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UK Gambling Through the Centuries

Like the United States, gambling is a popular hobby in the UK. Hundreds, if not millions of people visit casinos and play mobile casino games every day. In fact, people frequently make the news just for winning jaw-dropping prizes in National Lotteries!

However, gambling in the UK dates back to around the sixteenth century, and some reports suggest gambling was around even before then. To find out more about how gambling evolved over time, however, we’ve got to start with someone incredibly famous.

The Sixteenth Century: Henry VIII

King Henry VIII was famous for his six marriages to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. However, he was also known for having a bit of a gambling problem.

During the 1500s, the rich often wagered on horse races and cockfights, while the lower class would bet against one another in dice games. Meanwhile, a phenomenon had begun sweeping through London called Bragg, which historians today believe is one of the gamers poker derives from.

While Henry loved gambling, luck was never really on his side. He attended gambling events held across Europe but, according to reports, lost a whopping £3,250 while playing cards, a huge sum of money for that time. Henry also lost the beloved bells of Jesus Chapel in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral to Sir Miles Partridge with a single dice roll.

As mentioned above, Henry loved playing dice games. He also enjoyed a game similar to checkers called Queek and a game called Fox & Geese. However, he later banned gambling because he thought it distracted his soldiers from their duties, though he himself continued to gamble. Gambling wasn’t again allowed until Edward VI, Henry’s successor, came into power.

Meanwhile, King Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, authorised England’s first ever national lottery in 1569 in order to raise tax revenues. Reports suggest Elizabeth targeted the upper-class, priced the 400,000 tickets at ten shillings and announced prizes including £5,000, tapestries and “good linen cloth”.

She also announced that all participants in the lottery would be granted immunity from arrest, as long as the crime wasn’t murder, felonies, treason or piracy. While the winner of Elizabeth’s lottery remains unknown, she laid the foundations for modern-day lotteries.

The Seventeenth Century: Sir Thomas Neale

Sir Thomas Neale became a very famous man throughout the 1600s. So famous, in fact, that he now has a street named after him in London’s Covent Garden; Neal Street.

In 1678, Neale was appointed as Groom Porter to King Charles II, a position he later held under James II and William III. He was tasked with furnishing the King’s tables with dice and cards and to decide on disputes at the card-table.

Then, in 1684, King Charles II assigned Neale the role of overseeing gambling in London by licensing or shutting down gambling houses and to prosecute unlicensed gambling operators.

Neale also established the Million Lottery in order to generate revenue for the government. The 1600s also saw the rise of horse racing which increased betting and gambling.

The Eighteenth Century: The Rise of Gambling Problems

Gambling became a problem during the 1700s when it became available to everyone. It caused fluctuations between the rich and the poor as lower class citizens would sometimes win large sums of money while richer folk would easily lose their entire fortune.

One thing historians do agree on is that Ancient China is responsible for inventing card games decorated with human forms. The Ancient Chinese were responsible for inventing paper, which later led to the invention of paper money. Soon after that, people learned how to shuffle paper money, which later became the foundation of shuffling playing cards.

During this time, gambling and gin became the main “vices” of London. Gambling clubs were reportedly renamed “hells” and gambling slums, which were for the lower class, were renamed “lower hells”.

Around 1739, an anti-gambling law was passed, imposing a fine of £20 on anyone caught playing gambling or card games in Bath. Other gaming acts within the century banned wagers on pub games, but people continued to gamble secretly.

The Nineteenth Century: The Gambling Acts

During the 1800s, gambling began to take a darker turn and many began calling for the practice to be regulated. To address this, Parliament passed the Gaming Act of 1845.

While the act didn’t make gambling illegal, it was the government’s attempt to discourage the activity. The act made all wagers unenforceable as a legal contract, meaning bookmakers or betters could run off with money and the law would do nothing to help.

The act also gave police more power over the working class while allowing the upper class to gamble without problems. Following the 1845 act, many betting houses began popping up all over London, leading to the 1853 Betting Act.

Several years later, the 1853 Betting Act was passed, making it illegal to use or keep any property for the sole purpose of betting or gambling. Since people could no longer gamble inside, they decided to take it to the streets.

A combination of the acts led to the popularity of horse racing, as both acts allowed restricted forms of gambling at designated race tracks.

The Twentieth Century: Greyhound Racing

Greyhound racing became increasingly popular around the 1920s after it was brought over from America. The surge in popularity made way for the opening of the historic Belle Vue in Manchester in 1926 and the Walthamstow Stadium in 1933.

Dog racing allowed the working class to gamble and bet and, surprisingly, the Great Depression of the 1930s had little effect on Greyhound racing! However, a gaming act in 1960 led to the eventual decline of Greyhound racing.

The first ever casino in the UK opened at the Casino Club Port Talbot in 1960. A second casino, the Metropole Hotel in Brighton, opened a year later in 1961.

A big change came around that time when Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan legalised betting shops with the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act. The act led to the opening of most betting shops in 1961 and this worked through to the end of the 20th century until the internet arrived and with it, online casinos.

The Twenty-First Century: Online Casinos

Shortly after the internet launched in the 90s, a company named Microgaming was founded in 1994. In the same year, Microgaming released the first online casino, paving the way for the online casinos we can’t get enough of now.

They made history four years later after launching online slot game Cash Splash, which became the first ever game to feature a progressive jackpot. As Microgaming’s reputation grew, and the popularity of online gaming rose, other casino software companies began to spring up, including Netent and Playtech.

During their early years, Microgaming banded together with several other companies to create the Interactive Gaming Council before co-founding eCOGRA (e-Commerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance), two companies which regulate online casinos and the online gambling industry.

During this time, gambling at casinos was at an all-time high. Then the 2005 Gambling Act ruled that all websites offering mobile games or online betting required a license from the UK Gambling Commission, an organisation which was created with the passage of the act.

Throughout the early 2000s, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) began appearing in betting shops. Meanwhile, in 2007, the World Series of Poker Europe was held in London at the brand new Empire at Leicester Square, attracting hundreds of the world’s best players.

The 2014 Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act was passed and gave the Gambling Commission power to regulate overseas software developers and betting sites.

The new rule required any online gambling site wanting to offer their games to British gamblers to have a proper UK licence. Meanwhile, games offered on the website were required to be UK Gaming Commission approved.

Since then, online casinos have only continued to grow and people all over the UK love playing online slots, roulette and blackjack. In fact, the online gambling industry has grown so much that there are now numerous providers and games to play, and it will only continue to grow.

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