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History of Gambling in London

Gambling has long been ingrained in British society. This is pergaps due to the historically rigid class system and the fact that gambling is one of the most efficient redistributions of wealth. Or, it can simply run down to the fact that, for many, gambling can be a lot of fun.

Well take a look back at how the art of gambling and the use of casinos have changed over the years, from the birth of coin toss gambling, bets by the royal family, on jousting, travel even incest, board games and the rise of gambling houses.

This article has been provided by Paddy Power Online Casino.

The Middle Ages

Not much is known of London’s gambling activities in the early Middle Ages. Under the rule of William the Conqueror (1066 – 1087), people would bet on the outcome of jousting events. This became increasingly popular in in London and the surround countryside. By the 12th Century, the games had become so popular that the King at the time, Henry II (1154 – 1189) had to ban the sport. Not to stop the wagering but because so many of his high trained knights and horsemen were being seriously injured unnecessarily.

In the 13th Century, soldiers returning from the Crusades brought back new forms of recreational gambling. One of them being a dice game called “Hazard” a derivation of the Arabic words for “the dice”. Hazard became so popular amongst Londoners and spread far and wide to other countries like France and America, it became the prototype for the game “Craps”.

In between the 14th and 15th Centuries, Londoners had developed ways on betting on almost anything form archery contests to the weather. One common form was a coin toss game called “Cross and Pile” a forerunner of the game “Heads or Tails”. Despite bans and attempts to limit gambling, it continued to grow throughout the country.

The Seventeenth Century

Our next prominent era of gambling was during the reign of the first man who created a new religion just to get divorce, King Henry VIII(1509 – 47). The King was an avid gambling and dice man. By the time he came to power, the betting craze was rampant in the country, particularly by the three-card came ‘Bragg’, a predecessor of the game poker. Board games were also appearing and gradually consuming people’s time and money with games such as Queek (a form of the game checkers) and Fox & Geese (a pursuit type game).

This new form of entertainment slowly consumed the King’s soldiers who spent more time betting as opposed to fighting in battles. The King had to put his foot down and banned his army from gambling, but hypocritally still allowing it to occur in the courts. Nevertheless, Londoners continued to place interesting wagers. When the King’s second wife was put on trial with her brother for treason and incest odd of 10-to-1 were offer on an acquittal.

From there, the legalities around gambling swayed back and forth for over 100 years with Henry’s successor, Edward VI (1547 – 53) restoring the laws of “dice and gambling games” with the exception of the clergy. But London gaming was shut down once again in 1649 under Oliver Cromwell, who banned horse racing, cockfights and gambling dens that had become common sights through the country.

Only when Charles II (1660-1685) took the throne did gambling experience it’s reawakening in London. Charles assigned his personal croupier, Sir Thomas Neale, to oversee gambling throughout the city. He was assigned the role and duties of issuing licenses to legal entities and shutting down any noncompliant gambling dens.

Modern London

During the 18th and 19th Century a new betting fad called “pedestrianism” swept London with bets being places on how much time it would take to walk, run or hop a given distance. As the bets became larger, distances become greater, such as placing a £20,000 bet on walking to Constantinople in less than a year or travelling to Lapland and returning with a pair of women and two reindeer. In 1872, author Jules Verne based a novel upon this craze entitled “Around the World in 80 Days”.

This frivolous betting has caused a real problem during that time period and caused a fluctuations between the rich and the poor. It wasn’t surprising for someone who was poor to win some cash on a card game, get a well-paying job and quickly leave the slums and move into a lavish home. Similarly, the rich could easily lose all their money on flamboyant bets.

The Revolutionary Sixties

Gambling became more mainstream on 1 May 1961 when a new Betting and Gaming Act went into effect throughout the country. Betting on games of skill such as Bridge and betting small sums of cash was fully legal and thousands of betting shops popped up across London and fruit machines became a popular sight in pubs.

Two years later, the Gambling Act was tweaked slightly in 1963 and again 1968. The act introduced greater regulation of the industry and created local gambling boards tasked with overseeing gambling. By 1970 the number of casinos in the UK dropped from 1000 to 120 as well as dubbing London the gambling city in the world.

Twenty First Century Gambling

Thanks to legislative changes over the past decade, gambling thrives once again in London with over 25 casinos ranging from intimate clubs to vibrant establishments that could be seen in Las Vegas. The city has a growing number of casinos for every taste and budget as well as being free to enjoy online gambling.

There’s no denying it that gaming is an interesting part of London’s history and will all the ups and downs, for the meantime, the next time you’ll be hitting the jackpot you know that you are part of a winning tradition.


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