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What is a bookmaker?

June 30th, 2017 Beating the Bookies, Beginner, Matched Betting, Sports Betting

There are so many bookies both online and on the high street that you can’t have failed to notice them. But what is a bookmaker? Keep reading to discover what bookies do.

What is a bookmaker?

A bookmaker is an individual or business that facilitates the activity of gambling. Also known as a bookie, turf accountant or sportsbook, a bookmaker accepts bets on pre-determined odds. Then will pay out on those bets…if they win! Bookmakers offer odds on sporting events like horse racing and football as well as non-sporting events such as political elections.

Traditionally, bookmakers were located on the high street and at racecourses. But these days, they can be found online too.

Well-known high street bookmakers include:

  • Ladbrokes.
    Established in 1902, Ladbrokes are currently the biggest high street bookie with over 2,300 betting shops.
  • Coral.
    Established in 1926, Coral have over 1800 shops throughout the UK, making them one of the largest in the country.
  • William Hill.
    Established in 1934, William Hill has 2,300+ betting shops and is one of the UK’s most recognisable brands.

The history of the bookmaker

In the late 18th century, Harry Ogden became the first person to profit as a bookmaker here in the UK. Although gambling was illegal at this time, Ogden laid the foundations of the industry that we know today. In the mid 1790s, Ogden started taking bets on Newmarket Heath. He made sure to stand far enough away from the racecourse so that he wasn’t seen, but close enough to see the winning line. This was where Ogden took money from willing punters. The money went into a ‘pool’. Once the race was over, those who had bet on the winning horse were given an equal share of the pool of money…But not before Ogden had taken his cut first.

More bookmakers set up and over the coming decades an odds strategy was developed for horse racing. The strategy meant that individual odds were given to each horse in a race, based on its ability and recent form.

Laws, licences and legislation

In 1845, a law restricting all betting activity to race courses was introduced. The aim was to combat illegal betting operations. This is widely regarded as the introduction of the first of many gambling laws. The punishment for breaking this law was two years in prison. Consequently, illegal betting was driven underground.

In 1960, the government decided to fully license the use of purpose built betting shops. This allowed previously illegal bookmakers to move in and trade under strict gambling laws. Subsequently, the government benefited enormously from the tax charges imposed on the industry to license and operate their premises.
The act of 1960 was amended over the coming years and in 1968 The Gaming Act came into force. It limited the number of casinos and the ways they had to apply for their licenses.

There have been several acts and commissions since then. One of the main pieces of legislation was the Gambling Act of 2005. This law imposed even stricter guidelines for bookmakers, with some having to reapply for a license to operate after being refused under the new laws.

Ultimately, the UK now has a highly regulated gambling industry that is unrecognisable from the early days of illegal bookmakers. The industry is still growing, with billions of pounds worth of bets gambled on sporting events every year.

Bookmakers in the media

Bookies and betting are such a big part of our popular culture. They’re so ingrained, they’ve appeared onscreen in film and television across the last last 80 years. Check out some examples here.


Can you beat the bookie?

There are lots of tipsters out there who claim they know how to beat the bookies. However, the truth is that over time, most punters will lose money. Bookmakers employ techniques to ensure that they always have an edge.

But there really is a way to beat them. It doesn’t involve tipsters. It involves a little bit of maths and it’s called matched betting.

Matched betting isn’t gambling because your money is always protected. In fact, it’s a legal system that the bookmakers know about. It works by offsetting risk and taking advantage of the free bets and bonuses on offer. Matched bettors place a back bet at a bookmaker and then lay the same bet at a betting exchange. The bets cancel each other out but also trigger a free bet. The free bet is then used to make a profit.

To find out more about OddsMonkey and matched betting in general, download our free introduction:

Intro to matched betting download