History of the Bookmaker

It’s rumoured that the first person to profit as a bookmaker was named Harry Ogden. He was said to operate from Newmarket Heath back in the mid-1790s, near enough to the racecourse to have a view of the winners but far enough away that he wouldn’t get into bother from the staff working there.

Before Ogden came along, the standard practice was for gamblers to bet against each other – divvying up the field and claiming the winnings if they took first place. Often as a gentlemen’s agreement – and because there weren’t that many takers – the bet would simply be ‘Horse ‘A’ will win’ or ‘Horse ‘A’ won’t win’, giving the rest of the field the same odds as the clear favourite. Once Ogden had cleverly studied the field and laid odds on each horse rather than on one of two events, the proposition of bookmaking was born.

In 1845, a law was passed which restricted all forms of gambling to the racetrack, preventing gents from meeting for a (public) game of cards with a wager at stake. The government had grown concerned about the hobby and decided to enforce a ‘no cheating rule’ to make wagers into full-blown contracts! This law was punishable by up to two years in jail – meaning an end to the shysters at the racetracks.

The largest step towards gambling as we know it today came in the 1960s with the introduction of the brick and mortar bookies, meaning that bookmaking was no longer restricted to the track. This opened up a large market of betting into other mainstream sports like football, rugby and cricket.

Bookies have certainly taken some strange bets in their time – like the gentleman in December 1989 who correctly predicted that, when the clock struck midnight to ring in the new Millennium, not only would U2 still be producing music, but that all three of Australia’s big soap operas would still be running and showing on UK screens, and that Cliff Richard would receive a knighthood. From a £30 bet he won £194,400!

And when it comes to setting a high-rolling example you can’t look much further than two of the biggest names in bookmaking. In 2005, Fred Done of Betfred bookmakers made a bet that his boyhood team, Manchester United, would finish higher than Chelsea in the league. Unfortunately as Chelsea romped to a record points total on their way to the title, Fred had to pay up to rival bookmaker– Victor Chandler!

The influence of the Internet has changed the face of betting forever and led to great interest in live sports betting, as well as online casino and other forms of gaming. So the next time you’re placing a cheeky bet on your favourite team or a nice hand of poker, just remember the little history lesson you got courtesy of bookmakers.co.uk!