the bookies beforehand. The flow of money was astronomical and like nothing the sport had ever seen. Football had become more than a mere spectator sport – it was a money sport now.
New avenues of betting
“You don’t wanna miss this!” The sort of line you’d hear before a big match on Sky Sports. But what if you’d forgotten to place a bet at the bookies? Could you risk running out and missing the start? What if there was a queue? If only you could place bets at home. People had phoned in to place bets with bookies before but it wasn’t ideal. Football television deals weren’t the only advancement in the 90s. Home technology was exploding at the time with the internet and mobile phones entering households around the country. Online casinos began popping up on the internet in the mid-90s due to new laws introduced overseas.
By 2000, two of the biggest online betting companies were formed – Bet365 and Betfair. The former was created by Denise Coates, daughter of Stoke City chairman Peter Coates, in a portakabin (via a loan from Barclays, sponsors of the Premiership between 2001-2016). As of March 2018, had revenues of £2.86 billion. They offered free bets as welcome offers to new customers, markets on global sports, and lower leagues. Now you could place bets on third tier Dutch football if you wanted.
Betfair was founded in June 2000 and became the first betting company to sponsor an
English team, when they sponsored Fulham during the 02/03 season. The notable difference between Betfair and other bookmakers were they were a “betting exchange”. This meant punters can back or lay an outcome, or trade bets in-play. But there’s always an edge for the bookie and Betfair’s came from a commission on all bets placed.
Smartphones and tablet computers became affordable items in the mid-to-late 00s and
bookmakers started shifting focus on mobile betting. Bet365 became exclusively online by 2005 and Betfair were already there from inception. In-play betting was introduced and suddenly punters could experience everything about a football match without lifting their feet (but definitely lifting a finger).
What does this all mean for the future? Has football betting hit its ceiling? It’s doubtful. 45% of Premier League clubs had a betting/gambling company as their main shirt sponsor in 2018/19, according to Statista. When you think the first one was in 2002, that’d make it 5% back then and less than 2% for the whole Football League. Growth is crucial to keep the industry thriving but the lives of punters needs to be a priority. Problem betting is still increasing as millions of pounds are squandered annually.
Self exclusion is an act of restricting problem gamblers, practised by online bookmakers. The number of self excluded gamblers has grown nearly 41x times between 2010/11 and 2017/18**. While football betting may have given fans a sense of control over what they watch and how they react to outcomes, this shouldn’t be at their psychological expense.
* – (“Our Football Prize Competitions”. Cricket and Football Field. Bolton. vi (155): 8. 10 September 1887.)
** – Reseach figures compiled by Betting Circle- https://europeangaming.eu/portal/latest-news/2019/04/29/44298/infographic-