The recorded history of gambling in the UK dates back more than two millennia, to around the time of occupation by the ancient Romans. Archaeology and accounts from the time provide evidence to suggest that our ancestors regularly placed wagers on sporting events or games of chance such as dice more than 2,000 years ago.

While sporting events of the time were more likely to consist of chariot races and gladiators fighting to the death in the arena rather than tennis matches and football games, the premise of increasing the engagement of spectators through giving them a personal stake in the event has remained largely unchanged. The ancient Romans would not have known what to make of the modern gambling era, which has gravitated towards online casinos and internet sportsbooks. However, visitors from the ancient past would be experienced with the ideas behind these, even if the technology seemed like something mysterious and magical.

Betting for the rich

While gambling has been around in the UK for a long time, it is only relatively recently in history that organised wagers on large events have been accessible to any but the wealthiest among us. Poor people and the middle classes have always gambled, probably as much as the rich, but the types of things wagered on remained disparate for many centuries. Poorer people would make wagers on individual games of chance such as coin or dice-based games. Richer people would have the opportunities to gamble on larger, more structured events such as card games or horse racing. Horse racing as an organised event based not only on the races but also on people gambling on the outcome has been fairly common in the UK for several hundred years.

Gambling for the masses

It was not until around 1960 that gambling in the UK became accessible for the masses on the larger scales previously only enjoyed by the rich. This decade saw the opening of the first high street betting shops, which allowed those that could not afford a day at the races or any other type of sporting event to place a wager on the outcome without having to attend. 1960 also saw the first UK casino open its doors – the Casino Club Port Talbot was opened by George Alfred James in Wales, paving the way for a spate of further official and legalised gambling dens throughout the nation. In 1968, the introduction of a new Gaming Act created more opportunities for casinos to operate within the UK. This was later superseded by the 2005 Gambling Act, which allowed for a new generation of super-casinos in major cities across the country.

Genting Group and Grosvenor Casinos

Genting Group was one of the first to get on board the casino rollercoaster following the 1968 Gaming Act. Still one of the top casino operators in the UK today, Genting Group opened its first casino in Malaysia in 1971 and was quick to replicate this success in Britain. Together with Grosvenor, Genting is currently responsible for around three-quarters of all the land-based casinos in the UK, including the world-renowned Genting International Casino in Birmingham and three in the Liverpool area. The Liverpool Genting casino in Queen Square features e-tables using live dealers from Birmingham. Liverpool is also home to the Grosvenor Casino Leo, which features a mixture of live and online games including blackjack, poker, roulette and multiple slots, some with progressive jackpots.

The Advent of Online Gambling

Regulations meant that online gambling became legal in the UK from 1994, although real money online casinos did not fully emerge for another couple of years. The 2005 Gambling Act marked the start of the online revolution for the gambling industry in the UK. More choice, more convenience through mobile, more secure payment methods and other unique features have drawn many people away from land-based casinos and attracted new players.

The revenue from land-based casinos in the UK is now slowly but steadily falling, while online casinos are attracting more players and higher spends per head than ever before. Casino attendance had seen a steady year on year increase until around 2015, since which time it has been steadily declining. However, online gambling now accounts for the largest share of the UK’s gambling market, at 38.6% of the sector as of September 2019. This sector has boomed in recent years, with plenty of new online operators that are fully licensed and safe but also that include a selection the most popular games and welcome bonuses, something that catches the eye of players and helps them make the transition from traditional brick-and-mortar casinos to the ones available on the web.

Online Vs. Land Casinos

While it is certainly true that online gambling revenue is on the rise and fewer people are visiting land-based casinos, millions are still attracted to the real-life thrill of visiting a brick and mortar venue rather than simply logging into an app. The sharp decline in popularity experienced by land-based casinos at the height of the popularity of online variations has begun to level off, and more people are now finding their way back to real venues. Internet casinos, and particularly those optimised for mobile, have carved out a sector of the market looking for convenience and are here to stay. It would seem, however, that there are still many people who prefer to head to a real venue with a group of friends and soak up the atmosphere as well as access the games. Land-based casinos may have taken a bit of a knock, but for the time being at least, it looks as if they are here to stay.