Gambling, in one form or another, has been part of our lives for most of human history. People have been playing games of chance for millennia. Lotteries are older than they seem. But betting is probably the oldest form of gambling known to man.
The ancient Egyptians would bet on the outcome of battles or the harvest’s success. Romans were passionate bettors, wagering on everything from chariot races to gladiator fights.
Whenever there was a major event with more than one possible outcome, some people would bet on it. Betting has become a staple in today’s society. From friendly bets on gladiator fights, it has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, with major international conglomerates like Betway handling most of the bets.
Sports Betting: A Short History
It seems hard to believe that everything started with an ingenious bookmaker at a Newmarket Heath street corner in the 18th century. Not much is known about the life and background of Harry Ogden other than that he was the first professional bookmaker in history.
He worked at the Newmarket racecourse, which was and still is one of the most famous racecourses in the UK. At the time, it was one of the most important horse racing hubs in the country.
He wasn’t the only bookmaker working around the racecourse. But he was a serious innovator who has changed the world of betting (and, to an extent, sports) fundamentally.
In the late 18th century, betting on horse races was mostly informal, often between individuals watching the race. There were no odds, and people bet on the favorite.
What Ogden did, in turn, was to calculate the odds for each running horse, taking bets on them, too. This way, people could bet on multiple outcomes, and Ogden could balance his books by adjusting the odds.
From Racecourses to High Street
Another thing that’s hard to believe about sports betting: in its birthplace, it was illegal for centuries. In the UK, betting off-course was illegal until 1961. People could bet at racecourses, but nothing much was allowed in other areas. This doesn’t mean people didn’t bet off the course – it only means that what they did was not legal.
Then, in 1960, the Betting and Gaming Act brought all the underground betting activity to light. It was a groundbreaking law, imposing penalties for illegal betting, and legalizing betting shops. And it worked: the first betting shops emerged quickly after it came into force on May 1st, 1961.
At first, betting shops were spartan little offices where people could place bets. Advertising them was prohibited, and they couldn’t display race results either. Over time, these restrictions were relaxed.
Betting shops became a lot like they are today, with comfy interiors and live race results. Betting shops became veritable hubs for bettors, which changed the betting landscape in the UK – and the world.
The internet has changed a lot of things – and sports betting is one of them. The first online casinos appeared in 1994-1995, and the first online bookmaker was launched in 1996.
It was a traditional bookmaker launched in the early 1980s that saw the internet for what it was: potential for growth. Intertops accepted the first online sports bet in January 1996. It was the beginning of a new era of growth and development.
At the time, online security, payment processing, and regulations were still in their infancy. Intertops broke new ground in many areas. Its example was followed by many other companies, including some of the major betting brands in the UK.
Online betting made many things possible, including live in-play betting. As it continued to grow worldwide, it made it clear that the regulations also needed to evolve. The first jurisdiction to regulate online gambling was Antigua and Barbuda in 1994.
Its example was followed by other jurisdictions as well. Today, most countries have their legal framework regulating online betting and casinos. Even in the United States, where online betting was strictly banned for decades, it’s not growing.
The State of Online Betting Today
Today, the vast majority of betting brands have at least some form of online presence. Even state lotteries have online platforms selling lottery tickets. Players bet online both pre-match and in-play, and follow live streams of sports through betting platforms.
Betting is now regulated in most of Europe, Australia, and the Americas, with Africa and Asia having more chaotic landscapes. There are still countries with no regulations or outright bans in place, but their number is decreasing.
Responsible Betting and Fraud Prevention
Betting has gone a long way when it comes to responsible gambling practices. Bookmakers now routinely offer self-exclusion tools to their players that they can make use of if they feel on a downward spiral.
At the same time, bookmakers have strong anti-money laundering and anti-fraud frameworks in place. Industry groups like the IBIA are constantly monitoring the betting patterns to pinpoint any fraud attempt.
Betting companies are among the top sponsors of sports. Bookmakers routinely sponsor everything from the Summer Olympics to the FIFA World Cup. Sponsorship deals are common between bookmakers sports clubs, and even individual athletes.
Market Size and Growth
The total value of the global sports betting market is estimated to have exceeded $91 billion in 2024. A good chunk of this value is generated by online bookmakers. The industry is expected to continue its sustained growth in the coming years.
Among the most important growth factors, there’s the regulatory framework that’s evening out. But the spread of smartphones and fast internet connections is also pushing betting forward in many parts of the world.
The global betting market will exceed $240 billion by 2033 at its current growth rate.
It took sports betting centuries to grow from street corners to live streams. Today, betting is accessible to pretty much everyone.
We have an unprecedented number of events we can bet on and an ever-growing number of outlets where we can do so. At the same time, betting has become much safer and much more accessible thanks to the spread of smartphones and the internet.