The UK is one of the biggest betting markets in the world, so it’s no surprise that there’s a great deal of history associated with its biggest bookmakers. Though betting in its current form wasn’t legal in the UK until the Betting and Gambling Act of 1960, many bookmakers existed long before then, and have endured to this day. Around 45% of Brits currently gamble at least once a month, with a great deal of that being taken up by the National Lottery. But that still leaves an enormous market for the bookmakers.
But which ones are the oldest? Today, we’re going to look at some of the contenders for the oldest bookmaker in the UK. Let’s get started.
Ladbrokes was founded way back in 1886, when two men named Schwind and Pennington set out to offer commission services for horses trained the Ladbrokes Hall, in Warwickshire. By 1906, they moved their operation to the strand, and were able to offer betting services to the wealthiest and most upper class citizens of London. This was because Betting was still illegal except for the elites.
After changing hands several times in the intervening decades, the company decided to go public in 1967, 7 years after gambling became legal to the general public. They floated stocks on the London Stock Exchange, and the business grew exponentially in the following years.
The rest is history. Today, they remain one of the largest bookmakers in the UK, and have maintained their name for well over a century.
A polish migrant who came to the UK during the First World War began his career as a pay clerk for a company which manufactured lamps. His name was Joseph Kagarlitski, though at the age of 14 he changed his name to Joe Coral. Two bookmakers saw his potential and decided to take him on, and learned the business taking bets for them as he went along.
He eventually managed to set up his own trackside betting operation at Harringey and White City stadiums, and thus the bookmaker Coral was formed.
He started out taking bets from shops and pub in the London area, with as many as 70 employees of his own. He opened a credit office in 1943, setting up more trackside organisations from the profits, and ultimately establishing betting shops from there.
On any high street today, you can still find Coral bookmakers, and they are one of the most profitable bookmakers in the UK. All the result of a single, enterprising Polish immigrant.
- William Hill
If you’ve any knowledge of UK bookmakers, you will know William Hill. The company’s namesake was born in 1903. After moving from his uncle’s farm and through a couple of other roles, he eventually managed to get in with the Black and Tans by lying about his age. From here, he developed an appetite for the races. He started taking bets locally.
He gained his own pitch, finally, after returning to England, in 1925. Though this initial venture failed, he moved to London in 1929, and was finally able to start making some real profits. Though he had some initial opposition to the betting shops in the 1960s, he eventually decided to open high street shops, leading to the business we know today.
He died only a few years later, in 1970, and the company was built to even greater heights by his successors.
In 1967, in Ordsall, Salfrod, two brothers, Fred and Peter Done, set up a company to offer bookmaking services. Interestingly, they were able to open this shop with their winnings from a bet on the previous year’s World Cup winner—England.
Though they arrived somewhat late to the party compared to the others on the list, the company grew steadily, and adopted different methods of customer service. These set them apart, and customers began to feel more comfortable in BetFred stores. Since then, Fred Done has continuously bought up other companies, tripling the business in size between 1997 and 2002.
They rebranded as BetFred in 2004, and began adding online casino games like poker to their roster. Moving into the online world was always a savvy move.
Though not as old as the oldest on this list, BetFred is still a true testament to the enterprising spirit in the world of betting in the UK.
Since the late 19th Century, enterprising British business people have been setting up shop in the country to provide for the nation’s betting needs. The biggest and most successful names in modern British bookmaker are, by and large, survivors of this era, titans of the industry who, though they may have changed hands over the years, have been providing uninterrupted services for well over a century. These are some of those names.