Traditionally, the rich have wagered their fortunes on horse races and cockfights while the lower classes have bet against one another in dice games such as Hazard. For just as long, government authorities have tried to control people’s gambling habits. King Henry VIII notoriously banned gambling because he believed that it distracted his soldiers from their duties.
Ironically, it was King Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who authorized England’s first national lottery in 1569 to raise tax revenues. The first jackpot offering was £5,000 and immunity from arrest for petty crimes. James I allowed the Virginia Company to fund their expeditions through lotteries, and Charles I let his courtiers run lotteries to fund London’s water supply.
During the industrial revolution, horse racing became a British national pastime as did betting on races at designated gaming establishments; however, while the government tolerated such betting among the aristocracy, gambling among the poor was still criminalized. When wealthy individuals started betting on the stock market, the lower classes were still confined to playing their illegal pitch and toss games in pubs.
Gambling Prohibition in the U.K.
Anti-gambling sentiment grew in the early 1800s due to a series of events including several high-profile betting frauds, corrupt lotteries and a proliferation of literature expounding the immorality of gaming. To address these concerns, Parliament passed the Gaming Act of 1845 and the Betting Act of 1853, which effectively prohibited most avenues for commercialized gambling. On-course betting was still allowed at horse races, but only wealthy citizens could afford to attend these events. Therefore, most gambling activity went to the streets. Although the 1906 Street Betting Act further criminalized gambling in public, enforcement was difficult and ultimately ineffective. Meanwhile, unregulated gambling led to an increase in other crimes.
During the early 1900s, two Royal Commissions on Lotteries and Betting were established to determine how gambling should be regulated to reduce crime and increase government tax revenues. Their recommendations led to new gambling legislation in 1960, which legalized betting in licensed shops under government supervision.
Modern Gambling in the U.K.
Until 2007, advertisements for casinos and other gaming establishments were very restricted. Only small text ads were permitted, and betting shops had to shield their buildings’ interiors from the public eye. The Gaming Board for Great Britain was formed during the 1960s to further regulate casinos, arcades and bingo halls.
A major shift began in the mid-1990s due to the establishment of the National Lottery in 1994 and the rise of the internet. Threatened by competition from the government and online gaming companies, casino and betting shop owners lobbied for looser regulations. These efforts culminated with the passing of the Gambling Act of 2005, which allowed advertising so long as operators included measures to address problem gambling in their establishments.
The Future of Gambling in the U.K.
The future of gambling is online. Because most of the gaming websites that target U.K. players are operated in other countries, regulating online gambling presents many challenges.
According to the 2012 Health Survey for England, 68 percent of men and 61 percent of women reported some form of gambling activity in the prior 12 months. Buying tickets for the National Lottery accounts for most gambling behavior, but more than 40 percent of both genders reported engaging in other types of betting or gambling.
Problem Gambling in the U.K.
Whether gambling is legal, illegal, tolerated or regulated, gambling addiction persists within all pockets of society. The NHS estimates that over half-a-million people in the U.K. currently suffer from problem gambling. A correlation between the growth of online gambling and an increase in women gambling has been noticed.
While the excitement of betting and gambling can induce a “high” similar to using drugs, some players become addicted and start to experience anxiety, depression and low self-worth. In addition to suffering from financial troubles, problem gamblers sometimes resort to criminal behavior such as theft and fraud to support their habit. There is and always has been a strong link between gambling and alcoholism. Fortunately, gambling addition can be treated through therapy just like drug and alcohol addictions.