Betting shops have been a huge part of the culture in Britain since they were legalised in 1960. Before that, only ‘on-course’ betting was allowed for horse racing punters. Since that change though, big licensed firms such as Ladbrokes and William Hill have become some of Britain’s biggest employers and, even after the advent of online betting, there are still around 9,000 shops in the UK alone. In Australia, Mad Bookie and other operators also grew to become major players in the gambling industry. 

Unlike in some countries where it is perhaps still frowned upon somewhat, gambling in Britain is a major pastime and not necessarily seen as a bad thing at all by the populace. Despite this, strict controls still exist for placing bets in person, for example a bet can’t be placed in a pub or out on the street in public, and must be made at the event (football stadiums, race courses etc) or in licensed betting shops.

What Can We Bet On?

Men in front of a betting board

Betting shops these days are about much more than betting on horses or football. Just about every team and individual sport known to man can be bet on, as well as bingo and lottery. After the rise of internet betting, traditional firms needed to find new ways to keep us coming into the shops and one such way was introducing what are officially known as ‘fixed odds betting terminals’.

These machines feature various casino-style games, such as slots and roulette, and are increasingly popular. By legislation, bookmakers are allowed to have only four such terminals in each outlet which is precisely why we have seen an increase in the number of shops in each locale, despite the penchant for the country to place their basic bets online. You can bet on most sports, even if sailing for example is quite limited.

What Is In The Betting Shop?

betting shop Paddy Power

Each shop’s walls will be filled with various notices displaying the form for each horse race and greyhound race for the day. Various bet slips and coupons will be made available, and a bank of screens will show live odds and live action from various sports including football, horse racing and when appropriate, cricket, formula one and tennis.

In most cases these days, your local shop will offer free tea and coffee in order to make you comfortable and keep you in the shop. Cold drinks are usually made available for a price and, aside from the casino style machines, separate terminals will also be available in order for you to search for and bet on your own selections without having to write out the bet and visit the counter.

We have come a long way from the days of portable TV’s and radio’s blaring out commentary from a horse race or the punter relying on the bookmaker telling the truth about the result of a race. Commentary these days compliments the various live feeds being shown in the shop and makes for a sort of ‘sports bar’ feel to betting shops these days, though alcohol is not served in them.

What Bookmakers Will I Find In My Area?

Men in a betting shop

High street bookmakers, so called because they are physical shops rather than simply ‘online’ entities, are various in numbers in the UK. The likes of Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral were regarded as the big names some time ago but these days there are plenty to choose from.

Here are some of the big names you can expect to find with shops around the UK:

  • BetFred: Formerly known as Fred Done and now owners of the Tote (see below)
  • BetVictor: Formerly Victor Chanlder, named after the founder and owned now by horse racing magnate Michael Tabor.
  • Boylesports: Formed in Ireland where it is the largest independent bookmaker.
  • Coral: One of the big names of the past, now owned by Ladbrokes (see below).
  • Ladbrokes: Employing nearly 17,000 people, Ladbrokes remain king of the high street and the true bookmaking superpower in Britain in terms of betting in shops.
  • Paddy Power: Now merged with betting exchange Betfair, Paddy Power is an Irish based bookmaker making huge strides in the UK market on the back of its humorous advertising and offers.
  • Stan James: Started, like so many, with one shop back in the 70’s, Stan James became a household name in the UK and is still going strong.
  • ToteSport: Always the UK’s biggest on-course presence, The Tote opened fixed odds shops back in 1973 and is now owned by BetFred.
  • William Hill: No.2 only to Ladrbokes on the high street, a traditional big name in the UK employing 16,000 people and still represented by over 2,000 shops.

As well as these big names and despite their pulling power, various local shops still exist in all sorts of areas around the UK. What the locals lack in comfort, they usually make up for in value for money so do make sure you shop around to get the best price if you can.

How Much Choice Will I Have?

Despite a whole host of bookmakers having shops dotted around the country, we cannot expect each brand to be represented in every village, high street or shopping centre.

Let’s take Glasgow for example. In a 2.5 mile area between Govanhill and Newlands you will find three Coral betting shops and 2 of William Hill’s. That’s 5 betting shops, only 2 brands and no representation from the likes of Stan James or Paddy Power.

Conversely, in Newcastle, the 3 mile drive between Kingston Park and West Denton will see you pass at least 4 Ladbrokes shops. Essentially then, people living in these areas will, without too much in the way of conscious choice, become ‘Ladbrokes customers’ while people in other parts of the country may see themselves as regulars at William Hill.

Lots of choice, in theory at least, does exist but in reality that true variation is only there if you are betting in a city centre or are willing to drive to various locations in order to get the value for money. In our own locales, we are pretty much slaves to the property departments of the big bookmakers and where they have decided to place their shops.