Gambling Industry, History of Gambling

History of Gambling in the United Kingdom

Gambling is embedded in the history and culture of the people in the United Kingdom. Despite taking various forms throughout the centuries, gambling has been of the driving forces in society right from prehistory, middle-ages, and the modern day.

Understanding the history and evolution of gambling in the United Kingdom is crucial since it has always been part and parcel of the culture, from dice games to modern-day online casinos. There are two critical components of gambling that go hand in hand, gaming and wagering. While gaming refers to punters participating in games of chance or games with a mix of luck and skill, wagering is the process in which bettors gamble on the expected result.

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Gambling has been part of human civilization and is a natural extension of gaming and wagering, which are like two interacting components. Before the 17th century, there was no random outcome since all ‘chance’ in gambling was directed by a god. For instance, if a gambler rolled a dice and it showed five, the gods were looking upon him.

As time went by, people began using an act called divination to communicate with gods to create ‘chance events.’ They used dice and drawing tools like animal hoofs, apricot kernels, and Astragali. When the gamblers threw these tools in ancient times, the outcome was perceived as a vital message from the divine.

Middle Ages

The middle-ages lasted almost 1000 years before the arrival of the Roman Empire. During this period, gambling was perceived as a leisure activity and underwent several legislations.

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People from all levels of society gambled on different games. The lower class wagered on dice, whereas the people in the upper class gambled on horses, chess, cockfighting, and card games.

Since most people began gambling, several laws were on gambling as it was seen as a distraction in society. In 1190, King Richard passed legislation to determine who could gamble with how much. Richard II (1388) introduced laws to limit spending money on specific games and restrict gambling on workdays.


The 17th century witnessed considerable changes in gambling activities. Gambling coincided with the industrialization and commercialization of the United Kingdom, and it became more widely accepted.

Horse racing, lotteries, and gaming houses emerged with the authority’s support. Royal Charter was established in 1569 by Queen Elizabeth. Decades later, lotteries were held to fund several activities in England, such as building settlements and water supply in London. The parliament held the first lottery in 1694, and several private lotteries followed this. However, due to rigging complaints by gamblers in 1823, lotteries were abolished until 1993.

Horse racing also gained momentum during this period, and it was held as an organized event, the first being the Chester Cup in 1512.

Modern Day

By the 1830s, there were campaigns against gambling activities except horse racing. All gambling contracts were legally terminated by the Gaming Act of 1845, and the Betting Act of 1853 made it illegal to open a betting place.

With the emergence of betting streets, the government introduced the Street Betting Act in 1906. Gambling was revived in the 1960s, spearheaded by the Gaming Act of 1968. This allowed casinos to be established. In the 21st century, Licensing Act of 2003 and the Gaming Act of 2005 were introduced; they both emphasized on regulation.

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The law also covers online casinos as the Gambling Act of 2005 was introduced to ensure the UKGC fully licenses them.

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