Betting on Horses: A Brief History

Photo by Absolute Charm from Pexels

The history of horse racing dates back to the U.K. during the reign of King James I. Since then, plenty of adjustments have been made to make the sport more accessible and fun for the general audience, including the switch to online gambling websites. Horse betting is now a staple in British sports culture, but it wouldn’t be what it is today without a few key moments.

Horse Racing Overview

Horse racing very likely existed since the Middle Ages, but it isn’t easy to pinpoint the first instance of documented betting. The first written proof that gambling was a widespread phenomenon was in Ancient China around 200 B.C. but pairs of dice were found in a 5000-year-old Egyptian tomb. While gambling has evolved to an online sphere with casino bonus codes and live games, the basic concept of horse racing stays the same no matter the century.

The main thing to consider when betting on a horse isn’t always the horse itself because the jockey controls the movements of their steed. Most horse tracks will allow you to stake money on the final placement of the race by using parimutuel betting. All winners will receive a portion of the pool based on the amount of money they bet.

A Brief History of Horse Betting

The 1600s and the Reign of King James I

King James I was fond of watching horse races. However, there weren’t that many outlets for racing events at the time. During the reign of Henry II in the middle ages, a few locations were established, but after King James deemed the small town of Newmarket as a royal resort, horse racing became significant in British culture. Croydon, Enfield, and Yorkshire built horse racing tracks in a similar fashion to the Newmarket castle version.

Queen Anne II and the Foundation of the Sport

In the 18th Century, Queen Anne was riding around Ascot and decided that the open area next to Windsor Castle would become an open area for horses to gallop. The Ascot race meeting was established in 1711 to discuss new locations, members, or strategies. To this day, the Royal Ascot festival honors Queen Anne for putting horse racing into the mainstream.

The British Classics

The British Classics are five long-standing Group 1 horse races that were established at different times. The earliest, known as the St Leger Stakes, was created in 1776, followed by the Epsom Oaks (1779), Epsom Derby (1780), 2,000 Guineas Stakes (1809), and finally the 1,000 Guineas Stakes in 1814. Winning these races makes you the top tier of your sport.

Race Betting Act (1928)

To make horse betting a legitimate means of gambling, the British government created the Race Betting Act of 1928 to stop illegal off-course betting operations. Profits made from betting could now be invested back into the sport and be taxable and controllable. Newmarket and Carlisle were the first to offer official betting in 1929. Now gamblers didn’t have to risk going to jail or have their winning stolen from illegitimate gambling rings.

Betting Levy Act (1961)

The Race Betting Act made it possible for racetracks to offer a legal means of gambling, but you could only do so at the track itself. The Betting Levy Act of 1961 allowed bookmakers to provide horse racing pool bets off-course as long as they paid a levy tax to the Horse Racing Levy Board. The average person had greater access to sports betting, and the levy tax provided an extra way to fund the sport.

Online Sports Betting (1996-Present)

When the first online casino popped up in 1996, they only offered poker and other table games that couldn’t be bet on with real money. Horse racing probably played a significant role in establishing sports betting in online casinos because of its widespread popularity. Nowadays, online casinos funnel their resources into providing the best coverage for horse races to the U.K. and abroad. It’s difficult to find a casino that doesn’t offer horse betting.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!